Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Death of Position Scarcity

There was a time when conventional wisdom said that catchers and middle infielders were harder to come by. There were two popular strategms for dealing with this conundrum:

1) Buy the best at the position, or at least one of the top 5, to make sure you got stats and not a sinkhole. It didn't make sense to pay $15 near the end of the auction for a $5 shortstop.

2) Spend nothing at these positions. This strategy was more popular at catcher and has also been known as the "$1 catcher theory". Why spend $20 to get $12-15 worth of stats when you could get dip into the deep OF pool and probably get $20 worth of stats for $15. Roto categories, after all, don't know which position is contributing.

Last year, though, may have turned this idea on its head:

2006 A.L. Earnings by Position

The averages assume 24 catchers, 18 corners, 18 middle infielders, and 60 outfielders.

Catchers, as always, are the weakest of the bunch. But every other position is virtually even. The top 18 SS earning more than the top 18 1B is stunning: I can remember when 1B was a great position to go shopping for stats.

What's going on here?

A couple of things. First, the paucity of SB in the A.L. is pumping up the value of every steal. Last year in the A.L., each HR was worth 32 cents, each SB 46 cents. That sounds like chicken feed and - for a third stringer with 1 HR and 1 SB, it is. But if Player A hits 10 HR and steals 20, those stats are worth $12.30; if Player B goes 20/10, he's worth $10.96.

OK, that sounds unimpressive, too.

Try this. A 20 HR guy who doesn't run gives you $6.41 in value in HR alone. A 20 SB guy who doesn't hit for power gives you $9.10.

$2.69 might not give you reason to blink. But it should.

The other thing to keep in mind is that you're looking at an average. Derek Jeter's $44 season last year pumps up all SS. A closer look reveals that this is a weaker position than the average indicates. You 18th best SS is worth $1. Stick this guy into your MI hole and it will be just that: a hole. Your 60th best OF is worth $3; your 59th worth $4. Not great, but $3 worth of stats at $1, which is probably what you'll pay, is better than $1 worth of stats for $1.

So position scarcity might not quite be dead after all. You only have to drop to the 19th best A.L. catcher to get to $1. And that catcher, Dioner Navarro, wasn't the 19th best catcher on Auction Day. Which leads to the big conundrum of this list: how do you account for the realities of your auction? In theory, you know that your Jason Bartletts are going to come up from the minors and earn $12 and your Bobby Abreus are going to come from the other league and earn $15. You just don't know when that's going to happen. So your draft has more position scarcity than you might think.

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