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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Scarcity: Sacred, Scared, or Scarred?

Let's talk about position scarcity.  Different people have different theories on how much you should pay attention to position scarcity.  The idea is that if there are fewer valuable players at a particular position then you should try to get one of the elite options so you can have a leg up on the rest of the league that doesn't have that advantage.

Easy differentiator, right?

Maybe.  There are right ways and wrong ways to approach the concept of position scarcity, and I'm here to give you the scoop.

Sacred Cows:  Some people will always go for the player at a scarce position like catcher in baseball or tight end in football.  Always.  They have a dogmatic approach that puts blinders on them and won't allow for a clear evaluation of one player against another at a less scarce position.  There are reasons for this:  (1) the belief that greater value is always had where there is less to go around; and, (2) the fact that comparing players at different positions is not apples-to-apples and, quite frankly very difficult and awfully subjective. (When you get right down to it.)

Scared Senseless:  Maybe you've tried taking scarce positions early and gotten burned before.  You spent a ton of resources on the #1 catcher and he failed to produce or he got injured like so many catchers tend to do.  Once bitten, twice shy.  Isn't it just better to go with the standard ADP's (average draft position) and take the best guy available?  No!  Of course it isn't.  Just about everyone in your league will be using the league site's rankings as their benchmark so if you do that too you will be right in the middle of the pack.  That's not where you want to be or you wouldn't be reading this.  You need an edge.

Scarred:  Cuts heal and when they do they can leave you with scars and a little tougher as a result.  Those scars are lasting memories of the time you got beaten up and always remind you to be better next time.  This is the metaphor I'm choosing for how to approach position scarcity.  Look, there is value in cherry-picking the best options from the most scarce positions but you can't put blinders on and always do it just like you can't allow yourself to avoid the concept entirely.

Do your homework, and while you are compiling your research have an eye toward the scarce positions.  Put together your lists and judge for yourself where the big dropoff is in value at each position.  Try to get one of the guys before that big dropoff, but be smart about it.

What I mean about being smart is that you have to compare what you are giving up.  Let's say for example that there are three elite catchers and maybe twelve elite outfielders.  It's the third round in your draft and the top two catchers just got taken as have seven top outfielders and it is your turn to pick.  You have judged the dropoff between catchers #3 and #4 is dramatic but the drop from outfielder #8 to #9 isn't so great.  The sacred cow approach would be to automatically take the catcher.  The fantasy manager who is scared senseless would consult the conventional rankings and take the outfielder since he is projected to get better stats than catcher #3.

I'm telling you that both approaches are wrong.  I'm not saying both picks would be wrong, but both approaches would be.  It is very difficult to make these sorts of decisions in 60 or 90 seconds and it is easy to fall into one of the above traps.  You, however, want the greatest chance to give yourself an edge but you have to decide quickly.  If you can clearly narrow it down to these two choices ("sacred" and "scared"), which is often the case, you are in great shape.

First things first...  How many picks until you select again?  Is there a clear delineation here whether one of your two choices will be available when you pick next?  For example think of it like this: If you are picking #33 in a 12-team draft your next pick will be #40.  If the catcher you are looking at is ranked at #51 and your outfielder is ranked #34 you go with the outfielder and hope that your catcher is there at #40.  Easy enough, but this is a lot like the "scared" approach of just taking the highest-ranked player available.  It's a little more thoughtful, but I'll admit that it isn't by much.

So let's go a bit deeper.  This requires more preparation, which hopefully you have taken the time to do.  Where do you anticipate the next group of catchers being taken?  Let's say you think catchers #4 through #8 are roughly the same and will go off the board in or around round 7.  Take a look at what outfielders ought to be available then.  Mix and match the round 3 catcher with the round 7 outfielder and vice versa.  Add up their stats and go for the pair with the highest total.  Pretty straightforward.

This is obviously over-simplifying because there are other considerations.  What if there is great value there on say, a starting pitcher?  Maybe the #24-ranked player is still available at #33... That would throw a wrench into the works, but in that situation you would forget about evaluating outfielders and use Mr. #24 versus catcher #3 and go through the same exercise as outlined above.

This is the simplified version.  I will delve into greater detail in my forthcoming audio series, but I wanted to provide the basic concept here.

Also, my rule of thumb is to first value my personal rankings of the player and use position scarcity as a tie-breaker, and not the other way around.

Good luck in your drafts, folks!

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