Brian McCann and Position Scarcity

After a down season in his sophomore year in the majors in 2007, Brian McCann bounced back last year to be in the top four among catchers in AVG, HR, RBI and Runs. The projection systems predict McCann essentially to repeat his 2008 performance this year and the mock drafting crowd agrees, making McCann the second-rated catcher with an ADP of 46, three spots behind Russell Martin.

McCann had nothing fluky in his profile last year. He hit equally well at home and on the road, versus LHP and RHP and both before and after the All-Star break. He posted the highest BB% of his brief career, and checked in with a 10.1 percent walk rate. His K% dropped over two full points to 12.6 percent and his BABIP was a normal .308 for the season.

With McCann the question is not so much where he rates among players at his position, he clearly ranks among the top catchers in the game, but rather when to draft catchers. According to the RotoTimes Player Rater, McCann turned in a $13.94 season last year. That placed 64th among hitters in mixed leagues. Add the top pitchers to the pool and does it make sense to spend a fourth-round pick on McCann?

Yes it does.

One of the challenging things to incorporate into projections is position scarcity. Last year Mauer was the top catcher with a $14.89 value. There were 12 first basemen with higher dollar values. Mauer’s $14.89 was worth more than Derrek Lee’s $15.96, much like how a run in the Astrodome in 1968 was worth more than two runs in Coors Field in 1996.

Yet somehow it is easier to wrap our heads around the idea of park factors and run environments than it is to understand position scarcity. Perhaps this is because when we attempt to calculate position scarcity, we have to not only compare how each player at a position does versus his direct peers, but also how that rates with all of the players in MLB.

Catchers are undervalued by their raw stats. The next time you participate in a mock draft, try drafting a catcher in the first three-to-five rounds, if you do not normally do this. And then examine the impact on your team and see if you are better off with McCann as your catcher than with Yadier Molina or whomever you normally get in the 20th round, even though you passed on an impact hitter like Nick Markakis or Jason Bay.

Properly calculating position scarcity is beyond the scope of this piece. It is one of the most valuable things at pay sites ranging from to BaseballHQ to The Fantasy Baseball Sherpa. But position scarcity is real and it makes McCann a good value at his current ADP.

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13 Responses to “Brian McCann and Position Scarcity”

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  1. Brian Recca says:

    The only problem I have with this is that there are a handful of catchers you can grab late in the draft who are much better than Yadier Molina. I mean is your team going to suffer with Ryan Doumit, Chris Iannetta, Mike Napoli, or Pablo Sandoval? I can understand getting a catcher early in a 2 catcher league, but with only one, I rather wait and get Doumit a few rounds later.

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    • Teddy Riley says:

      Yep yep it’s Teddy, ready with the one-two checka. Wreckx-n-Effect is in effect but I’m the Recca.

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    • rwperu34 says:

      According to the projections, 7 HR, 25 RBI, and 7 points in batting average is what you give up by waiting for Doumit. That’s $15-$17 in value.

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    • Brian Joura says:

      All of the catchers you listed are better than Yadier but you also have to worry about timing their selection. Over at MDC owners are taking both Doumit and Iannetta earlier now than they were at the beginning of mock draft season. Certainly you’re not going to get either one of those as late as the 20th round and I would be surprised if you got them after round 12.

      They can both provide excellent value from the catcher position.

      There are a lot of question surrounding Napoli, including playing time and his ability to repeat what he did in 2008. Sandoval does not qualify in all leagues as a catcher and is unlikely to play there much in 2009.

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      • Jim says:

        Now they’re talking about Napoli not starting the season. Still though, he’s hit 16 homeruns and 20 homeruns in fewer than 270 at bats two separate times. I would say the power is more than legit. Like you said though, he has plenty of other quesiton marks.

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  2. Jeff says:

    Good article. I still don’t know why people argue against position scarcity. Even wainting until the 20th round for a Yadier, his stats do not compare to another hitter you would be getting in the 20th round (a Billy Butler or Adam LaRoche). So in a sense, you are still paying for position scarcity even in round 20. If you took his stats and put them on a OF or 1b, you would talking about a waiver-wire player (not even draftable).

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  3. Choo says:

    Applying the replacement player value at a specific position to all players at that position (and doing the same for all other positions) tells you everything you need to know about the true value of position scarcity. Tom Tango and a handful of posters covered this topic at his site a few years ago when discussing the proper way to convert projections into roto values. Tango archives everything, so I’m willing to bet the entire discussion is still accessible if you do a search at his site.

    In a nutshell, the process goes something like this: Projections > Categorical Standard Deviations based on roto league parameters > Categorical Z-Scores > Z-Score Sum for each Player > Apply Replacement Value.

    If you need dollar values, Sum all positive Z-Score values and Divide by Total League Dollars to get the dollars per Z-Score unit value. Once you have that ratio, multiply it by each player’s Z-Score and *bam* done.

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    • Andross says:

      That makes me feel special!
      I independently came up with an almost identical solution when attempting to use a spreadsheet to quantify fantasy value! I did make a couple of modifications, though. I assumed a minimum PA and IP for players, even ones I didn’t expect to start, just for comparison’s sake. I also modified AVG, ERA, and WHIP by the expected number of playing time, which only made sense in my mind.
      But that is pretty cool. Me and Tom Tango think alike :)

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      • Andross says:

        Oh, and yeah, when you do that kind of positional modification, elite Catchers become like first round picks (well, let me clarify that, in 5×5, NL-only, ten teams, because my league is not everybody else’s league). For the purposes of knowing how to draft, though, I divided the modifier by two (not very scientific, but it looked better), which made a draft board that looked a lot like most draft boards I see on esteemed fantasy websites, so I kept it. And the prediction systems I used (CHONE and ZiPS) seem to love Pablo Sandoval, at least for his draft spot, who is a catcher in Yahoo leagues. He’s who I’m targeting at the position, just in case anyone cares.

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  4. Brian Recca says:

    How about this strategy, drafting Wieters later and then pairing him with Ramon Hernandez?

    Also Brian Joura you explained that Sandoval is not catcher eligible in every league, which is true. But what about leagues that he is eligible? Your left with a servicable group of catchers that include Doumit, Wieters, Iannetta, and Sandoval. All of whom are available in the 9th round or later. This way I can grab Jason Bay for example, and still have a good catcher.

    Also I think it should be noted that catchers come and go very quickly. Look at last season for example, Kelly Shoppach and Mike Napoli pretty much went undrafted last season but were able to contribute. On the other hand guys like Ivan Rodriguez and Kenji Johjima flopped like a fish out of water last season. Unless your in a really deep league players like John Baker, Jesus Flores, J.R Towles, and even Kurt Suzuki will go undrafted. Any of these guys could contribute well without using a draft pick.

    I don’t think many people will agree with me but last season I took Brian McCann in nearly every league in about the 7th or 8th round and I won every league I was in. I guess I’m hoping that Doumit will be my Brian McCann this year.

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  5. Jim says:

    Could I make a request for an article on Kenji Johjima? Even though his BABIP was .233 last year, a full 60 points below his previous two seasons, none of the projection methods see his average or power returning to anything fantasy relevant. Why is that? His HR/FB dropped to nothing last year, but was that because of injury or has American pitching simply figured him out?

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  6. Jim says:

    And who is this J.R. House guy the projection systems seem to love?

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