Valuing Opportunity

I am getting ready to take part in my first weekly-lineup fantasy baseball league. I’ve done this for fantasy football (which I suppose goes without saying) and for fantasy basketball (back in high school when the “find the guy playing five games this week” strategy seemed novel), but never for baseball.

As I try to build a team, I am realizing that I need to completely shift the way I value opportunity.

In ottoneu leagues, I have long pushed you to go out and grab platoon guys – either guys who actually platoon for their real teams or guys whose production is much stronger against righties than lefties (or vice versa). Even players with strong home-road splits can be useful. With a 40-man roster, you can use these players when the match-up dictates and ride with another guy when your starter has to hit the bench.

But in weekly leagues – well that is another story. What is going to follow is not exactly a detailed analysis of who to play and when, but more of a look at what you need to consider and what I am trying to wrap my head around.

Let’s assume, for the moment, that we are talking about an ottoneu Points league scoring system, and use four players as an example. Player A will play daily (162 games) and posts 5 points per game. Player B only faces righties (120 games) and posts 6 points per game. If he ever faced a lefty (he wouldn’t) he would be worth 3 points per game. Player C plays daily (also 162 games) but is going to give you 5.5 points per game against righties and 2 points per game against lefties (120-42 split). Player D is replacement level – he posts 4.5 points per game every single day.

Now let’s make a quick table of the points you would accrue over the year, assuming you can acquire any of A, B, or C and add D as a backup.

  Daily Lineups Weekly Lineups
A+D 810 810
B+D 909 720
C+D 849 744
D 729 729

The results are fascinating to me. In a daily format, like ottoneu, player B is the guy to go after. You can use him whenever he plays, use a replacement level backup when he doesn’t, and put up more than 900 points over the season – 60 more than any of the other options. The replacement level player is the least valuable, and player A – solid across the board but no strong platoon side – is second least valuable.

But when you shift to a weekly format, suddenly your boring-but-steady Player A becomes your go-to and Player B, despite putting up the most value when he plays, is the least valuable option – worse than the replacement level guy – simply because he doesn’t play enough. Player C is, at least by our stats, a worse player than B. Given the choice, you would play B over C no matter what. But the fact that C gets to go out there and play horribly against lefties makes him a more valuable piece in weekly leagues.

This is a bit of an over-simplification. Some weeks, B would have a week against almost all lefties and you might bench him that week. But in general, every 6-7 game week will include a few matchups against RHP and a couple against LHP, and you are going to troy B (or C) out in your lineup, and suffer the consequences when they have to go against their split.

In addition, even bad players will create value more often than not in points leagues – Player C in a 5×5 league might bring down your rates more than he helps your counting stats by playing against lefties, potentially making B more valuable than C – although both might still be worse than replacement level.

This has been top of mind for me as I try to figure out what to do with Kelly Johnson. I am a big fan of KJ, and I love the idea of seeing him hit in Yankee Stadium, but the reality is his role is unclear. Right now he is their only 2B, but the Yanks do not seem to be willing to accept that, and if Johnson finds himself in a super-utility role, he quickly moves into player B camp – a guy who I think will put up solid fantasy stats when he plays, but will not play everyday.

Player B’s are great for daily leagues, but if you are dealing with weekly lineups they take up a roster spot and – far too often – don’t provide value.

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Chad Young is a product manager at Amazon by day and a baseball writer (RotoGraphs, Let's Go Tribe), sports fan and digital enthusiast at all times. Follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.

5 Responses to “Valuing Opportunity”

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  1. Kris says:

    Nice article, Chad. This does however bring up something that crosses my mind every single year.

    What’s a roster spot worth? I’m sure you guys have addressed this before, so a link would be great.

    In essence, let’s just say we add player E. This player currently doesn’t have a role, but he’s a high upside guy. Maybe he’s in the minors. He may or may not play the same position as A,B,C,D — Odds are, he’s probably the same position as one of your weakest players. A pitcher even.

    Does it make more sense to go with B+D or A+E?

    The addition of 100 points you get by platooning is going to be very close to what player E gives you over whoever he’s replacing in maybe 70 games? Obviously you have to factor in the risk of player E never playing or not producing the value you expected…

    How do you do this? Platoon guy or Upside guy? Or just a mediocre pitcher knowing that hitting the innings cap in most leagues can be tough.

    To a lesser extent, it also applies to bundling relievers. You can combine a couple, get great ratios, good K’s, and pretty decent sv+w numbers. But you lose that roster spot…

    So in standard leagues, are you using your extra spots for Platoon, Upside, Relievers, or Spot Starters?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Brad Johnson says:

      Sometimes I write up a comment and then decide it’s an article. This is one of those cases…the short answer is, it depends.

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    • Robert J. Baumann says:

      Does it make any sense to say that it depends on the context of the league? You said standard leagues, but even assuming that, your league might have available more guys of one type than the others.

      Also maybe depends on your own roster. If Player E is potentially a big upgrade at your weakest position (if/when he gets called up or wins more playing time), then maybe it makes mores sense to roster him in place of a stream-only SP or a platoon guy. Seems like you’d be best to go on a case-by-case basis and try to assess which offers the highest potential swing in points, based on the specific players at hand.

      Bench size is huge, too, even for daily leagues. I’m in a daily league with only three bench spots and a twice-weekly auction for free agents, which makes it tougher to stream pitchers and makes it a lot harder to justify carrying a strict platoon player. In that league, I feel more inclined to use a bench spot on your Player E type (if I am pretty confident he’ll eventually have a bigger role, at least) because if he wins an everyday role, then I can drop the replacement level guy whom Player E replaces and have that valuable bench spot open again.

      But, clearly, I am no expert, and Chad is an expert, so…

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      • Brad Johnson says:

        In the intervening time, I have written 1400 words on the topic and am preparing to submit for Wednesday. But you do have some of the more important factors listed out there. It’s different enough for all leagues that it seems rather pointless to say, it’s worth $15 +/-$65.

        And the +/- would be absurdly large for reasons I will explain on Wednesday :)

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      • Kris says:

        I tend to get rambling, yes. But this is a dilemma that I face every year in almost every league. I’m not expecting a definite answer per se, just a methodology. A lot of people talk about the benefits of platooning and while it’s probably the best way to spend your dollars, is it the best way to spend your roster spots?

        I’ll be sure to read your article, brad. The offseason is my favourite time of the year for fantasy baseball because folk churn out more theory articles and less analysis ones.

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