I first want to thank everyone who read What is Position Scarcity, Really? and commented, as it led to an interesting discussion with lots of good points and observations. I quickly realized how in-depth this concept could go and that I may not have explained myself as well as I would have liked. It happens all too often, as I sometimes suck at clearly stating my argument and finding the words to use so that everyone understands what I am trying to convey. I have been emailing with a reader/listener of my radio show who read the aforementioned post and it was evident that I had not done a good enough job convincing him either. Luckily, as I was typing my response to him, it suddenly hit me, as I thought of something I should have included in my original article, but failed to.
Most of the argument against taking catchers early or the concept of position scarcity in general is that the fantasy owner is much better off with a 30 home run, 100 RBI first baseman as opposed to a 20 home run, 80 RBI catcher in the early rounds. “Why would I draft a catcher early when I can get a first baseman who is better in every category? It is about maximizing team output, not any specific position’s output”, the anti-camp says. Well, of course, in a world where you have a roster of 14 utility spots, that would be a perfectly sound argument. However, I have never heard of such a league format. Fantasy leagues require that we draft a catcher that actually catches (or qualifies at the position) and a first baseman that qualifies in that slot.
For some reason, the anti-camp seems intent on comparing the raw stats of a hitter at one position (like catcher) to another position (such as first base). This is a mistake and appears to be one of the primary reasons why fantasy owners misunderstand the idea behind position scarcity.
Let’s use an example. You’re in Japan and find an item that you want to buy and need to determine if it is cheaper there or in the U.S. You notice that the price is 15,410 Japanese yen, but have no idea what the exchange rate is. Do you think that just because the item requires you to pay significantly more yen than you would need to pay in the U.S. using dollars, that the item is more expensive in Japan? I would hope not! This is no different than comparing a catcher’s raw stats with a first baseman’s. Just because a first baseman is projected to produce better in all categories than a catcher, doesn’t automatically mean that his projected value is higher.
Without the exchange rate, it is impossible to compare the price in dollars with the price in yen. What needs to happen is an adjustment based on the exchange rate to either the yen price or the dollar price, to put both numbers on the same scale. In fantasy baseball, an adjustment needs to be made to the projected stats of every hitter. In the valuation system that I use, this adjustment would require that you take a replacement level hitter (because you should only be paying for production that is better than what you can get freely out of the free agent pool) at each position and subtract those projected stats from the projected stats of the rest of the hitters at each position. After adjusting your projected stats, then finally, you are comparing apples to apples and can accurately compare Mark Teixeira to Carlos Santana. Without this adjustment, you are truly comparing apples to oranges, and will not be properly valuing players.
If a catcher and first baseman’s projected stats were identical, you would always draft the catcher first, or pay more for him, right? That’s easy to answer, but by admitting this, you are acknowledging that position scarcity does in fact exist and bumps up the values of the hitters at that position. Where it gets difficult is figuring out exactly how much to increase the value of a player at a so-called scarce position. Unfortunately, this cannot be done in your head and requires a full-fledged valuation system. This will quantify exactly how much of a jump a player at a scarce position experiences and there will no longer be a need to guess at which point the superior stats from a first baseman versus a catcher trumps the effect of position scarcity.
There is a whole lot more that can be discussed, such as size of tiers within a position, drop-offs between tiers, etc, and how that affects player values and draft strategy. This kind of stuff is also very interesting and is worthy of its own posts, but the concepts are different than position scarcity as I have defined in this and my previous post. So keep that in mind when commenting!