Last night on the Fantasy Baseball Roundtable radio show (live every Wed. night at 9 PM EST!), the question was posed as to whether position scarcity was greatest in the outfield this year. I was pretty shocked to hear such a suggestion as I figured it was pretty well known that every year catcher is the scarcest. It got me to thinking that this may be an issue of semantics and that many people still aren’t sure exactly what is meant by the phrase position scarcity. So here I am to explain.
As we debated the question, well, not really debated, as I simply told the “yes” answerers they were wrong, it was clear that the wrong term was being used. The argument supporting the notion of position scarcity being greatest in the outfield was that there is a big drop-off between the elite hitters at the position and the bottom dwellers. This is the most common misconception of the idea of position scarcity. Fantasy owners will look at a position, see a couple of top hitters and then a large drop-off, will claim they need to get one of the top guys and then will label that position scarce. This is not position scarcity.
I don’t know if an official term has been invented for this phenomenon, but it is very different from the concept of position scarcity. However, the situation being described does absolutely affect how you draft players in a straight draft. It has no effect in auctions though as you are paying for what a player’s projected stat line is worth, so if there is a drop-off in talent, you will simply pay a lot less for the next guy. Now when I say it affects how one drafts in a straight format, that does not mean the actual values of those players change, but it does change the dynamics and become a tie-breaker when comparing two similarly valued players. When you cannot make a decision, you should look at which position drops off more if you select the player in question and you then go with the guy from that position. Again, this is straight draft 101 and an essential skill to master, but it is not position scarcity.
So what is position scarcity, really? It is actually very simple. Using catcher as an example, we need to draft 24 of them in a standard 12-team mixed league. However, when we run our dollar values on their projected stats, we are almost guaranteed to find that we don’t end up with 24 catchers who are positively valued. In fact, some of the last couple of catchers may be worth $-5 to $-10. We must pay at least $1 for every player, so when a situation occurs where there is not enough positively valued players to fill all the starting slots at the position in question, that position is said to be scarce.
So by answering yes to the original question, one is inferring that the last outfielder drafted is actually worth less than the 24th catcher, using raw dollar values and projected stat lines, unadjusted for position. This may actually be possible in very deep mixed leagues or Only leagues, as the last players drafted at every position in these formats all stink and have very similar projected stat lines. But, we were assuming more common, shallower leagues, and the argument justifying the yes answer didn’t mention this possibility anyway.
So when we do determine that a position is scarce, we have to bump up the values of the hitters at that position to ensure the last drafted player is worth $1. That is why the top catchers get drafted as early as the 2nd or 3rd rounds, even though their raw stats are significantly inferior to other hitters being drafted in those rounds. This is a case where the wisdom of the crowds is correct in their overall valuation of catchers as the ADP of the top catcher is typically in this range. Of course, you will still always hear from those stubborn non-believers who argue that catchers don’t produce enough to justify an early round pick and they would rather draft better stats from a slugging first baseman at the spot instead. Ignore these people, they simply do not understand the concept of position scarcity and are not valuing players properly.