Is Middle Infield Scarcity Overblown?

I think at the crux of it, the question is asking whether people [call them “the market”] are adjusting middle infielders’ values upwards artificially as compared to other positions.  But another way to ask this (from a fantasy baseball drafting perspective), is perhaps:

Due to the market’s perceived value of the scarcity in the Middle Infield (MI) position, are other positions better valued at the draft table?”

Jeff Zimmerman recently tackled this question in his article, “Exploiting Middle Infield Bias.”  In it, Jeff compares player rankings based on Steamer projections to a recent 12-team mock draft.

In this article, I will attempt to answer the question in another way, by comparing my method of auction valuation to the market:

ME = The ATC Projection System + My method of auction price valuation

VS.

THE MARKET = ADPs converted to auction dollars (called ADP$)

To be technical:

  • My method uses the ATC Projection System to project future player statistics.
  • I then use my own auction calculator to generate auction values.  My auction calculator is based on a Z-Score method, and not the SGP method.
  • For the market, I use combined/aggregated Average Draft Position (ADP) & Average Auction Value (AAV) listings from a few various public sources, and then using an algorithm, I convert them to equivalent auction dollar values.  I call this ADP$.

Note, that ADP$ is similar, but is NOT in fact an AAV, as these figures do not come strictly from observing actual auctions.  I use ADP$ instead of AAVs, mainly because it allows me to adapt ADPs or AAVs to any fantasy format (i.e. 10 team mixed, or 12 team AL only, etc.) – where I may not have appropriate or credible AAVs.  If there are credible AAVs, I would prefer them – but ADPs are just easier to get a hold of, and are more reliable.

Now back to the comparison …

For each position MI, CI & OF – Let’s look at which valuation method shows the larger auction value.  ME or THE MARKET?  I did this in two meaningful ways.

  • Looking at the total auction value for the top N ranked players
  • Looking at the total auction value surrounding any player

#1 – Sums up all auction values from 1 to N for me and for the market.  I then simply divide the two sums.  A GREEN number, or any number over 1.0 will show where ATC shows more value, and conversely RED or under 1.0 for the market. It’s a way to see which system values the top N players for a particular position more.

#2 – Does almost the same thing, but instead of looking at all players from 1 to N, it just looks at the 5 players surrounding that spot on the rankings – The player, 2 above and 2 below.  This is a better way to show pockets of value for each position.  It also happens to be a fantastic way to construct an auction draft strategy – or a phenomenal way to allocate/target auction values to various positional slots.

 

 

Based on the chart above, the answer to our original question is, “YES.”  The market does appear to overvalue the MI position.  Using the 1 to N method, it’s pretty clear to see it – as just about all of the MI numbers are in RED.  But even using the 5-point surrounding method, you can see that for MI – more of the slots lie in favor of the RED, whereas for CI, and especially for OFs – more slots lie in the GREEN.

It is no surprise, that many of the fantasy teams which I have constructed in recent years lack middle infield superstars at the top, and focus more on the OF position up top.  The chart above should show why that’s true, as I typically buy the players where the ATC vs Market ratio is the greatest, and have had great success in doing so.

Now, to answer the question in a slightly different way – Let’s talk strictly about replacement levels.   How do MI replacement levels, and thereby auction values differ from other offensive positions?

For one thing, in 1 catcher leagues … no matter what size league … shallow (10 team) or deeper (15 team) – in my model, there is currently NO adjustment given to MI vs any other offensive positions other than catcher.  Other than C, the same replacement value is used for all other positions.  Auction values are not bumped up or down relative to other positions.

For two catcher leagues though, I have found that there is indeed a slight bump up of MIs. However, it is fairly small.  For final 2016 stats [excluding catchers], I observed that:

  • For 10 team mixed leagues – All positions are the same other than 1B.  First base calculates to about 0.6 higher in the z-score replacement level than for other positions.  For a $25 player, for example, it is roughly a $1 bump down for 1B, as compared to the rest.  MI, OF and 3B all get the same treatment.
  • For 15 team mixed leagues – Once again, all positions are the same other than 1B.  First base now is only about 0.25 higher in the z-score replacement level than other positions.  For a $25 player, it comes to about a 70-cent bump down for 1B, as compared to the other positions.
  • For 12 team mono leagues – All positions have the same replacement value.  There is no difference in any offensive position other than for catcher.

In short, using a Z-Score based method, there appears to be no bump up needed these days for middle infielders in their valuation as compared to other positions.  In fact, third base (not the focus of this analysis) has most recently been a weaker position than MI.  If any position should get a bump these days as far as replacement value goes – it is 3B.

To note (and I am far from the only one who has noticed this) – Catchers are now getting a bigger and bigger bump from exhibiting a lower and lower replacement value.  The bottom of the catcher position has been trending worse and worse.  In addition, the very low replacement values that arise from pre-season projections data, is far lower as compared to actual final-season data.  It is so low these days, it is at the point that I tend to have to artificially cap it.  Otherwise, Buster Posey would become a must-buy.

Biography

The Average Total Cost System was developed by Ariel Cohen before the 2011 MLB season for the purposes of winning fantasy baseball leagues.  Ariel and his fantasy partner, Reuven Guy, have used the ATC system projections in their home leagues ever since, wining half a dozen league titles and finishing in the money almost every single time.  In 2015, they finished 2nd in the national Doubt Wars Mixed Auction league, and in 2016 they finished in 1st place in their NFBC New York Auction League.  Both national successes came on their very first try.

Ariel Cohen is a fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) and the Society of Actuaries (SOA).  He is a Vice President of Risk Management for a large international insurance and reinsurance company.



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Mike D
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Mike D

There has never been “positional scarcity” for ANY position, EVER, with the exception of catchers in 2-catcher leagues. It’s the same every year.

sabrtooth
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sabrtooth

Prior to skinny infielders popping 20-25 homers regularly, I strongly doubt that’s true. That perception didn’t evolve out of nowhere, but owners have been slow to correct as the landscape’s shifted.

Mike D
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Mike D

It is a 100% absolute-wrong perception.

If most of middle infielders are worth $2 or $3 or $4 in an auction because they don’t hit 20-25 homers regularly, then there is no positional scarcity. A $3 shortstop has the same value as a $3 outfielder.

It is only when players who must be drafted/auctioned that are worth less than the minimum bid i.e. $1 does positional scarcity kick in.

This is only the case with catchers in 2-catcher leagues.

elkabong
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elkabong

Of course a $3 shortstop has the same value as a $3 outfielder. That’s true by definition. But a $3 shortstop will not produce the same statistics as a $3 outfielder. I believe you’re taking the term “scarcity” literally rather than the intended use. Yes, there are (roughly) 30 shortstops for N positions in a fantasy league, and roughly 90 outfielders for 3N positions in a fantasy league. But the historical argument is that the N+1 shortstop will produce worse statistics than the 3N+1 outfielder, thereby making a shortstop who produces the same stat line as an outfielder more valuable because he’s that much better than what you can get for “free”.

However, as this article argues, the difference between the N+1 shortstop and the 3N+1 outfielder has gotten smaller, and some, if not most, fantasy players have not caught up to this line of thinking.

Mike D
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Mike D

Actually its 22.5 shortstops (because you share MI with 2B), not 30 shortstops per 90 outfielders. Shortstop #23 or #24 is going to have similar numbers to outfielder #91 year-in and year-out. This is largely due to playing time and accumulating stats. If you could run the calculator on 2017, 2000, or 1969 stats you’ll find the same thing.

There are only so many slots in a league where a $1 bid goes to a player who valued less than $1. Most of these goes to catchers. One or two go an outfielder or corner, and one or two will go to a middle infielder.

elkabong
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elkabong

You are correct, I misstated. The prevailing theory, which was likely true until recently, was that a $3 shortstop and a $3 outfielder would not produce the same statistics. The entire crux of the article is that this gap has at least diminished, if not disappeared all together.

However, you state that there is no such thing as position scarcity other than for catchers in 2 catcher leagues. Let me introduce you to player C:

.252/74/23/81/2

Roughly the same BA and R, 6 more HR, 15 more RBI, and 2 fewer SB when compared to player A, yet he’s valued at $0.80 less than player A according to your auction calculator. This player is Mitch Moreland. So the fact that he plays 1B and not SS or OF devalues him by a significant amount.

Now, I’m going to vary from your auction calculator run a little bit here, and reduce the number of catchers from 2 to 1 in a 15 team mixer. This bumps Cozart and Mahtook up about $0.50 to the $3.50-$3.70 range. Player D, come on down!

.231/59/15/57/3

20 fewer points of BA, 16 fewer runs, 2 fewer home runs, 9 fewer RBI, and 1 fewer SB. Why, this player must be worth less than Cozart, right? Well, turns out, Jason Castro ends up being worth $0.80 more than Cozart by virtue of the fact that he’s playing catcher, even in a one catcher league.

Would you like to join my fantasy league? I’d love to play against you…

Mike D
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Mike D

Better yet, feel free to join some of the NFBC auction leagues. We’d be happy to have you!

Your second point first. As I mentioned in TWO-CATCHER leagues, catchers are the only position where positional scarcity counts. And yet in your example you use a one-catcher league so your point is already moot.

Mike D
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Mike D

Misspoke in the last comment. Player D/Jason Castro SHOULD be adjusted because he’s a CATCHER (as I’ve said), so your moot point is still moot.

Now to your first point/Moreland/Player C. Do you understand how the adjustments on the Calculator work? The adjustments are HIGHLY sensitive to the stats of the replacement level player at that position. If Kennys Vargas was the replacement level 1B instead of Joe Mauer in a 15-team mixed league(based on Steamer projections), the adjustments for first basemen would be in-line with shortstops or outfielders (or 2Bs or 3Bs etc.). So if Joe Mauer retired today, per the calculator Mitch Moreland would shoot up to about $5 and Cozart and Mahtook would remain at $3.

The calculator right now has adjustments for SS and OF to be very same because, and is always the case, the 23rd best shortstop will have very similar stats to the 91st outfielder. The 91st outfielder is basically a platooned OFs, and the 23rd best SS is one of the “worst” full-time shortstops. By virtue of playing time and their abilities they are going to have very similar stats. You can test this with past years.

elkabong
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elkabong

“Do you understand how the adjustments on the Calculator work?”

You clearly don’t, considering that Kennys Vargas would certainly NOT be the new replacement level 1B. Mauer is being slotted in at either a Util or CI spot, since he’s the 25th most valuable player eligible at only 1B or 1B/DH. So either the next most valuable overall player (either Caleb Joseph or Orlando Arcia) or the next most valuable CI (Brandon Phillips) would be added to their respective position’s list, and Logan Morrison would become the new replacement level 1B, thereby actually DECREASING Moreland’s value by $0.10.

Furthermore, it was my understanding that you implied that scarcity for catchers was only in two catcher leagues. If that’s not the case, then I apologize for the misinterpretation.

Mike D
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Mike D

You’re going in the wrong direction. If you have 35 1B who are taken in a typical 15-team league, and Mauer is the 35th 1B i.e. the replacement level player and he disappears, #35 becomes Vargas not Morrison. Morrison is #34.

Mauer’s value (-$5.5 in PTS column) is the value used to adjust the 1B only players (aPOS column). Vargas’s value (-$9.6 in PTS) then becomes that adjustment. This is the flaw with the Last Player Picked calculation because these adjustments are highly sensitive to part-time player projections.

A clear majority of leagues are two-catcher, so yes the scarcity only holds for catchers in these type of leagues because there are so many of them worth less than $1 but must be taken.

elkabong
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elkabong

I’m not going in the “wrong” direction. The “last player picked” factors in that you have to select CI and Util as well. There are 35 1B taken because some of those players occupy CI and Util spots, which can be occupied by players who play positions who play something other than 1B. Once the top 15 1B are filled, they start filling CI and Util spots. So, if you take Mauer out of a CI or Util spot, the last spot will be filled with the next best player eligible for either CI or Util. Try removing the CI spot in the auction calculator, and you will find that Mauer is no longer the replacement level 1B, it’s much higher.

Furthermore, I proved with the Jason Castro example that catcher scarcity DOES hold in one catcher leagues. His stats were worse than Cozart’s, but he was still worth more. Also, catchers taken at the tail end of two catcher leagues are not worth less than $1, there are just more catchers who have additional value because there are more spots to be filled.

Mike D
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Mike D

“But a $3 shortstop will not produce the same statistics as a $3 outfielder.”

False.

Player A: .254/75/17/66/4
Player B: .259/66/16/68/7

Pretty similar stats. They are the 2018 Steamer projections for Zack Cozart and Mikie Mahtook. They’re both around $3 in a 15-team mixed league per the Calculator.