The power of power

As fantasy players, why are we more willing to overlook some flaws than others? This was a question I came across in a discussion regarding players like Carlos Pena and Adam Dunn. Those of us who tend to prioritize power a bit more than average are indeed guilty of seeing the glass half full for some and half empty for others. However, this isn’t a blind or arbitrary preference, as some who question this bias would have you believe.

In advance of true keeper talk, I’d like to present a few reasons why hitching yourself to the power cart is a sensible strategy.

Home run hitters drive Cadillacs

Deciding how to react to group-think can be tricky in fantasy baseball. As a veteran player, one might be tempted to see the value in zigging when everybody else zags. So, if I were to tell you that you should value power highly because others do, you might think that I’m flying right in the face of the statistical bent and market pressure point identification style of analysis for which THT is known and respected. But, it’s not that simple…

For one, unlike actual baseball, in fantasy baseball there are fewer routes to victory. You can’t just decide that batting average is the cheapest category in which to buy advantage and thus triple down on that commodity to create enough added value to win. Fantasy baseball doesn’t work that way; it inherently values balance. Even in H2H leagues, you need to dominate several categories to win. In roto leagues, you need to be near the top of every category to win. This leads to two conclusions.

First, you have to buy enough power to be competitive. This means you have to consider power at a premium if others do. If you fall too far behind in this category early into your roster, it’s difficult to make up the differential.

Second, this is a closed market. So, one category is underpriced because another is overpriced. And, since you and your competitors all have the same amount of resources to purchase your commodities, you can still get the batting average you need at a cost-effective price point even if you go along with the market and overspend for power.

The old standby

If you look at the waiver wire in a standard size league, it’s very hard to find a player who will provide even the average amount of power you need, per roster spot, to compete for a championship. Looking at a few of my 12-team leagues, at this point in the season, a team needs to average in the range of 17 homers per roster spot to be in the upper third of that category. At the same time, a batting average in the low .270s can get your there in that category.

Predictably and stemming from the first point of discussion in this article, there aren’t any players on the waiver wire in any of my 12-team leagues with 18 or more homers. The point is that if I want to improve my team’s batting average or even find a player better than championship roster slot average at that category, I can find that for free. I can alter my team’s make-up in this direction at no cost, should I deem it prudent to do so. Retooling in the opposite direction will cost you. And, post-trade- eadline, it’s essentially impossible.

This is critical to understand because it can be difficult to assemble a team that is strong in all categories throughout the season. Often, a team will have to retool a bit and strategically change its strengths at certain points in the season to reach an outcome that will ultimately achieve balanced performance across each category. Knowing which types of retooling are easier to achieve than others and how to get from one set of strengths to another is an important part of the fantasy GM’s toolkit. Personally, I learned the importance of this knowledge and sharpened my abilities to implement such strategies in fantasy basketball leagues, where some categories are ostensibly antithetical to others—turnovers/assist, or three-pointers/field goal percentage.

You always want to be going from a team skilled in the expensive stats to a team skilled in the cheap stats. You can buy a lot of less dense batting average for a 35-homer bat.

The power of predictability… of power

While both the players I referenced as archetypal power monsters and batting average killers have suffered power outages one of the past two seasons, power is generally predictable from season to season—more so than batting average.

This is effect is magnified in H2H leagues, where a team’s true skill in a category may not lead to actual wins week to week. Power skills are more predictive of actual weekly wins in the HR category than batting average strength is of categorical wins.

As you are deciding which of your marginal players to start in your playoff push weeks, I’d suggest reading Michael Lerra’s great article on weekly category influence from 2008.

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in H2H standard 5×5 leagues you can “punt” HR so to speak, and load up on guys that will get you R, RBI, SB, AVG.  Only pay a premium for guys that will get you 15 HR but drive in and score 90+ runs and hit well (someone like Billy Butler).

while everyone is spending / using high draft picks for power, go after elite SP.