Yahoo’s Keys to Success

I noticed an article today over at Seamless Baseball that talked about Yahoo! Fantasy Baseball’s “Keys to Success.” Anyone in a Yahoo! league has access to this by clicking on “Tools” on your league home page. The bottom of that page has five names listed under the heading “Keys to Success.” Here is the list of the five names:

  1. Ryan Braun – MIL – 3B
  2. Russell Martin – LAD – C
  3. Hanley Ramirez – FLA – SS
  4. Jake Peavy – SD – SP
  5. Álex Rodriguez – NYY – 3B

Yahoo! declares this “the list of players who appear most often on the top 500 Public League teams in Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Baseball.” I’m not going to spend tonight talking about these guys, although I’ve already covered Braun and Rodriguez within the past couple of weeks. You’ll hear more about them over the off-season, but my intention tonight is not to talk about individual players.

When you look at the list above, does anything stick out to you? If it doesn’t, look a little bit closer. Still nothing? Then check out this next list:

  1. Álex Rodríguez – NYY – 3B
  2. Hanley Ramírez – FLA – SS
  3. Magglio Ordóñez – DET – RF
  4. Matt Holliday – COL – LF
  5. Jimmy Rollins – PHI – SS
  6. David Wright – NYM – 3B
  7. Prince Fielder – MIL – 1B
  8. David Ortiz – BOS – 1B
  9. Brandon Phillips – CIN – 2B
  10. Jose Reyes – NYM – SS

This is a list of the 10 top batters in Yahoo! leagues. Anything sticking out now? Maybe that there are 4 first basemen and outfielders on the second list but none on the first? If we look further, we’ll see that there are actually 12 first basemen and outfielders in the Top 20… and this is an off year. Last year, there were 6 in the Top 10 and 14 in the Top 20. Think it’s a coincidence that none appear on the first list? It’s not.

In fantasy baseball, certain players will always be overvalued. Right now, we’re talking about first basemen and outfielders. Take a look at the next list:

  1. Albert Pujols – STL – 1B
  2. Ryan Howard – PHI – 1B
  3. Jose Reyes – NYM – SS
  4. Alfonso Soriano – CHC – LF/CF
  5. Johan Santana – MIN – SP
  6. Álex Rodríguez – NYY – 3B
  7. David Ortiz – BOS – 1B
  8. Carl Crawford – TB – LF
  9. Carlos Beltran – NYM – CF
  10. Vladimir Guerrero – LAA – RF

This is typical pre-draft “cheat sheet” for 2007. Most of you probably saw this one or one very similar in February or March. Summary: 7 first basemen and outfielders.

So what we’ve established so far is that before the season the top first basemen and outfielders are seen as very valuable, and that once the season is over (or near completion, in our case) a good number of first basemen and outfielders will be ranked among the top production leaders.

So why are none on the first list? How come these guys with such great stats aren’t found on as many first place teams as a guy like Russell Martin (who is ranked #50 on Yahoo’s list of hitting leaders)? The answer is fairly simple. The first list deals with value, the second deals with raw production, and the third fails at evaluating value.

I’m sure many of you are familiar with VORP (Value Over Replacement Player). While VORP isn’t a very effective tool for evaluating fantasy players, it’s principles are. Suppose you are going to take a first baseman and a third baseman in the first and sixth round, but you’re not sure where you should take which. This will be strictly theoretical, so we won’t mention names.

In Round 1, you can get the best player at either position. In Round 6, you can get a first baseman that will give you 80% of the value you could have gotten from a first baseman in the first round. Also in Round 6, the best third baseman available will get you 60% of the value the first round third baseman would get you.

I think it’s pretty apparent what the obvious choice is: take the third baseman in the first round and the first baseman in the sixth round. Of course this is an overly simplified example, but I think it illustrates my point pretty well.

Despite how obvious this may seem, most fantasy owners don’t think about things this way. The intelligent owner, however, will focus on getting maximum value in each round and not target a guy simply because he has a big name and puts up big numbers. That’s not to say a guy like that won’t be a good value, it just means that you need to look deeper into it in order to determine this for sure.

Once you decide what replacement level is (it will vary depending on league depth), you can then determine how valuable each player is in regard to the others at his position. The owners who are in first place are generally the ones who realized this and didn’t spend their first couple of picks on (or spend big money at auction on) slugging outfielders and first basemen.

This year, they instead waited for guys like Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez, Barry Bonds, and Eric Byrnes. You might end up with a clunker like Lyle Overbay or Rocco Baldelli, but a clunker at first base or outfield is much easier to replace than a shortstop or catcher. Guys like Chris Duncan, Jack Cust, Jonny Gomes, Kevin Youkilis, B.J. Upton, and David DeJesus went undrafted in a lot of leagues and could have provided solid value if you missed on a middle-to-late round first baseman or outfielder.

Concluding thoughts

We’ll talk more about player valuation in the future, but when I saw that article today, I thought it might be a good idea to touch on it now. As always, questions or comments are welcome.

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