HQ VAULT: The concept of draft day burden

Over 20+ years that BaseballHQ.com has been in existence, and going back another decade to the Baseball Forecaster newsletter, we have accumulated hundreds of articles on fantasy strategy. These reside in the Strategy Library section of the site, and many include timeless tips on all aspects of fantasy league play, at various times in the fantasy league calendar. In a series to run occasionally throughout the season, we will be highlighting selected articles from the Library as part of a HQVAULT series. We welcome reader interaction with these older articles in the comments section below. Enjoy! —Ed.

by John Burnson

Even in Rotisserie baseball, things aren't always what they seem. A Draft Day roster that looks loaded with reasonably priced players may still bear "burdens" that can hamper the team. Each burden is associated with a "hidden" dimension of fantasy value—a component that isn't factored into published projections but is nonetheless real and should be reflected in your target salaries.

Let's start here: Which of these players would you rather own?

            AB  HR  RBI  SB   AVG   Eligibility 
Player A   150   1   10   5  .290   OF 
Player B   150   1   10   5  .290   OF, 1B, 2B 

Obviously, the answer is Player B, the one with the wider positional eligibility. Now, to indicate this preference, the price of Player B should be higher that that of Player A. But because the players have the same projected stats, a fantasy guide would assign the same salary to both.

This is a mistake. Positional flexibility gives owners sharply greater latitude in improving their roster and coping with misfortune, and it is an unsung hero of championship teams. A lack of flexibility creates positional burden, in which players are stuck in their drafted slots, limiting the pool of talent that the owner can tap for help.

Recommended adjustment: In leagues with a 1-game positional-eligibility requirement, add $1 to a player's projected value for each additional eligible position. In leagues with 5- or 20-game requirements, add $2 and $3 per extra position, respectively.

Try this one: In a keeper league, which of these players would you rather own?

            AB  HR  RBI  SB   AVG  Fantasy Contract 
Player A   500  25   70   3  .250  LAST YEAR 
Player B   500  25   70   3  .250  FIRST YEAR 

Again, identical stats, yet the greater value is surely Player B, the one with the fresh contract, because he can be dealt to both contending and non-contending clubs. Fantasy guides can't consider contract status, but young pacts are one of the purest sources of value in a keeper league.

Contractual burden arises when much of a roster is in the final year of their contracts. Like positional burden, contractual burden constricts dealing, since end-of-term players hold little allure to the teams vying for next year. Avoid situations where every player at a position is at the end of his agreement; trade one for a player with a fresher contract or at another position.

Recommended adjustment: Add $2-$3 to the target salary of players with at least two years remaining on their contracts. Thus, it may make sense to drop a player with the aim of re-drafting him—even if his new price is a buck or two higher—if doing so re-opens his contract.

A bit trickier: Which of these players would you rather own?

            AB  HR  RBI  SB   AVG  Eligibility 
Player A   550  35  100  10  .300  SS 
Player B   550  35  100  10  .300  OF 

For $30+ players like these, you should prefer Player B. The reason is that OF bears a lighter replacement burden. Replacement burden is the task of finding a similarly productive fill-in for a player who has been lost to injury, demotion, or out-of-league trade. When injuries strike—and they will—teams with greater replacement burdens suffer more.

Replacement burden is heaviest at those positions with the shallowest depth. One measure of depth is last year's average value (LYAV) of this year's projected $0-$2 players. Here are LYAV's by position for 2012:

OF   $13.27 
3B   $12.10
1B   $11.94
SS   $11.28
SP   $10.46
2B    $9.87
RP    $7.63
CA    $7.53

By far, the deepest position is OF—the LYAV of available players is over $13. Clearly, the pool of undrafted outfielders harbors players of sizable skills. At the other end of the scale is CA, with a LYAV just over $7. There is little potential among the free-agent starters—the projected low performers this year were also low performers last year—so if an expensive catcher goes down, you will likely have to pick up a catcher of minimal skills, or go without one at all.

Recommended adjustment: Throw your money at OF, 3B, and 1B, and avoid big liabilities among 2B, RP, and CA.

Final question: Which of these post-Draft Day lines would you rather own?

           AB   HR   RBI   SB   AVG 
Team A   5000   60   200  110  .317 
Team B   5000   80   270   80  .312 

According to Art McGee's Standings Gain Point (SGP) denominators, both rosters capture 32 SGP. However, Team A is overly strong in SB and AVG, whereas Team B has its SGP evenly divided among the four categories. The better line, then, is Team B, because of its lighter categorical burden. Categorical burden reflects a shortfall or an excess of a Roto category.

There's no point to cornering a category in roto—unlike in poker, you can't hide your hand. Although it is true that an owner with a lack of SB will rate speedsters highly, it is equally true that an owner with a surplus of SB will rate them barely at all—and every other owner knows it. The burden to sell a recognizably worthless asset is as high as that to acquire a prized one.

The toll of categorical burden comes from having to trade your way out of it. Fantasy leagues are rotten bazaars. Even the largest league has only a dozen potential trading partners. Only a fraction of those teams will covet the stat you wish to sell, and only a fraction of those teams will possess the stat you wish to buy. Consequently, trades are almost invariably sub-optimal exchanges. This judgment doesn't even weigh the time and effort wasted on negotiating.

Recommended adjustment: Cherish balance. Track your team stats during the draft, and lower target prices for players who contribute to already-solid categories.

As you build your team, recognize all four burdens—positional, replacement, contractual, and categorical. The suggested adjustments could make the difference between raising a bid or losing an undervalued player. Above all, be aware that published player projections don't tell the whole story about Roto worth.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.