HQ VAULT: Stars and Scrubs vs Spread the Risk—Which is better?

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.

Stars and Scrubs vs Spread the Risk: which is better?

by Matt Cederholm

Two of the most common auction draft strategies are Stars and Scrubs (S&S), where you draft several high-priced players and fill in the rest of your roster as you can, primarily with very cheap players, and Spread the Risk (STR), where you spread your money more evenly against a larger number of players, generally taking one or two second-tier stars and distributing the rest of your budget across the various spectrums of draft quality.

We'll start by comparing possible budgets for the two strategies illustrates their differences (listing the players acquired from highest to lowest cost):

S&S    STR
===    ===
 40     30
 35     25
 35     25
 30     20
 25     20
 25     20
 20     15
 10     15
 10     15
  5     10
  5     10
  3     10
  3      9
  2      8
  2      6
  2      5
  2      5
  1      3
  1      3
  1      2
  1      2
  1      1
  1      1
---    ---
260    260

As you can see, the S&S drafter will beat the STR drafter to many of the top players, but as the draft gets deeper, the STR drafter will start to pull even, grabbing a lot of $5-$10 players that the S&S drafter can't afford.

Who comes out ahead? It depends in part on the shape of the draft. If top players command premiums, that leaves a lot of late-round bargains for the STR drafter to gobble up. On the other hand, if you have a room full of seasoned owners who are tied to not spending their money too early, the S&S drafter might save enough money on his top picks to be competitive in the middle rounds.

Of course the draft itself is merely prelude to the main event—the season. And it's the in-season factors where the differences truly become apparent. We'll look at the strengths and weaknesses of each approach.

Stars & Scrubs

Strengths:

  • You're drafting top players, especially if you pay attention to health and reliability. Highly skilled, highly reliable players will rarely disappoint you.
  • You'll usually generate better ratio stats (batting average, ERA, WHIP, etc.); deep investments in the top players ensures stability in the categories that are typically most difficult to manage
  • There's less chance of a catastrophic injury. The odds of losing a $40 player are about half of the odds of losing at least one of two $20 players.
  • You have more ability to take endgame risk; since you're taking a gaggle of $1 players, you have little regret if you jettison the bottom third of your roster for emerging free agents

Weaknesses

  • It's usually harder to amass playing time, as few full-time players will go for less than $10. That makes competing in HR, SB, Wins, etc., more of a challenge.
  • While injuries are less likely, they hurt more, since it's much harder to replace a $40 player than a $20 player.
  • You need to be much more active in the free agent market, as a lot of your cheap players will demand replacement.

Spread the Risk

Strengths:

  • You should end up with a mostly full-time hitters, making it much easier to compete in the counting stats.
  • You will be better able to weather a key injury or two.
  • With more serviceable players, trading to fill holes in your roster should be a bit easier.
  • While there are players who come out of nowhere to have big seasons, it is often the players in the 250-400 AB range who outperform, as they are usually proven talents who earn (or fall into) additional playing time.

Weaknesses

  • The ratio categories, especially in pitching, are much harder to maintain. And when you get stuck in a hole, it's harder to work your way out, since you've already amassed a lot of innings.
  • It can be difficult to find enough quality players to fill all of your budget slots, so position management can be more important. While some positions, like the outfield, may have a whole range of dollar values, others, like catcher, tend to be composed more of a handful of stars and a bunch of scrubs.
  • Since most closers are in the middle to upper tiers and most short relievers are in the low-cost buckets, unearthing new saves sources can be a challenge.
  • Past research (John Hunt at the old Baseball Weekly) has shown that there's little difference in final performance between a pitcher valued at $1 in the preseason and one valued at $9. If all sub-$10 pitchers are equally likely to produce, there's little advantage in having that extra cash. That probably still holds true today.

So which is for you? Well, why not do both? If STR allows us to amass playing time, which is more important to hitting (four categories tied directly to PT, vs. only two—Wins and K—for pitchers) and S&S helps more in ratio categories (two for pitchers, one for hitters), then why not use STR for hitters and S&S for pitchers?

There are clear advantages to this approach. First, S&S generally yields less playing time. So as the season progresses, you are amassing fewer innings, making it easier to turn around ERA and WHIP if necessary. And if Hunt's research, noted above, is true, then those $1 and $2 pitchers are just as likely to help (and a lot easier to drop) as the $7 and $8 guys you may acquire with a STR approach.

While STR may hold down your batting average, BA is one of the most volatile stats from year to year. So a team that comes into the season looking like a loser in the category might do well enough to finish in the middle of the pack. Add in the advantage that comes with more playing time, and you could clean up in the hitting categories.

Conclusion

The main point here is that each approach has its advantages and disadvantages. You can follow one or the other as you like, or you can use a hybrid approach, or anything in between. There's no right or wrong way to do it, but understanding what you're getting and giving up will allow you to create a better plan going into the draft.


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