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September 5, 2006

Fantasy Focus

Planning Ahead for Scarcity

by Erik Siegrist

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One of the fantasy concepts that tends to fade into the background in keeper leagues once you leave the auction table is that of position scarcity. During the season scarcity is determined by who's available in the free agent pool, while end of season trades and keeper decisions are based more on production and price tag than on the amount of talent at any one position.

To an extent, it makes sense to worry more about position scarcity in the offseason after personnel moves between leagues and offseason position switches (as with Miguel Cabrera this year) have taken place. One advantage of looking at scarcity at the end of the season, rather than at the beginning of it, is that it takes the guesswork of projection out of the equation. Coming into 2006, for instance, shortstop was expected to be a fairly deep position in the American League. Disappointing years from the likes of Michael Young and Bobby Crosby, among others, made the reality something different.

To give a quick statistical snapshot of current depth, I've broken the top 12 fantasy producers at each infield position, and top 36 in the outfield, down into thirds and averaged out the production for each group (all stats through Saturday), with notes on each.

National League

Catcher


Group        AB   BA  HR RBI Runs SB
Top Four     358 .309 13 60  48   3
Middle Four  333 .289 14 48  45   1
Bottom Four  253 .297 8  38  26   2

National League catchers have been a shockingly good source of batting average in 2006, with only the Rockies' Yorvit Torrealba posting a subpar BA among the top 12. No one's racked up an outstanding home run total, however, with Mike Piazza's 19 leading the pack. As a result, the playing time-influenced counting categories, particularly RBI, make all the difference.

First Base


Group        AB   BA  HR RBI Runs SB
Top Four     453 .295 35 100 87   4
Middle Four  441 .291 22 73  71   2
Bottom Four  409 .290 14 60  59   2

Batting average also proves to be a common commodity, as no NL top 12 first baseman has hit lower than .270. The power advantage owning one of the top three (Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols and Carlos Delgado) gives a fantasy owner shines through loud and clear. The difference would be more pronounced if Nick Johnson's double-digit steals hadn't nudged him into the #4 slot ahead of the surprising Adam LaRoche.

Second Base


Group         AB   BA  HR RBI Runs SB
Top Four      477 .299 20 78  81   11
Middle Four   443 .279 10 49  72   14
Bottom Four   446 .277 11 49  60   5

The gap between the elite and the pack becomes far more pronounced at second base, with Chase Utley standing just a little bit ahead of the rest. From a scarcity perspective, Utley might well have been the most valuable player in fantasy baseball this season.

Third Base


Group         AB   BA  HR RBI Runs SB
Top Four      481 .318 22 95  88   9
Middle Four   469 .308 20 84  76   5
Bottom Four   421 .277 17 68  61   2

If there was any doubt that third base in the National League was the deepest position, this season's numbers should put them to rest. Cabrera, David Wright, Scott Rolen, Ryan Zimmerman... the position is so deep that Freddy Sanchez's breakout .347 batting average was barely good enough to land him in the middle group of four.

Shortstop


Group         AB   BA  HR  RBI Runs SB
Top Four      534 .290 15  59  102  36
Middle Four   501 .285 14  54  85   24
Bottom Four   396 .275 8   35  58   11

Steals--and raw plate appearances--rule among NL shortstops, although Bill Hall's 30 home runs stand out as he single-handedly keeps the middle tier level in that category with the top tier. Also standing out are Jose Reyes' evolution into a five category performer, and Hanley Ramirez's emergence as a potential five category guy.

Outfield


Group          AB   BA  HR RBI Runs SB
Top Twelve     484 .285 25 78  82   18
Middle Twelve  449 .278 16 64  67   9
Bottom Twelve  390 .274 14 56  56   5

The larger group sizes blur the differences somewhat, but there's still a clear power and speed divide between the top tier and the rest. In fact only one player with 25 or more home runs, and only one with 30+ steals, sit outside the top nine (coincidentally, Reds teammates Ken Griffey Jr. and Ryan Freel.) Of course only one player, Alfonso Soriano, fits both criteria as he marches towards a historic performance.

American League

Catcher


Group          AB   BA  HR RBI Runs SB
Top Four       430 .307 13 69  60   3
Middle Four    441 .287 10 55  56   4
Bottom Four    333 .258 11 42  39   0

Fewer American League catchers supply a better batting average boost than their NL counterparts, but the junior league backstops are a far more reliable power source--with the notable exception of Jason Kendall and his single home run, every catcher in the top 12 has between eight and 16 HRs.

First Base


Group           AB   BA   HR RBI  Runs SB
Top Four        465  .299 29 100  77   2
Middle Four     462  .262 24 77   69   1
Bottom Four     382  .275 14 56   56   2

There's less of a gap between the haves and have-nots in home runs here than at first base in the NL, as in the AL the gap at first base is in batting average. Only Justin Morneau and Paul Konerko supply top-shelf power without hurting you in BA.

Second Base


Group           AB    BA   HR RBI Runs SB
Top Four        479  .289  8  49  77   16
Middle Four     441  .297  8  54  57   5
Bottom Four     377  .268  9  51  43   5

The weakest group by far outside of the catchers (and not too far ahead of them in value), only the steals of Luis Castillo and Brian Roberts make any kind of fantasy impact, although Ty Wigginton's 18 home runs were probably surprisingly helpful to his owners.

Third Base


Group           AB   BA  HR RBI Runs SB
Top Four        489 .274 25 83  86   16
Middle Four     475 .286 16 72  73   5
Bottom Four     430 .262 14 56  66   8

Don't let the steals fool you--that's purely a product of Chone Figgins' position eligibility. The other three members of the top group here each have 29 or more home runs, which provides the real dividing line. Seeing Alex Rodriguez challenged for the top spot here by Joe Crede might be the biggest surprise of all.

Shortstop


Group           AB   BA   HR  RBI  Runs  SB
Top Four        512 .318  15  78   89    19
Middle Four     481 .279  12  62   64    4
Bottom Four     350 .266  6   39   44    5

Batting average and steals separates the top tier from the middle tier here, while playing time falls off a cliff with the bottom tier and takes production with it. Derek Jeter and Carlos Guillen stand out as five-category threats.

Outfield


Group           AB   BA   HR  RBI  Runs  SB
Top Twelve      494 .305  21  76    84   23
Middle Twelve   439 .290  17  68    69   6
Bottom Twelve   370 .285  11  52    56   6

The lesson here is how easy it is to find an American League outfielder who can hit for a decent batting average while supplying power. The outliers in BA here all tend to be speedsters (Scott Podsednik, Coco Crisp) rather than sluggers, meaning that a player who can steal bases and collect hits (Ichiro Suzuki of course, but also players like Carl Crawford and Johnny Damon) becomes that much more valuable to protect.

The demise of the AL second baseman is maybe the most shocking thing to emerge this season. That wheel seems to be turning quickly though, as players like Ian Kinsler and Robinson Cano will look to charge up in the ranks as they gain big league experience (along with the likes of Howie Kendrick, who hasn't gotten enough playing time to crack this year's top 12). Who knows? Soon enough we could be talking about that group in the same breath as those young NL third baseman.

Erik Siegrist is a senior beat writer for RotoWire, covering the Marlins and Nationals. He can be reached here.

Related Content:  Top 11,  The Who,  Position Switches,  Four Home Runs

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