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January 11, 2012

Fantasy Beat

Expected Gains From Dollar Players

by Jason Collette

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Nobody goes to the grocery store hell bent on purchasing ramen noodles or Keystone Light, but sometimes our budgets dictate it. We know we need to go grocery shopping for certain things, but sudden plans such as drinks with friends after work cut into our budget and subsequent spending habits for the week. We start the week with good intentions of taking our lunches to work all five days and coming straight home, but three diner stops and one happy hour later, and suddenly cash is short for a few days. Suddenly bad noodles and watered-down beer does not look so bad while counting down the days until the next paycheck.

Fantasy baseball, unlike life, only guarantees you two paychecks, and they come in two separate installments. One comes at the start of draft day with a finite budget of anything from $26 to $300 depending on your league rules. Once that money is out, it is out. The other comes in the form of a Free Agent Acquisition Budget (FAAB) that is anywhere from 30 to 40 percent of the draft day check. There are many strategies employed by drafters in a budget, but all auctions come to the same decision point at some point in a draft: is it worth going to your max bid on Player X that will put you in dollar days? There is a small, abstract study of this in the latest Baseball Forecaster from BaseballHQ that I read on my latest business trip to Wisconsin, but I wanted to take a deeper look into numbers here to show the risk/reward of dollar days.

Dollar days can leave you feeling both empowered and powerless. You can get a rush by trying to find the next Ben Zobrist for $1 as Brad Evans did in 2009, or watch as some Rays-homer like me jumps your $1 Zobrist bid in Tout Wars that same season because I had an extra dollar to spend and had a middle infield spot open. Some drafters feel quite confident in their abilities to mine talent in the end game while others prefer to avoid it as they enjoy the extra bit of end game leverage that I was able to exercise to get Zobrist in 2009. Most also look at their dollar day players as their first cuts when the FAAB process begins. That line of thought makes it imperative for you to both be able to identify the productive pickups from the non-productive and outbid your competition.

Frankly, entering into dollar days is a strategy we all have to decide whether we want to employ or leave in our book bag at the draft table. Last year, I went there and left the auction with Adam Moore as my second catcher, Brandon Wood as my middle infielder, and Will Rhymes as my utility player, while eventual Tout Wars AL champ Larry Schechter left with Brendan Ryan and Doug Fister. My three players went on to earn -$11 in value while his two made a profit of $21 for him on the season. You win some, you lose some, but what does recent history tell us about players purchased in dollar days?

To examine this, I employed the aid of USA Today’s Steve Gardner and some handy Google searching to dig up the results of the last six LABR (League of Alternative Baseball Reality) drafts in both the 12-team AL and the 13-team NL only leagues.  In all, I found 564 players that had been acquired in one of those drafts for $1. No, Jeff Mathis was not drafted for that price every season, but he was drafted for $1 in every odd-numbered year, so adjust your 2012 dollar values accordingly.

In all, just 180 of the players returned as little as one dollar in profit in the season they were drafted, leaving 384 players who failed to earn their purchase. Dollar values were obtained using the Historical StallValue System Dollar Values from 2006-2010, as well as last season’s values (for consistency purposes) assuming a 70/30 hitting/pitching split and weighing each of the ten standard scoring categories evenly.

Of the 180 players that turned profits for their owners in a season, 46 percent of them were pitchers, which was double the total of any other drafted position.

POSITION

COUNT

PERCENTAGE

MEAN PROFIT

HIGHEST

Pitcher

83

46%

$6

$24 (Franklin)

Outfielder

42

23%

$7

$17(Diaz/McLouth)

Catcher

14

8%

$3

$5 (Kendall)

Second Base

13

7%

$4

$7 (Miles)

Shortstop

12

7%

$8

$26 (Zobrist)

First Base

10

6%

$6

$21 (Trumbo)

Third Base

6

3%

$7

$22 (Cantu)


Ryan Franklin was a surprise to everyone in 2009 when he saved 38 games with a 1.92 ERA for the Cardinals that season. He was coming off a season in which he saved 17 games for them with a 3.55 ERA but had a 4.72 FIP along with a 51-to-30 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 10 home runs. All he did was come out and defy the regression gods by stranding even more runners than he did in 2008 and posting a three percent HR/FB ratio after six seasons worth of rates that were nine percent or higher.

Mark Trumbo was the most recent top profiter, mostly due to timing. LABR is the first of the expert leagues to draft, and their draft was in early March when Kendrys Morales had yet to be ruled out for the 2011 season.  In 2007, Jorge Cantu was so bad that he was traded by the Devil Rays to the Reds for two players that never made it to the majors, only to be released by the Reds after the season. He was acquired by the Marlins and placed in a pitcher’s park, yet went on to have the best year of his career.  Ben Zobrist found success in 2009 only after a knee injury to Akinori Iwamura opened up regular playing time at second base, which he never relinquished. In the outfield, Matt Diaz provided strong value despite only getting 425 at-bats, while McLouth had a career year in his third full season in the majors, going 20/20 and hitting .276 while scoring 113 runs for the Pirates. Jason Kendall and Aaron Miles only had modest gains from their positions and were more in line with the mean profits at those positions.

Conversely, pitchers carry a large amount of risk because their losses were more dominant than their gains. Of the 384 players to lose value from the player pool, 56 percent of them were pitchers. That was four times more than any of the other positions.

POSITION

COUNT

PERCENTAGE

MEAN LOSS

HIGHEST

Pitcher

215

56%

-$4

-$10(D.Cabrera)

Outfielder

52

14%

-$2

-$5(C. Carter)

Catcher

40

10%

-$2

-$5(J. Flores)

Second Base

23

6%

-$3

$-6 (Emaus)

Shortstop

19

5%

-$3

-$5(E.Cabrera)

First Base

18

5%

-$3

-$6(A. Marte)

Third Base

17

4%

-$3

-$5(J. Castro)

The silver lining here is that the larger losses are concentrated in the pitching area, as more than two-thirds of the players that lost at least $5 in profits were pitchers. Additionally, it is unlikely that these players remained on anyone’s roster over the course of the entire season, thus allowing those owners to replace their draft day mistake. Who among us has not rostered Andy Marte at least once in our history, hoping that this would finally be the season he would do something with an opportunity? Conversely, if you ever drafted Daniel Cabrera, you had to know what you were getting into.

We can view the separate groups as one to create a larger overall sample size and see which positions show the best chance of turning a profit and which ones carry the most risk.

POSITION

COUNT

PERCENTAGE

MEAN PROFIT

TOTAL VALUE

Pitcher

298

53%

-$1

-$292

Outfielder

82

15%

$3

$208

Catcher

66

12%

-$1

-$92

Second Base

31

6%

$1

$38

Shortstop

30

5%

$0

$4

First Base

29

5%

-$1

-$23

Third Base

28

5%

$0

$1

In all, the 564 players in this sample size combined to produce just $408 in value, or just $0.72 per player. Only six percent of the player pool (36 players in all) produced double-digit dollar values in a given season, and 31 of them returned double-digits profits to their owners.  It has become a running joke in Tout Wars AL to make fun of good friend Jeff Erickson’s shit-tee outfield that he somehow ends up with at every draft, but the numbers at least show there may indeed be a method to his madness each March.

Consider that 20 percent of the dollar players drafted over the past six drafts delivered exactly what owners paid for them, which should serve as your more realistic baseline for dollar days. Players are four times as likely to return exactly what you paid for them as they are to return massive profits in that season. Much like Ramen noodles and Keystone Light, you are more than likely to get exactly what you paid for.

Jason Collette is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

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