Catchers are kind of cool because they get to wear cool gear. In Little League, catchers get to have that cool big bag for all their cool gear. In the majors, some catchers have their name on their gear and sometimes, if they have a nickname, their nickname goes on the gear as opposed to their less-cool birth name (which is kind of a weird term to begin with). Unfortunately, for fantasy purposes, this is where the coolness ends (except for Mike Piazza and that time when Jason Kendall stole those bases). As a result of this lack of fantasy prolificness, it is pretty easy to forecast catchers from a game theory perspective. What the heck does that even mean? It means that because there is no corner-infield or middle-infield equivalent for catchers and because no one sets out to put a catcher in one’s utility slot, we have a pretty good idea of the number of catchers that will be drafted, which catchers will be first off the board, and which catchers will be around if we choose to wait on the position. In other words, determining a strategic approach for how to roster catchers is easier than, say, anything else one needs to determine during a draft or auction. Relatedly, there are two key components to drafts and auctions that we should always remember:

  1. Auctions and drafts are complex and the decisions they require are mentally strenuous (unless you are too cool, at which point you are either auto-drafting software or someone who is being forced to read this article against your will (sorry)). More seriously though, even if you do not feel the mental strain during a draft, your brain certainly does, given the vast number of options and variables at play to go with the inherent uncertainty of the game.
  2. To deal with the complexity and strain in point one, we use decision-making crutches.

The consequence of all this, is that we may quickly set a strategy for the less complex parts of a task in order to devote more energy to the more complex parts. In drafts and auctions, this may mean determining a “catcher strategy” prior to the draft in order to pay more attention to the more complex and more impactful parts of the task such as assembling a pitching staff, deciding between infielders and outfielders, or determining how many relievers to select. The problem with determining a strategy prior to a draft is that it reduces our strategic agility, which makes us less likely to capitalize on the opportunities that each draft presents.

This brings us to zagging; As in, while others zig, we zag (this is not to be confused with the award winning Bloody Mary mix—Zing Zang: Not Just Another Bloody Mary Mix). Zagging, put differently, is using the alternate strategy to one’s competition. But why should we zag? Should we do so because our leaguemates are bad at fantasy baseball? No. Should we do so because uniqueness for the sake of uniqueness is in? No. We zag for three reasons:

  1. As discussed above, owners are likely to determine specific strategies prior to the draft or auction, which reduces their strategic agility; thereby making one’s own strategic agility more profitable. To elaborate, the fewer the opportunities that the competition can capitalize on, the more frequent and more profitable the opportunities will become.
  2. As will be discussed below, people are not very accurate at predicting uncertain futures and they are overconfident in their ability to predict uncertain futures.
  3. As will also be discussed below, in a draft or auction, our options are determined by the previous decisions of our competitors.

If our competition lacks strategic agility, but has perfect forecast accuracy, then point one alone is not enough of a reason to employ an alternative strategy. Luckily, as point two indicates, our competition does not have perfect forecast accuracy (if it does, we can all pack it up because uncertainty is what makes this entire thing (sports, life, etc.) worthwhile and is therefore prone to error. This brings us to the second part of point two—our overconfidence in forecasting—which causes us to overvalue our own valuations. This overconfidence is why we reach for a player because “we know” Player X is the last in a tier or that the remaining options are unsatisfactory. Consequently, the actions of our competitors will often leave us with profitable options (for example, a third round value in the fifth round) and all we need to do is make ourselves strategically available to capture these profitable options.

Now that we have covered the benefits of zagging (conscious strategic agility), particularly for strategically simpler positions such as catcher, we should probably look into how to zag. There are two key parts to zagging: (i) preparing for alternate strategies and (ii) knowing that we cannot possible prepare for all draft or auction outcomes. The first part requires effort, but is not overly complicated. This involves knowing that if a particular player falls to you or a particular set of players are taken for way more than you were willing pay for them, that you can adjust your strategy accordingly. Using catchers as an example, this means not only knowing when to select a catcher that has fallen to you, but also knowing what position you will therefore be taking later in the draft. Often, however, the natural path of a draft or auction will lead you to one opportunity after another, which brings us nicely to part two – knowing that we cannot know all the ways a draft or auction will develop. The point here is to always be on your toes when on watch for opportunities and to remain agile even after pivoting one’s strategy to take advantage of an opportunity (you can often profitably zag more than once).

Lastly, a question: Is zagging just a dressed-up version of “take the best player available?” The most helpful answer is that zagging or the mindset it involves allows us to more frequently take the best player available in drafts and buy the best values in auctions. With positions where owners may enter a draft or auction with multiple strategies in mind, zagging may not be quite as profitable, but for positions where strategies get rigid, like catcher, conscious strategic agility can certainly be a boon.

Thank you for reading

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the last few years i've done lots of preparation only to have most of it fly out the window when my league mates make decisions i could have never seen coming.

have some strategies in hand but remember, people can be really unpredictable.
Absolutely. And even more so, if everyone is using the same strategy as you, then the advantages of that strategy are probably nullified.
Jeff, can you give a catcher example of zagging? What are typical field strategies for catchers that can be zagged?
Well this really depends on what strategies your opponents use. Mostly, though, this mean avoiding runs of both activity (your classic "closer run") and inactivity (waiting to take a second starter). The key would be to be aware of when this is happening; avoiding reaching for a player in the first example and grabbing a player that has fallen too far in the second example.

In auctions, this often manifests in how players choose to spend there money (one expensive and one cheap catcher, for example, paying $25+ for only one pitcher, spending X on middle infield, waiting for bottom of the top tier players, etc.), but like the above it is mostly about identifying strategies as they are implemented and being able to take advantage of the opportunities those strategies are creating.
Ok, so if the field sits back on catchers, then grabbing one one of the top two that has fallen a round or two is a zag. Is that right? (As obvious as such a move might be.)
Exactly (sorry for the delay)