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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.