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On Position Scarcity

by Matthew Pouliot
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:09 pm ET

Upon revealing the top 30 in this year's player rankings, the immediate response was "what the heck are you doing with two catchers in your top 10?" I was rather surprised myself that it worked out that way. I knew I'd be high on Joe Mauer and Carlos Santana this year, but I didn't think either would grade out quite that well. When they did, I reexamined things, wondering if I had overrated the catcher bonus or, in Mauer's case, maybe I was overvaluing batting average (in the past, I've deliberately undervalued it some, since it does include the most variance of the offensive categories). In the end, I decided I was comfortable with it; according to my methodology, that's where they belong.

 

Of course, that doesn't mean they'll meet their projections (that's a subject for another column). Just that I think I'll have had them ranked correctly if they do.

 

As I pump out my projections each winter, each player is given a score, which I then use to rank the players and do my dollar values. Those scores also allow me to compare the strength of each position as I decide how to account for position scarcity each new season. Let's look at some of those scores by position.

 

First, here's what the top 12 at each position averaged for a score:

 

1B: 3.22

OF: 2.30 (top 36)

3B: 2.24

SS: 0.94

2B: 0.76

C: -0.69

 

Now, that probably doesn't mean much to you as is. Let me try to put in perspective by subbing in those numbers for a projection at roughly that same score.

 

1B: 3.22 = Troy Tulowitzki: .304, 26 HR, 85 R, 92 RBI, 5 SB in 504 AB

OF: 2.30 = Yoenis Cespedes: .270, 30 HR, 78 R, 93 RBI, 13 SB in 533 AB

3B: 2.24 = Kyle Seager: .290, 21 HR, 93 R, 76 RBI, 8 SB in 607 AB

SS: 0.94 = Jean Segura: .283, 8 HR, 85 R, 47 RBI, 38 SB in 622 AB

2B: 0.76 = Martin Prado: .298, 15 HR, 77 R, 74 RBI, 6 SB in 571 AB

C: -0.69 = Wilin Rosario: .274, 23 HR, 61 R, 80 RBI, 3 SB in 449 AB

 

Shortstop ahead of second base is an unusual result, but that's skewed by the strong projection for Hanley Ramirez. Beyond the top two -- Tulowitzki also has a bit better of a projection than any second baseman -- second base pulls ahead, if only by a bit.

 

Basically, that's taking the sixth or seventh best guy at every position and calling him average. But that player is only average in the shallowest of shallow leagues. Let's go to a more standard league: a 12-team mixed league with two catchers, three corner infielders, three middle infielders and five outfielders. Such a league calls for the employment of 24 catchers, 36 corner infielders, 36 middle infielders and 60 outfielders (plus 12 DHs). Here's how the average player in that league would score in my system:

 

CI: 1.65 = Allen Craig: .303, 21 HR, 73 R, 89 RBI, 3 SB in 479 AB

OF: 1.25 = Carlos Beltran: .257, 28 HR, 86 R, 95 RBI, 5 SB in 525 AB

MI: 0.03 = Andrelton Simmons: .287, 15 HR, 75 R, 64 RBI, 11 SB in 578 AB

C: -3.13 = Jose Tabata: .276, 7 HR, 67 R, 40 RBI, 11 SB in 511 AB

 

Now, that's quite the decline when it comes to catcher. Simmons' score, as the No. 18 middle infielder, would place him fourth at catcher behind Mauer, Santana and Buster Posey. The No. 36 middle infielder in this set would rank as the No. 11 catcher. It's why many people, if they don't grab one of those top few catchers, just wait until the end to worry about the position, since those guys tend to all have similar values anyway.

 

For what it's worth, I think it's just fine to play it that way. But I see Mauer and Santana as special cases this year and worthy of top picks. Let's revisit that last list for a second. Here are the players I have ranked at least five points higher than their position average (1.65 for CI, 1.25 for OF, 0.03 for MI and -3.13 for C):

 

Mike Trout (7.2 above average)

Joe Mauer (6.3)

Miguel Cabrera (5.9)

Hanley Ramirez (5.8)

Carlos Santana (5.7)

Ryan Braun (5.1)

 

All of those guys are in my overall top 10, along with Paul Goldschmidt (4.1), Carlos Gonzalez (4.4), Prince Fielder (3.7) and a lone pitcher in Clayton Kershaw. What it amounts to is my feeling that, in a two-catcher league, one would be better off with Mauer and a 10th-round first baseman than, say, Adrian Beltre and a 10th-round catcher. Now, in a one-catcher league, instead, Mauer would drop to 15th, with Santana 19th.

 

As for second base and shortstop, basically, I think Ramirez is the only one worth breaking the bank to get. Robinson Cano is in a far more difficult situation in Seattle and Tulowitzki and Jose Reyes have their durability concerns, so the positions are short on top-notch talent at the moment. I'd rather take my chances on the mid-range guys than overpay for a top-five player at either spot. Jurickson Profar, Brad Miller and Xander Bogaerts are breakout candidates worth targeting, and veterans like Martin Prado, Brandon Phillips and Starlin Castro are among those that could be undervalued in drafts.

Matthew Pouliot
Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of RotoWorld.com and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @matthewpouliot.