Game Theory #1: Position Scarcity Across All Platforms

One of the most important aspects of a fantasy draft, in my opinion, is position scarcity. Position scarcity is a principle that spans across all forms of fantasy sports, and it is one that I believe requires much consideration before and during fantasy drafts. In daily leagues, position scarcity is demonstrated in the exorbitant prices of some of the game’s top players compared to the rest of the players at their respective positions for that slate of games. Position scarcity essentially refers to the number of top players at a position compared to those positioned around the average production number at that same position – the less elite options there are (essentially, the less players that are located farther ahead of the average of the point production of the position,) the scarcer the position is. Across the four major sports leagues, the tight end (NFL,) the catcher (MLB,) the guard (NBA) and the goaltender (NHL) are the scarcest positions in the game, as these four positions show the highest total of points from the top producer to the 12th ranked producer during the current season (NBA and NHL) or at the completion of the most recent fantasy season (MLB and NFL.)

Sport Position Player #1 in scoring Player #12 in scoring Point Differential Weekly average ahead of #12
Baseball Catcher Gary Sanchez (412) Travis d’Arnaud (245) 167 points 7.95 points/week
Football Tight End Travis Kelce (242) Jared Cook (124) 118 points 7.375 points/week
Basketball Guard Russell Westbrook (2252) C.J. McCollum (1311) 941 points 78.41 points/week
Hockey Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (287 points) Devan Dubnyk (194 points) 93 points 6.64 points/week

The reason that I place such a huge amount of importance on position scarcity and paying attention to it is because by having a top-performing player at a scarce position, you automatically put yourself in a dominant position every week. As an example, I will use fantasy football. As I enter a draft, I aggressively target a player such as Travis Kelce or Rob Gronkowski, who routinely end up as the top two producers at the position over recent seasons. Having a player such as Kelce or Gronkowski in my lineup will usually put me at a huge advantage over whoever my opponent has plugged in their own tight end slot – usually a less-stellar option like Hunter Henry, Delanie Walker, or Kyle Rudolph. Having a player such as Kelce or Gronkowski automatically puts me ahead of my opponent before the games even start. In fact, having one of these players will usually put you ahead by about a touchdown before the game even begins, based on 2017 statistics.

Chiefs Texans Football

Rob Gronkowski averaged 13.78 fantasy points per game in PPR formats, while Jack Doyle (who occupied position 6 by average points per game) averaged 8.6 points per game. This means that, simply by drafting a player such as Gronkowski or Kelce (who averaged 12.87 per week on his own,) you will start the week ahead by a field goal (3 points) every single time, as tight end #4 Evan Engram averaged 9.44 points per game on his own. This advantage is huge. The farther ahead your tight end is than your opponent’s tight end, the farther ahead of them you start. If you run into an opponent that waited too long to select a tight end and perhaps ended up with an option in the 10-12 range, you’re starting the week ahead of them by a touchdown. This is without the games even starting.

I am a fierce advocate for attacking scarce positions since sports are changing, and many positions are becoming deeper. To use a football example again, in the late 90s and early 2000s, it was imperative that you draft a running back with your early picks. The drop-off between a top running back and a later option was much like what we see in modern times with tight ends. Since these days, the game has changed to feature multiple runners, different packages, and a variety of offensive schemes that celebrate all types of running backs. The same can be said tenfold for wide receivers.

The NFL game has really opened over the past ten years or so, and passing the ball has become imperative to win games consistently. As a result, many teams employ three or even four wide receivers on their own that can achieve fantasy relevance over the course of a season. It’s no longer difficult to find a waiver wire gem at positions like running back or wide receiver; it’s somewhat easy, and a strategy I’d recommend. History tells us it’s much more difficult to find a reliable starter at tight end or defense, which are the scarcest positions in the game and why it pays to invest a high pick in a great player at these positions. The combination of putting yourself far ahead of your opponent and being able to find options at other positions easier on the waiver wire is why attacking scarce positions will always leave you with a more well-rounded team overall.

Of course, this principle crosses over into the other sports as well. Drafting a catcher early and waiting on a middle infield option allows you to secure the top option at a position and catch up on your middle infield or pitching staff when other teams are scrambling later on to find their options at scarce positions like C and 1B/3B. Drafting Russell Westbrook fills your team out in many categories and allows you to zero in on flier picks later on who can help shore up your weaknesses. An elite goaltending option like Andrei Vasilevskiy lets you forget about the position for the entire draft, knowing you have the best option between the pipes. Draft offensive defensemen and scoring threats on first and second lines all draft long and swing trades with your offensive depth during the season if you sense a weakness somewhere.

Being on top of the best a position has to offer affords you the opportunity to load up on depth and sleepers you want at other positions, which helps you build a more solid team overall. You will, of course, need to hit on some of these other picks to contend, but this is not the hardest thing to do. In sum, targeting a top player at a weak position allows you to focus on every other position on the roster by giving you one less position to worry about filling, which helps add depth. Depth is what wins leagues. You want depth at a variety of positions.

I hope you found this article informative and even consider deploying this strategy when your baseball or football draft comes around. Please like, share, and subscribe to fantasyisntfun.com and spread the love to your friends. Drop a comment if you want to talk more about this subject or have a friendly debate. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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Players I Love 2017 #1: Charlie Blackmon

It’s gotta be hard to be a good baseball player in Colorado.

For a second, that seems like it may be a little bit backwards, but think about all of the talent that has come from the Rockies organization in the last ten years or so: Matt Holliday, Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, and Nolan Arenado to name a few. All toolsy players with a fair amount of power, for sure.

However, wouldn’t it be annoying to hear that all of your production is just a matter of the ballpark you play half of your games at?

That’s the same thing as your girlfriend telling you that the sex is better during the week than on the weekends, or your boss saying you work more efficiently and don’t sound like as much of an idiot during the morning as opposed to the afternoon.

Okay, maybe not the exact same thing, but you get the point. That’s what it is like playing in Colorado, and, for fantasy purposes, exactly the kind of thing you need to look into when poking around the players in the Rockies organization.

Enter Charlie Blackmon, center fielder for the Colorado Rockies.

Arizona Diamondbacks v Colorado Rockies

As part of my first installment of my “Players I Love 2017” collection here on fantasyisntfun.com, I wanted to take a look at Charlie Blackmon, Colorado’s toolsy center fielder. Blackmon burst onto the scene during a cup of coffee with the Rockies in late 2013, finishing the year with a .309 batting average and a .803 OPS in 82 games with the Rockies (246 at-bats.) Promising statistics, for sure. He didn’t flash too much power during his age-26 season back then, posting only 6 home runs and 2 triples, however his high peripheral statistics combined with his draft pedigree gave Rockies fans yet another upcoming player to feel good about.

2014 was more of the same for Blackmon. He appeared in 154 games for the Rockies and posted a .288/.335/.440 line to go with a .775 OPS. Some regression, sure, but he added to his power numbers that year by improving in doubles, home runs and triples while swiping 28 bags and posting 27 doubles. It was the type of sophomore improvement that one would expect from the former 2nd-round pick. Blackmon displayed an intriguing blend of size, speed, and power that gave Rockies fans something to look forward to yet again. 2015 saw another big leap in stolen bases, triples, runs and walks, but saw some dips in the power department. It seemed like while trying to add more pieces to his game, he lost sight of what eventually got him to the show: his hitting for both average and power. He saw a reduction in batting average, runs batted in, and home runs. In hindsight, that may have been the best thing for him once we saw what he put together in 2015.

Year TM G AB H 2B 3B HR RBI R BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS
2011 COL 27 98 25 1 0 1 8 9 3 8 5 1 .255 .277 .296 .573
2012 COL 42 113 32 8 0 2 9 15 4 17 1 2 .283 .325 .407 .732
2013 COL 82 246 76 17 2 6 22 35 7 49 7 0 .309 .336 .467 .803
2014 COL 154 593 171 27 3 19 72 82 31 96 28 10 .288 .335 .440 .775
2015 COL 157 614 176 31 9 17 58 93 46 112 43 13 .287 .347 .450 .797
2016 COL 143 578 187 35 5 29 82 111 43 102 17 9 .324 .381 .552 .933
Career Totals: 605 2242 667 119 19 74 251 345 134 384 101 35 .298 .348 .467 .814

2016 will go down as Blackmon’s breakout year.  He posted a career-best batting average of .324, up almost .50 from the year before, and a way-above-average .933 OPS. He smashed 29 home runs, knocked in 82 runs, walked in 7% of his plate appearances, and scored 111 runs from higher-up in the Colorado lineup. Yes, 2016 was the year that Blackmon showed off every tool, winning his first Silver Slugger award. As a result, his ADP sits at #15 overall early this year in standard 10-category drafts.  Despite playing half of his games on the road and away from the friendly confines of Coors Field. Blackmon looks like a mega-value at that ADP, even as high as it is.

And that’s not even taking into account his road splits.

Obviously, the knock on every Rockies player is that they play better at home. Not the case for Blackmon. In fact, the case can be made that he’s a little bit better on the road. Playing in the (slightly easier) National League, here are Blackmon’s 2016 road splits:

2016 SPLITS AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB AVG
          Away 300 50 94 20 2 17 35 19 .313

Still pretty awesome. A great average, some good power numbers, and just as likely to draw a walk away from home as he is at home. Sporting a .926 OPS, Blackmon is one of the exceptions to the fabled “Coors Field myth.” This guy does it all, and is one of my top outfielders in 2017.

So, when do we reach for Blackmon? It’s hard to say. As of this writing on February 21st, 2017, Blackmon is currently being selected after Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Bryce Harper, and Trea Turner. Personally, I’d take him ahead of Trea Turner. Turner, a June call-up, definitely gave baseball fans and particularly Nationals fans a lot to be excited about. I love his long-term upside, but I think there is a lot left for him to prove. He’s young and it remains to be seen how he adjusts to a full off-season in the Major Leagues. The book could be out on him and I don’t think he is worth that high of a pick. Another thing to note is that Turner is being drafted as if he will 100% capture his immense upside, which is no guarantee. We know we are getting stud players with Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Bryce Harper; each of these players has AL and NL MVP potential every year. However, Turner ahead of Blackmon gives me pause. Blackmon plays in the most hitter-friendly ballpark known to man, has flashed all five tools consistently since becoming a full time player in the majors, and last but not least:

Rockies manager Bud Black wants Charlie Blackmon to run more this season.

Blackmon fell back to 17 stolen bases in 2016 after swiping 43 in 2015, with Black indicating that the drop was due in part to the outfielder’s legs not feeling 100 percent. “Charlie is dangerous in (the batter’s) box and became a real threat, each and every time he got in the box or when he got on first base (in 2015),” Black said. “We’ve got to get back to that. We’ve talked about that a little bit. Charlie was a little bit banged up last year. He was able to play, but I don’t think his legs felt great.” Blackmon dealt with separate toe issues on two occasions in 2016, so perhaps that’s what Black is referring to. Regardless, it’s encouraging from a fantasy perspective to hear that Blackmon might be in line to bounce back from a steals standpoint in 2017.

  • Rotoworld

He gets to run more.

I don’t think a final slash line of .320/.385/.455/.840 with 35 home runs, 198 hits, 62 walks, and 30 stolen bases is out of the question. I actually think a few of those numbers are his floor, and that it is also unrealistic to expect Trea Turner to hit his ceiling (which is where he is being drafted.) The key to winning drafts is to get value for players, which essentially means take them at slots where their production will mean they outperformed players selected higher. I believe this is the case with Blackmon. I’d take him as the #4 outfielder off the board, behind Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Bryce Harper but far ahead of guys like Trea Turner, Starling Marte, George Springer, Ryan Braun, A.J. Pollock, and Mike Stanton.