Anyone who’s had some basic economics, or even just basic cultural exposure to the ideas therein, knows about supply and demand. The gains from bringing it to your fantasy baseball strategy are apparent. The supply of pitchers goes up relative to the demand—well, that means that pitchers’ prices (aka their values) go down. Well, perhaps. You must be careful with what it is that is actually being demanded and supplied. As always, if you’re not fastidious, economics can take with one hand what it can give with the other.
Take the following example that came up as I wrote about my home league: In my league, we have holds as a scoring stat. So middle relievers are valuable and there are fewer starting pitchers that end up on starting rosters. What should holds do to the value of starting pitchers?
At first blush the answer is: Holds reduce the demand for starting pitching but don’t change the supply, so the price (value) of starters should go down. So, the value of Tim Lincecum in my league, according to this theory, would be lower than his value in standard leagues. This approach is almost certainly wrong. Why?
First of all, as noted in the comments to last week’s article, it is correct to say that the stats of a replacement starting pitcher go up. With holds, the last undrafted started may be Derek Lowe, rather than Ryan Rowland-Smith.
But in the land of the one-eyed, the two-eyed man is king. What you buy in rotisserie leagues (as opposed to, maybe, points leagues) are better stats, not absolute stats. You don’t care if you win by one home run or 20. In the same respect, if everyone has better starters, then the only way to get value out of your starting pitching is to have the best. The price for Lincecum should probably stay about the same or perhaps even go up. What the addition of holds does is skew the value distribution: Guys like Rowland-Smith give negative value now, and Lowe gives zero (since he’s replacement level), but Lincecum is worth around the same. You can blow your entire starting pitcher budget on fewer pitchers now—so even if the budget is lower (since you have to spend some on setup men), you have fewer pitchers that you need to spend it on.
Now there is a slight caveat here: To the extent that you can get stats from different positions, there will be a decrease in the high-end starters’ price. If those holds guys really could help you in WHIP or strikeouts, then the value of a high-strikeout starter would be a bit lower. But this is second-order compared to the two-eyed-man effect.
However, when it comes to batters, the preeminence of the two-eyed-man effect is not necessarily true. Different positions can heavily cross-contribute—mostly you expect contributions (or hope for them) in most batting stats from most positions. Maybe you hope for a bit more power from your first baseman and more speed from your shortstop. But in general, an increase in demand at one position will affect the price of another position.
Again, though, one must be careful. Certain fantasy analysts at behemoth Sports Network have claimed that speed shouldn’t be valued this season because you can basically throw a dart and hit a speed demon in the outfield. Let’s just assume that there is actually a higher supply of stolen-base threats this year versus past years. Does this mean that you shouldn’t try any more for Michael Bourn because there are many marginal speed guys this year? Well, if everyone is getting 20 stolen bases from the center field spot, everything else equal, I want 40 from mine. Sure, 19 is useless to me—that’s the skew working—but I still think 40 is pretty valuable; wasting two starting roster spots on two 20-steal guys is not the way I want to go, if possible.