Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Fantasy benchwarmersPosted by Paul Singman at 4:34am
When it comes to fantasy leagues, I am a weathered man. I've played in deep leagues, shallow leagues, mixed leagues, keeper leagues, dynasty leagues; leagues with drafts, leagues with auctions, leagues with free agents, waivers, FAABs, and so forth.
With most of these league settings I have a preference on the ones I like and the ones I feel subtract from a league. For example, I have always preferred mixed leagues that are toward the deeper end of the spectrum. There is one league setting, however, that I have always been on the fence about and that is bench depth.
It may seem like a fairly unimportant league setting on the surface, but in fact it is one that can have a large impact on the way you should approach a league. Even in MLB, bench depth plays a big role in the form of the 25 and 40-man rosters. For example Johan Santana might have never been a Twin were it not for the restrictions on bench size that led to the Astros making him Rule 5 eligible.
Impact on fantasy leagues
Generally speaking a league with deeper benches allows for more risky picks to be taken for two reasons. First, since better replacement players are more easily secured, the negative impact of having one of those risky players bust is reduced. And second, since there are more bench spots available, the cost of having one of them occupied by an insurance player is marginalized. It is important to understand that although the replacement level for starting players is unaffected by bench size, the ability to acquire replacement players is impacted.
In a league with deep benches, the players that would replace your starters in the case of injury or ineffectiveness are secured on your bench and can easily step into a starting role at a moment's notice. In a league with shallow benches, on the other hand, not every starting position can be backed by a bench spot, and in the case of certain starters needing replacing, heading to free agency or waivers is the only option. In two identical leagues save for bench size, the same caliber of player will spell starters, except in the league with deeper benches you will have more control over which players will be your replacement players.
What is considered a long or short bench is subjective, but I will say that the number of bench spots should be proportional to the number of roster spots per team. This implies that a league with more starting players than another can have a greater number of bench spots, yet the two leagues can have the same degree of bench depth. In general, though, I would say that one or two bench spots is shallow, three-to-five is medium sized, and six or more is a deep-benched league.
Transitioning from the theoretical discussion on how replacement level is affected and opportunity cost marginalized, let's move to the more concrete and list some specific types of players whose value is increased by an increase in bench size. Remember that the reason the following types of players have increased value in leagues with deeper benches is due to one or both of the bolded reasons above.
- First and most obvious are the injury risks, the Rich Hardens and Chipper Joneses of the baseball world. You can count on having to delegate one of your bench spots to keeping a backup for these players, a backup you feel reasonably comfortable giving potentially significant amounts of playing time to.
- The next type of player whose value is increased by deeper benches is the phenom rookie not yet in the majors that is prematurely owned in fantasy leagues—the paradigm of which was Matt Wieters in 2009. The annoying thing about these players is that you cannot place them on the DL like you can with injured players, instead they suck up a bench spot without offering up any form of production.
- Another type of player is the one with the large handedness split, a good example of which is Jack Cust who has averaged an OPS that is .145 points higher against righties over the past three seasons. The argument of whether platoon splits are worth accounting for is one that can be made another time and another place. All I am saying is that deeper benches give you greater value in platooning two players with complementary splits, say Cust and Jonny Gomes.
The common theme among these players is that they all require you to own two players for one starting spot, something deeper benches allows you to handle more easily.
Conversely, you could say that safer players are given a slight boost in value in leagues with short benches, though I believe the depth of the league itself (as opposed to the benches) dwarfs the impact bench size will have. The players most positively affected by shallower bench leagues are the multi-position eligible players like Mark DeRosa whose positional flexibility counteract the lack of flexibility working with few bench spots offers.
Which do you prefer?
Now that we have covered in-depth the ways bench depth impacts leagues, it is time to ask yourself which one you prefer, and remember, I truly am not sure where I stand.
On one side I like deeper benches because they allow for more roster creativity and flexibility and also seem to strip some of the luck that waiver priority or free agent races contribute to leagues. Instead that luck is replaced with the skill owners need to have in picking the best players to fill out their bench.
On the other side, you could argue that shallower benches force owners to have more roster discipline in selecting the players that can stay and those that can go. Everyone hates making that decision of who to drop when there is no one you feel comfortable allowing to be added by another team for free, but making the correct decision in those instances is certainly a valuable skill in fantasy baseball. You could also make the point that no reasonable amount of bench depth would have led to players such as Ben Zobrist, Garrett Jones, or most of the other great pickups of 2009 being owned on teams before their skills became apparent.
After making cases on both sides of the issue, I suppose my argument for shallow benches is a bit more convincing though I still feel on the fence. Enough of what I have to say though, I am interested to see what others think. What say you?
Paul has been managing fantasy baseball teams for many seasons and writing for THT Fantasy over the past three years. He is currently a student at UPenn welcomes readers' thoughts at his email here or in the comments below.