The mirage of “value”by Patrick DiCaprio
December 26, 2007
This may be a controversial topic. Most fantasy owners get so hung up on the concept of value that they do not realize it is a bit of a mirage. Let's assume that when we discuss the concept we are talking about value as "the produced worth in excess of projected worth" for a given player. We can quibble about the definition but the concept is accurately denoted by the definition I posited. "Worth" is just the dollar amount that the season generates.
In a vacuum this is an easy concept to understand. Yet, in practice it is as elusive as my continuing search for those Lost pillow fight pictures I frequently mention (sad I know, shouldn't I have better pursuits?). There is a fundamental flaw in the overall concept of value.
Can we assume that there is an objective measure of what a player is worth? I don't think we can. There are far too many variables to consider. For example in keeper leagues, do you take into account inflation when defining value? How about positional scarcity, and positional inflation? What about the needs of your team versus the rest of the league? Does everyone agree that a forecast is worth x dollars?
The mirage arises in that in every projection system you have a dollar value that represents the supposed worth of a players forecasted projection. That worth has some nebulous relation to value, but in practical terms you can only have subjective value. There is simply no such thing as objective value. An example: lets say that Miguel Cabrera should be worth $30. So at what price does he have "value?" I think that there is no objective answer to this question. In the absence of an objective answer then the concept of value only has a subjective definition.
The problem lies with the nature of a forecast. What we are saying with a forecast is that a certain statline is worth a certain number of dollars. But the dollar value is simply a shorthand symbol; it merely reflects or "shows" the worth of the stats but it does not define it (a concept drawn from Wittgenstein, and I am sure that you are all sick and tired of hearing about Wittgenstein and his relation to fantasy baseball but bear with me on this). When we say Cabrera's statline is "worth" $30 what we are really saying is that his production is expected to be worth somewhere between $25 to $35 or some other reasonable range. The dollar value of $30 only shows or reflects what the statline represents but that is not the same thing as saying the statline is worth $30. There is too much noise and variation for us to attach any objective reality to that $30 forecast.
So the subjective nature of the concept of "value" is seen by the fact that everyone's projection may differ, and hence the amount of "value" derived will differ. But in the absence of an objective, concrete worth of a projected statline we cannot at the time of the auction say with any certainty at all whether we have achieved value or not in a given instance.
Going back to Cabrera, let's say that at the auction we get him for $32, and have him projected for $35. By most definitions we have achieved $3 of value or profit. But if his $35 projection really means that he will produce somewhere in the range of $27-$40 we may not have gotten any value! At the time of the auction we only have some various probabilities of a $27 season, a $30 season or a $40 season. So we may even take a loss on his season, a loss that should be fully within the realm of expectation for his forecasted statline.
The problem is worse when we are dealing with the middle of the auction and later. These players will have much wider ranges of production on the low end than a guy like Cabrera (obviously). So on these players it is more likely that you will take a loss even though you may think you have gotten value. As an example, I auctioned James Shields last year in my high stakes league for $9. Given his history I thought he could be worth $10-$15. But if he flopped there was a good chance he would be worth zero or less.
Could I have said at the time of the auction that I got "value" out of that $9? I don't see how. What is more is that there were no projected dollar values in anything I saw that had him worth double digits. So based on traditional concepts of "value" in no way could I have said that I thought he was a good value. In fact, if you look at the traditional method of acquiring players my bid was probably the worst possible! In the range of $9 or $10 I have a chance at some small profit but also an equal or better chance at a large loss. So how did he end up on my team if he had no projected value or profit? The answer will be forthcoming.
Am I saying the concept of value is worthless? Of course not. I am saying that the inexorable pursuit of "value" is a concept that will unnecessarily hamstring an owner, especially if you are facing tougher competition that is experienced at auctions. More on this in the next column.
Patrick is a member of SABR's Statistical Analysis and Science of Baseball Committees and writes about fantasy baseball at The Fantasy Baseball Generals blog. He has achieved the dream of all of his MIT classmates. No, not making millions in the tech markets, but writing about baseball for free. Feel free to send along all insults and comments here.
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