The Value of Prospects in Fantasy Leaguesby Victor Wang
October 27, 2008
Elite prospects are the most sought after commodities in major league trades and for good reason. These type of players, if they reach their ceiling, can provide great production for a bargain price for six years. However, this general perception of prospects can cause them to be overrated in fantasy leagues. We'll take a look at certain fantasy leagues and see how the general value of prospects changes in these leagues compared to the majors.
In one-year fantasy leagues, prospects will almost always be overvalued. One reason for this is that prospects are partly evaluated on their ultimate upside. However, most prospects will be far away from this upside in their rookie year. Despite this, other owners will be dreaming of that upside, and ultimately overpay. Another reason is that there is so much uncertainty in creating projections for rookie players. We just can't put a confidence level on the projections we give to prospects. I would say the one exception for the case of prospects in one-year leagues being overvalued is rookies at scarce positions; it might be worth taking a shot on a rookie at an up-the-middle position.
I'd say that, in general, it would be wise for risk averse owners to avoid chasing after heralded rookies in one-year leagues. Of course, you should still keep an eye out in case a rookie falls a lot lower than his skills would indicate. For those who may be more risk seeking, rookies are a typical high risk, high reward situation. For both risk preferences, though, I would say that if you want to mix a few rookies into your roster it would be better to use a few late round picks or $1 fliers on some "sleeper" rookies than invest a high pick or a large portion of your budget on one of the hyped rookies.
In keeper leagues, the value of prospects depends a lot more on your league rules. In the majors, teams can control a prospect for six years in the big leagues. However, most keeper leagues I've seen do not allow an owner to control a player for that long. This means that once more prospects will not have the same value that they have in the majors. Often times, you may end up having to give up a prospect as he is just entering his prime. Also, a lot depends on whether you can stash prospects on your bench or if you have to keep them on the active roster.
For either rules set up, I like trading prospects for more established players. This occurs because I tend to be more risk averse. Of course, whether you trade the prospects or not does depend on where your team is in the league standings. If you have a decent shot at winning your championship, though, I would say go for it. Given the general risk involved with prospects and the large turnovers of rosters that often happen in fantasy leagues, it can definitely be worth giving up a top prospect for a player that can give you that extra push.
In conclusion, prospects tend to be overvalued in fantasy leagues, especially one-year leagues. This occurs in large part because of the great value they give to actual baseball teams. My general strategy for one-year leagues would be to avoid going after rookies, unless they are at a scarce position. For keeper leagues, a lot depends on the rules. However, I would generally recommend using prospects as trading chips. In the end, though, it is all about how your other owners perceive the prospects and leveraging their perceptions towards your advantage.
Victor Wang's work on OPS has been featured in SABR's By the Numbers magazine, and was the 2007 recipient of SABR's Jack Kavanagh Memorial Youth Baseball Research Award. He can be reached via email here.
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