Much like a woman wearing high heels to a baseball game, in fantasy sports, what’s sexy may not always be practical. As we embark on this upcoming fantasy season, we all will be faced with many decisions about how to manage our rosters.
I’m often asked about rostering uber-prospects like Bryce Harper or Mike Trout in standard, non-keeper leagues. My position on these players is more tepid than most. While owning potentially elite talents like Trout or Harper is a sexy proposition and good for the psyche because it feels like you have a bullet remaining in the chamber that your opponents don’t have, I’m not sure it’s all that practical. Oftentimes that bullet either doesn’t get fired until the battle is nearly over or turns out to be a blank.
As I’ve written many times before, talent is only one side of the production equation, opportunity being the other. A talented player lacking opportunity may have some value to various owners, but in the strictest sense, only production actually has value in the immediate term.
Earlier this week, a friend in a standard 12-team league asked whether he should drop Harper to add Mark Melancon, given the news of Andrew Bailey’s thumb problems. I told him to go for it. My friend has now inherited a valuable closer. Melancon is about as unsexy as you can get, but turning potential energy into kinetic is the name of the game.
I’d just like to offer a few more thoughts on why holding onto a blue-chip prospect may not be the best of ideas when playing in standard non-keeper leagues.
Bringing sand to the beach
Each year, players emerge from the waiver wire to become stars, or at least valuable fantasy contributors. If you hamstring your roster flexibility by retaining a player who isn’t in the majors, you increase the likelihood of missing out on breakout players on the waiver wire. Finding this year’s breakout players takes some skill and some luck, but you have to be in it to win it.
Another manifestation of the opportunity cost to roster non-MLB players is that you get zero production from that bench spot until the player is called up. If you’ve ever charted your projected categorical production against milestone targets from the previous season while drafting or auctioning, you may have noticed that you almost always comes up slightly short of your targets.
One of the reasons this happens is because throughout the season teams get production from their bench. When your starters are given a day off or a team has an off day and you rotate your bench bats in, you get production. Those one and two runs and RBIs add up over time. A player not rostered by a major league team can’t help you on off days or fill in for a player getting a day off.
As in real sports, winning in fantasy sports requires contributions from each and every roster spot. If you are waiting for your prospect to be given his chance, you are playing a man short until that happens and relying on his production to outstrip that of your other options by a wide enough margin that it compensates for past missed opportunities.
I’ve seen it work; a friend of mine got a huge boost from a drafted-and-stashed Evan Longoria and won our league in 2008. But, I’ve seen it fail more often.
Value above replacement
Unless you play in a deep, or AL- or NL-only league, there are likely competent, reasonably productive players who receive regular playing time on your waiver wire. The higher the caliber of player on the wire, the greater the opportunity cost of holding onto a prospect.
Not only do you forfeit greater production while the prospect keeps the roster spot dead, but the bar for what the prospect must produce upon call-up is raised. Many top prospects don’t produce much more than league-average numbers in their first taste of MLB action. The pain of missing out on flexibility and other breakout players is magnified if your prince turns into a toad as soon as he heads out to the big dance.
Why not troll/ambulance chase instead?
Injured players provide much of the same appeal as prospects, but their opportunity cost is lower. If you roster Ryan Howard or Chase Utley, they will not cost you a roster spot once they are put on the DL. This means you can still visit the waiver wire singles bar, rotating bench players in to maximize games played, and you still have the chance of elite talent and production finding its way onto your roster later in the season.