Predicting replacement level

During a draft, many people experience this typical dilemma: Should I take the best player available, or should I take the most valuable player available?

Drafting a catcher in the third round is never easy, especially when there is a slugging first baseman available; just as taking that first basemen early is tough, knowing that good first basemen could be available later in the draft and all of the good catchers could be taken by the time you get around to selecting one. There is no right answer here; every situation is unique, but there are certain adjustments we can make to players’ stats that can help us make the right decision.

One of those is the replacement level adjustment.


Back in November I wrote an article on how replacement level is applied to fantasy baseball. Let’s review an except from it to make sure we are on the same page:

A replacement player is expected to produce at the replacement player level. The best way I can explain replacement level is by creating the following hypothetical situation: There are 30 teams and only one shortstop per team. (That makes 30 starting shortstops.) No team has a bench shortstop and all non-starting shortstops are placed in a pool from which any team can sign them, but only if a team’s starting shortstop cannot play due to injury or some other reason.

One starting shortstop does get injured, so that team signs the 31st-best shortstop to “replace” its starter. His expected production is replacement level. It is the baseline from which all other production or value should be judged. The difference in production between the starting shortstop and his replacement is the starting shortstop’s value over a replacement player.

Then I continued:

In a fantasy baseball league, replacement level players are those you can simply add from waivers or the free agent pool. They are in abundance and cost nothing to acquire.

In retrospect the part that says, “They are in abundance” is not exactly true. In real baseball it is true that replacement level players are abundant. However, in fantasy leagues, if you are looking to add someone from the free agent pool, there will only be a few free agents worthy of considering. Even though all free agents cost the same, some are much better than others, meaning “good” replacement level players are not so abundant.

With that in mind, let me explain how I am predicting position scarcity for 2009.

The reasoning

When a lot of “fantasy baseballers” (props to Razzball for the term) try to incorporate positional scarcity into their rankings, they make one huge mistake; They use last year’s numbers. When determining position scarcity for the 2009 season, I would want to use 2009 season numbers. Problem is, the 2009 season has not yet been played.

To get around this problem, I use the next best thing, which is projections for all players for 2009. Conveniently, we have our own projection system here at THT, courtesy of David Gassko. While the projections are currently available only to me in an Excel spreadsheet, they can also be available to you if you purchase the 2009 THT Season Preview Book.

Calculating replacement level

In a standard 12-team league, the replacement level player for each position will be on average the 18th catcher (30th in two-catcher leagues), 24th first baseman, 19th second baseman, 21st third baseman, 19th shortstop and 50th outfielder. To find the replacement level for each position, I averaged the projected OPS for the first replacement level player, and then the players projected before and after him. So for the catcher position, I average the 17th, 18th and 19th best catchers to end up with one expected projection for the replacement level catcher.

Below is a chart of the results with the 2009 numbers being the projected replacement level for each position, thus the dotted line.

Note: C1 represents a one-catcher league, and C2 represents a multi-catcher league

Sure it is a nice looking graph, but what does it mean? The projected drop in replacement level from the outfield, second base and catcher positions means that your replacement level adjustment should be more than it was for these positions last year. Conversely, your shortstop and first base adjustments should lessen because the replacement level first basemen—the guy you can add for nothing—is projected to be better.

To make the adjustment you simply subtract the player’s OPS from his position’s replacement level OPS. For 2009 the projected values are (these are the values in the graph):

| Pos | OPS   |
|  C1 | 0.735 |
|  C2 | 0.705 |
|  1B | 0.791 |
|  2B | 0.728 |
|  3B | 0.776 |
|  SS | 0.727 |
|  OF | 0.778 |

So, if you have a first baseman with an OPS of 1.000, his value is equal to that of a catcher with a .944 OPS.

Hmmm, that does not seem right. Remember that this is just the replacement level adjustment. There is another adjustment for position scarcity and it is the talent distribution adjustment. I will get into that adjustment in another article.

Possible discrepancies

Deciding what replacement level exactly is and determining how to calculate it are always sticky subjects, so now I am going to point out of the possible flaws of my system.

Using OPS will bother a lot of people. I doubt using using wOBA or another stat of the sort would change the results around a lot, and I could have used wOBA only if I used Marcel instead of the THT projections. Nothing against Marcel—it always holds its own—but I cringe at the projections when it comes to younger players. In the future I might go through the same methodology using Marcel’s projected wOBA and then we can compare results.

One of the hardest things tro decide was how many players from each position are drafted. The minimum was 12, but then I had to account for batters in the UTIL spot and on the bench. Admittedly there was no real scientific approach to designation of which players are replacement level, but I did get my numbers through some logical reasoning.

To be specific, I started by saying 108 batters must be drafted. That is, nine starting batting spots multiplied by 12 teams to get 108 starting batters. Then, I decided that on average eight teams will have three bench players, with the remaining four teams holding four batters on their bench. That is 108 + (8 X 3) + (4 X 4) which equals 148. So, in the average league 148 batters are drafted. If you sum up the totals of replacement level rank for each position minus one (because the last player drafted is the player right before the first replacement level player) you get 17 + 23 + 18 + 20 + 18 + 49 which equals 145. If you account for three DHs being drafted, you get the previously deduced 148.

In calculating the replacement level production, I did not want to just take the OPS of the 18th catcher so I used a three-player average. Again, no real scientific reason behind the decision to do that, but I feel it worked out well.

Obviously my methodology is not the tightest, so I am open to suggestions to improve the way I went about this. You can leave those in the comments.

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  1. Aaron Schell said...

    Hey great article, I was wondering how u think this relates to a league(AL/NL) only setup.  No owners seems to leave the draft/auction with 14 active hitters, so does it really matter if your empty spot is a catcher or an outfielder?  I guess making the assumption that you dont overpay for a catcher just to get a catcher.
    To make it even more interesting I play in an keeper league so an owner is far more likely to grab a minor league prospect then any 5th OF or utility infielder or backup catcher.
    You could make an arguement that in years past you could get a better prospect somewhere other then catcher but with Wieters, Santana, Arencibia, Rameriez and Teagarden pickings at the catcher spot haven’t been to bad(in terms of prospects). 
    Interesting to hear what others think.


  2. Mike Podhorzer said...

    How is the best available different than the most valuable available? This reminds me of the MVP debate: the best player IS the most valuable and the most valuable IS the best!

    And what league uses only 9 active hitters? Is this for a Yahoo league? Also, I don’t think I would include bench players in the calculation because technically only starters should have positive fantasy value.

  3. Mark Morrow said...

    I am curious to see how you feel scarcity applies to keeper leagues.  Especially one league only leagues.  Where the talent has been watered down to such a point that the last 20 offensive picks are just that, offensive.  Is replacement level more likely less relevant and therefore scarcity as well?
    I play in a modestly competitive AL 12 team league.  We draft 25 players for $260 including two bench guys.  May 1 we have another draft to pick-up three more bench guys using our FAAB dollars and bump the cap to $300.  We are aloowed to keep 7 guys using the a, b, c, y, z method.  Keepers are very valuable in fact too valuable in my opinion.
    How do you see scarcity in my league?

  4. Steve said...

    “How is the best available different than the most valuable available?”

    I’d use this example… in the third round you could pick Russell Martin or Jason Bay.  Bay will probably give more R, HR, RBI and may be tied with SB and AVG.  So, for the 5 stat categories, Bay is best available.  The argument can be made that Martin is “most valuable” because of the position he plays.

    Does that help?

  5. Mike said...

    I’ve been curious about this for a while…do most of you guys do your drafts online or in-person @ like a bar or something?

  6. Stan Rumels said...

    In my longterm keeper league, we always go to this local bar near where I live in Denver.  I think it depends on how serious the other teams are in your league tho.  I run my league on CBS Sports and I saw the other day that they’re running a contest for a huge draft party.  Looks pretty cool, i might enter.

  7. Aaron Schell said...

    My keeper league has been running since 1992, we do and auction in person, best day of the year by far, and use CBS to run the league.


  8. Xeifrank said...

    My fantasy baseball mock draft software computes replacement level for players based off of whatever set of projections you want to use, and ranks all the players at their position based on replacement level value.  The software then guides you through your draft, giving you advice on which players move you up the most in the standings and which positions have the biggest gap between best available and next best available etc… It has an AI algorithm that can make a best guess prediction of how many counting stats or rate stat(s) you will likely need to win each category.  Link is in my name.  Free d/l.
    vr, Xei

  9. Paul Singman said...

    Aaron and Mark, your questions both deal with the same topic, of what to do when at the end of a deep draft when you are basically picking replacement level players. Replacement level becomes irrelevant at this point, and I suggest you just draft the player with the most upside, which is what you should be looking for.

    If you are deciding between filling out your roster with either a minor leaguer with upside or a low upside major league hitter, the key is to identify what replacement level is in your league and how each player compares to it. Then, pick accordingly

    Mike Podhorzer, I think Steve did an excellent job of answering your first question and I’ll answer the second. Yes, I had a standard Yahoo league in mind when I calculated the numbers. Each league’s replacement level is so unique this was more of a “copy my methodology” post than a “take my numbers” situation. Lastly you must, you absolutely must, include bench hitters when calculating replacement level. Players on other team’s benches are players that you cannot add to your team at no cost. I am not sure what you are trying to say by “technically only starters should have positive fantasy value.” Value is not what I am trying to determine, all replacement level tries to establish is the caliber of player that can be acquired at zero cost.

  10. Mark Morrow said...

    I have to agree with my boy Aaron.  We draft in person and it is by far the best day of the year.  Bunch of guys getting together all geeked out about fantasy.  We sit around for a while telling the same jokes as last year then get down to business.  It is a time commitment but I wouldn’t have it any other way.


  11. Mike Podhorzer said...

    @Mark: I disagree with your example. To me, Jason Bay is NOT the best available. The best available should by definition be the most valuable. Maybe we’re just arguing semantics, but if Martin is more valuable because of position, then how could Bay be the “best” of the two? I see this argument all the time by those who don’t understand position scarcity adjustments.

  12. Paul Singman said...

    Mike, this certainly is an argument of semantics. When Steve (not Mark) said “best available” he meant the player who will put up the best raw stat line. Of Bay and Mauer, Bay probably will post a better line. Some people will draft Bay earlier than Mauer because of it, even though after proper adjustments are made Mauer’s contributions are more valuable. Without any type of context, calling Bay the better player is certainly correct though.

  13. Derek said...

    I have to agree with Paul.  Bench players can’t be considered replacement level since you wouldn’t be able to replace a player on your own roster with a player on another roster, regardless of whether they’re active or benched.

  14. Andrew B. said...

    I am attempting to use similar methodology for my fantasy league. I am in a 10 team, 5×5 NL only league. I snagged the CHONE projections and plan to get the ZiPS projections when they are completed and average the two together. Then I am going to take the top 15 players at each position (as per Yahoo rankings) and average those projections together, and then try to determine which 10 players are actually the 10 best based on the projections for the actual 5×5 categories, not a substitute like OPS. I then plan to average the 5 bottom or theoretically undrafted or not starting candidates to form replacement level for each position, and then calculate each player’s value above replacement and figure that into my predraft rankings. Does that sound like good methodology? Am I missing something?

  15. Paul Singman said...

    I like most of that, Andrew, but you are missing one main component. You should not use the average of 11-15 hitters as your replacement level for every position because more first basemen than catchers will be drafted in your league. You can leave the average of the 11-15 hitters for catcher, but for the other positions it should be a bit farther down. Keep in mind that an average of the 11-15 ranked catchers means that you are saying 13th will be the replacement level, meaning only twelve catchers will get drafted.

    As I say in the article, there is no scientific approach to determine how many players from each position will get drafted. If you parallel your determinations to mine though, you should be alright.

  16. Paul Singman said...

    Multiple position players are tricky. I would suggest only putting players in for the worse of the two positions they are eligible for. For example Russell Martin, only include him in the catchers list because he is going to be played at catcher in like 98% of leagues. Don’t have him take a spot in the third base rankings.

    That is an obvious example though, for a 2b/SS player is is harder to exclude him from one of the lists. My suggestion is then to find all of the other 2B/SS players and include them in alternating lists. So, the first one in the shortstop list, the second in the second basemen list and so on. Not sure how much time you have, but if you are willing to do this I think it would improve the accuracy of the results.

  17. Andrew B. said...

    You’re right, I hadn’t thought of that.

    The reason I used the average of the 11-15 players is that different players have different tendencies, like various amounts of speed, power, etc, and I don’t want my baselines to be skewed by that. I do understand the point about making the 11th spot the midpoint instead of the starting point, though, and I will change my methodology accordingly.

    The primary problem I’m running into while running this thing is multiple position players. They tend to make a mess of things. Thanks for the input!

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