|Could Chase Utley be the biggest early-round value in 2009, even though he could miss the first month of the season?
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve discussed the hidden value of injured players. We found that injured players can make excellent draft picks given the right conditions. There were two primary reasons for this: 1) A player’s fantasy value is heavily influenced by the number of at-bats he receives 2) An injured player can be replaced, and the replacement player’s numbers can be included in the original player’s value.
I mostly discussed this in the context of late round draft picks, but in certain situations, using it on a player in the early rounds can be a sound strategy. One player who I strongly believe fits this mold is Chase Utley.
The value of Utley
Utley, as I’m sure you know, could miss up to a month of time at the start of the season. If he does, his production would take a serious hit, but as we know, in the time he misses, we could still collect some modest production from a replacement level player. Below is a chart illustrating what Utley’s value would look like in three different scenerios (500 Utley at-bats, 500 Utley at-bats plus 100 replacement at-bats, 600 Utley at-bats) from four different projection systems (THT, Bill James, CHONE, and Marcels).
As will always be the case when looking at these graphs, we see an upward curve.
500 Utley at-bats
In 500 at-bats, Utley’s value would range from $23 to just $28. This would cause him to be ranked from 15th overall to 23rd overall — a mid-to-late second round pick. Mock Draft Central’s ADP data shows exactly this. Utley’s ADP is 17, meaning he’s generally taken in the middle of round two. Fantasy owners clearly aren’t accounting for the replacement at-bats.
500 Utley at-bats + 100 replacement at-bats
In a 600 at-bat combo, Utley’s value would range from $30 to $35. This would cause him to be ranked from 4th overall to 10th overall — squarely in the first round. This means that even if Utley misses the entire month of April, he would still be worth a first round draft pick.
600 Utley at-bats
If Utley somehow manages to get 600 at-bats all on his own, his value would range from $34 to $39. This would cause him to be ranked from 3rd to 5th overall, among the elite.
The DL spot problem
As many commenters have noted, and as I’ve discussed in part three, this strategy shouldn’t be taken to the extreme. If you end up with several players injured at the same time, you will wind up not having enough DL spots to store them all and would therefore need to use a bench or active roster spot.
I don’t believe, however, that this should be a consideration for Utley. Unlike a player like Chipper Jones who could get injured at any point in the season, we know when Utley will miss his time. He will miss his time in April, which it makes it much easier for us to make adjustments and less likely we will have simultaneous injuries.
If you draft Utley, you will go into the season knowing that he will occupy one of your DL spots for the first three or four weeks. As long as your league has at least two bench spots, though, you should be perfectly fine. It would take some awful luck for your team to lose two more players to injury before Utley returns, and even then, you’d only need to occupy a bench spot for maybe a week.
If it costs you $24 dollars to get Utley and he delivers $33 dollars in value, that $9 is well worth the cost of a bench spot for a week. It would even be worth simply taking some zeroes for that week. And remember, this is the worst case scenario where you happen to have two other players get injured in the opening weeks of the season.
The uniqueness of this situation
Honestly, a potential $9 of marginal value has got me drooling right now. Big value like this usually comes from high risk/high reward type players in the later rounds of the draft. These players are far from sure things, and many will end up being worth $0.
How often, though, do you get a chance to make this kind of profit in the early rounds of a draft? The answer is “almost never”. If I draft David Wright for $40, what are the chances he delivers $49 worth of value? It would take a very big year for that to happen, and the chances of it are relatively low. With Utley, though, it’s about as sure of a thing as we can get. Getting this kind of value early in a draft gives you an enormous leg up on the competition.
There is one possible hole in this plan, unfortunately. It’s now being said that Utley could be ready for Opening Day (resident injury analyst Chris Neault examined this situation the other day at his blog). Once this news starts to spread, fantasy owners could become more willing to draft Utley in the first round. After all, everyone knows he has the skills, and his low ADP is mostly a function of the missed playing time.
This leaves us in a bit of a sticky situation. If we’re picking in the middle of the first round, do we pull the trigger on Utley (knowing that he is worth it) to make sure we get him, or do we hope he lasts until our second round pick? It’s a very tough call.
My thoughts on the situation
Here’s the way I’m leaning, as of right now. With picks 5, 6, and 7, Utley would be roughly even value as a “500+100” player. So instead of selecting him here, I’ll take another even-valued player and hope that Utley falls to my next pick. If he does, big value! If he doesn’t, well, I didn’t miss out on much. Taking him earlier would have delivered about the same value as the guy I ended up taking, but it would have eliminated the chances of getting that big second-round value altogether.
With the 10, 11, or 12 pick, I wouldn’t have a problem taking Utley. Here, he’s delivering enough value to warrant the selection.
The 8th and 9th picks are the trickiest. It’s going to be a judgment call here, and it will depend in part on how well you know the other owners in your league. In a vacuum, I’d probably take him given the recent news. If he plays a full-season we’d still be getting good value, and there’s a solid chance that he might not be there by the next pick.
What would you guys do in these scenarios?