Think of players like Ben Zobrist, Martin Prado, and Matt Carpenter.
In recent seasons, players like these have been eligible to play multiple positions. The big question is, “All else equal, should you pay more for a multi-eligible player than a player only eligible at one position?”.
I think there’s a clear answer to this question. And it might surprise you.
The Argument That They Are Not Worth More
Would you pay $2 more for Player A because he’s also second base eligible?
Player A (2B / SS): .272, 10 HR, 83 R, 52 RBI, 10 SB
Player B (SS): .275, 11 HR, 78 R, 55 RBI, 8 SB
Some very intelligent fantasy baseball minds will tell you that a player with multi-position eligibility is not worth more. For instance:
However, since playing more than one position doesn’t mean the player will produce any extra stats, he doesn’t have any greater an actual dollar value than someone who plays only one position.
~ Larry Schechter, Winning Fantasy Baseball
If you haven’t read Schechter’s book, you need to. It is loaded with very clear and well-reasoned thoughts and strategies like this one.
When you read the book, it becomes clear that Larry has a very bottom line approach. If a possible decision ends up adding dollar value to your team, you choose that option. If there is no measurable benefit in dollar value, you don’t.
I love the approach. That’s why I think everyone should create their own rankings. Attaching dollar values to players makes all decisions systematically easier to make. You no longer have to agonize over decisions like, “Should I drop player X and add player Y from the waiver wire?”. It’s a lot easier to simply look at each player’s projected dollar value for the rest of the season and decide.
With that said, I think it’s a little short-sighted to only look at the dollar value of a player at a given point in time.
Let’s Play Cards
My wife says my analogies are horrible, but I’m going to try a few on you anyways. Before we get into specific scenarios involving fantasy baseball, let’s first consider a couple of card game examples.
We can probably agree that the ace is the most powerful card in blackjack. A big reason for this is that it’s a gateway to reaching the total of 21. Without an ace you need a combination of two cards to get to 11 or 21 (2 & 9, 3 & 8, etc.). But the ace gets you there in one card.
Another huge power of the ace is its ability to act as two different cards, a 1 or an 11. It’s an insurance policy. You can behave as if it’s an 11 and quickly change it to a 1 if you bust. It lets you take risks you wouldn’t otherwise take. Keep this in mind.
I’ll end the blackjack example with a question. Assume an 8 in blackjack could be used as an 8 or a 3. You get to decide. Would that make the card more valuable to you than a card that could only be used as an 8?
I’m not a poker guru but I played my share of Texas Hold’em games in the early 2000’s just like everyone else.
In my mind, a huge decision-making factor in poker is the number of helpful cards (or “outs”) left in the deck.
For example, if you have a pair of 9s, we know there are only two helpful cards remaining (the other two 9s) to help you make three of a kind.
Or maybe you have an open-ended straight like a 4, 5, 6, and 7. In this case there are four 3s and four 8s that would finish of your straight, for a total of eight “outs”.
|Your Hand||Your Goal||Outs|
|One Pair||Three of a Kind||2|
|Two Pair||Full House||4|
|Four Flush Cards||Flush||9|
|Straight / Flush Draw||Straight / Flush||15|
Let’s stick with that open-ended straight example and push it to the extreme.
Instead of a 4, 5, 6, and 7, imagine you have a 4, 5, and 6. And then the fourth card is a 3/7, meaning it can be used as a 3 or a 7 (like a 2B/SS).
This 3/7 opens up more “outs”! We could now complete the straight by drawing a 2, 3, or 8.
- 2, 3/7, 4, 5, 6
- 3/7, 4, 5, 6, 7
- 4, 5, 6, 3/7, 8
Another Poker Example
Why do people like to play with “wild cards” in poker?
I’d venture to guess it’s because it makes it significantly easier to make good hands. Having one card that can turn an otherwise crappy hand into a flush, a straight, or a full house is a valuable thing.
The flexibility of a wild card gives you more opportunities to win.
Wrapping Up the Card Games
Multi-position players are like aces in blackjack. They are like wild cards in poker.
They allow us to take risks we might otherwise not take. They are insurance policies that help when things go wrong. They open up more possibilities to create a good team. There are more free agents you can pursue during the season. They make it easier to build a flexible team that can respond to pitfalls that arise during the season.
All of these things increase your chance of winning your league.
I would pay extra for that.
The Arguments That They Are Worth More
Let’s go through a series of examples showing exactly how we get these additional “outs” or more possible avenues to a championship.
Additional Flexibility During the Draft
Here’s practical strategy I might employ with a multi-position player during an auction (it’s more difficult to use during a draft, but the principles can be applied).
Early in the auction you throw out a name like Martin Prado or Ben Zobrist, someone eligible at three positions. Pay a fair price, maybe a dollar or two more than their projection alone would suggest. Then slot them at the position where they would be the most valuable.
As the draft progresses, you will now have many more strategies available to you. Strategies that should easily help you make that $2 back.
If a bargain at shortstop becomes available, you still have the flexibility to pounce and seize those few extra dollars of value. Or having a player like Zobrist that you could flip over to 2B, you might avoid the temptation to get involved in a run on second basemen.
Ability to Take Additional Risks During the Draft
Having the multi-eligible player allows you to take more risks during the draft. Let’s assume you’ve drafted a player that is SS/2B eligible. You recognize that the draft is coming to the edge of the quality tiers for SS and 2B. If you are not careful you’ll be stuck with an extremely painful option.
But you also see a very intriguing outfielder sitting undrafted. Because your league is an imperfect market, this valuable player remains available several rounds after you had expected.
Should you play it safe and sneak in one of the last SS/2B? Or should you gamble on the OF and hope you don’t get stuck with Darwin Barney as your starting SS?
Because the player you have already drafted is SS/2B eligible, you have more “outs” available to you (poker analogy). Your chances of taking the OF and still having a quality 2B or a quality SS are better than if you had already drafted someone only eligible at 2B.
This has to be worth something!
It’s very plausible that a multi-position player could allow you to take a risk like this, getting both the extra value from the OF and a solid option at either 2B or SS.
Additional Flexibility and Risk Taking During the Season
Those analogies above don’t only apply during the draft! The same flexibility you get during the draft is still there once the season starts.
Here’s another hypothetical situation. You feel very comfortable with your middle infield (2B, SS, and MI). All three options are easily within the top 100 hitters so you would not feel comfortable dropping one of them in any scenario.
But an intriguing option at one of those positions becomes available mid-season (whether it’s a rookie call up or another owner in the league dropped a struggling but promising player).
What do you do? Just sit back with your hands tied and allow someone else to snag the player?
If one of your middle infielders is eligible at other positions you could take advantage of this opportunity.
This is just one hypothetical. What if you’re approached with a trade offer for your starting 2B, but accepting it might make you very weak at the position? Having another 2B eligible player opens up that door to you.
Better Free Agent Possibilities During the Year
I think this is arguable the most significant benefit.
Assume you have a struggling 3B that you want to cut and you also have a utility player like a Xander Bogaerts who’s eligible as SS and 3B.
When you go to the waiver wire looking for a replacement, you’re not just looking for a 3B! You can be looking for a SS OR a 3B.
And if you have a couple of flexible players, the possibilities can be even greater. For example, if you have Carlos Santana (1B & 3B eligible) and Xander Bogaerts, to replace this struggling 3B, you can be looking for a SS, 3B, or 1B.
And this can happen multiple times during the season!
Doesn’t it seem likely that you could earn $2 of value back by having these additional options available?
Maximizing Games Played / Plate Appearances
This mostly applies to leagues with daily roster moves but there’s a small benefit to even leagues with weekly roster moves.
Playing time is king, and I love to remind everyone ways to increase plate appearances for your hitters. (Baseballpress.com and FantasyBaseballAlerts.com are a couple of tools I use to help me maximize playing time during the season).
Surely you’ve been in a league where having two more HR, or five more RBI, or one more stolen base would have made a difference in the final standings. We know that most players average between 0.100 – 0.130 runs and RBI per plate appearance. So just 10 more plate appearances means another R or RBI and might mean another HR or SB.
As you might imagine, flexible position players allow you to maximize games played. Take this example lineup below (it’s from an AL only league).
Having a player like Bogaerts on the bench allows you to slide him into SS when Reyes is having an off day or 3B when Prado is.
Having Prado and Bogaerts allows you even more options if Crisp has an off day or is battling a nagging injury. Then you can slide Prado to OF and Bogaerts to 3B.
Flexible position players could surely help you fill 20-30 more ABs (and maybe more!) during the season which might mean 2-3 more R, RBI, and maybe a HR or two as well.
That production is worth something.
Freeing Up a Roster Spot, More Shots at Free Loot
Hypothetical question. Would you willingly go into a draft with a $258 budget, knowing that all your competitors had a $260 budget, if it meant that you got to have an extra roster spot for the entire season? So maybe instead the four bench spots your competitors have, you would have five?
I think I would agree to those terms.
If you use a multi-position player in the right fashion, you can create that scenario for yourself.
Instead of filling a bench spot with a backup middle infielder AND a backup corner infielder you’re not really excited about owning, having a position-flexible starter or bench player can free up that bench spot for better use. Instead of carrying two players as insurance policies, you need only carry one.
You can use that extra lineup slot to take risks at identifying free agents that might become valuable starters and help you win your league.
As I’ve written about before, each season roughly 40-50 hitters that are undrafted end up earning positive value by the end of the season (Peter Kreutzer calls this “free loot”).
Having an extra lineup slot makes it much more likely you’ll hit on one of those values.
A lot of what I’ve explained above is full of caveats like “this works well in an auction” or “this applies to leagues with daily transactions”.
And you probably realized, like my wife, that I choose analogies that serve my best interest and I don’t point out weaknesses in those analogies…
But I think it’s a no-brainer that these players are worth more than just the stat line they produce.
You cannot look at these players in isolation. You must widen your frame and account for the other possibilities they open up.
I’m not saying you start paying $5 extra for these players or reaching for them a full round ahead of where you’d otherwise take them.
I would pay a couple of extra dollars and I would willingly target players like this.
The additional value you can grab during the draft, the extra R, RBI, and HR they provide by filling your lineup, and the extra opportunities you have to hit it big in the free loot lottery are worth more than the extra $1 or $2.
I think you should feel more than comfortable making a small reach on players like this.
What Do You Think?
Am I missing something?
I’d be curious to know what your thoughts were on this topic before reading. Do you go the extra dollar on these players? Or not? Will you now? Please leave me a comment below.
Did I just spend 2,000 words writing something everyone else already knew?
I haven’t seen these thoughts put into writing yet, so hopefully I’ve brought something original to the discussion.
By the Way
I love Larry Schechter’s book(that’s an Amazon affiliate link).
Please don’t get the wrong impression. I think 99% of the information in the book is great and I have just cherry-picked one comment that I disagree with. If you haven’t read his book, I highly recommend it.
Thanks for Reading