Catchers, Points Leagues, and Z-Scores

STATEMENT:

Catchers are undervalued in points leagues based upon their ADP compared to the relative replacement value to their position.

BACKGROUND:

I play in a head-to-head points league with a pretty standard scoring system for hitters. Points leagues tends to be a little more straightforward than rotisserie leagues with projecting player value, because you can translate the projections directly into your scoring system. The end game is total points for the player, and it does not matter how they achieve it, whether through stolen bases or home runs etc. In an effort to gain a little insight into the total points rankings rather than just sort all players by points and draft off of that list, I’ve used z-scores to attempt to calculate the value of a player’s points relative to the positional average. I wanted to quantify how much value you may gain from drafting Carlos Correa at SS as opposed to Paul Goldschmidt at 1B, even though Goldschmidt is projected to score more points. This is not a particularly new concept, as there is  a great series articles written by Zach Sanders about it here: http://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy/value-above-replacement-part-one/ .

In calculating the z-scores based upon Steamer projections, I have found that the top three catchers (Posey, Sanchez, Lucroy) have a higher score than expected, and it would seem to place their actual value among the top 20 hitters overall, despite projected significantly fewer points than their peers, while maintaining an ADP anywhere from the 4th to 7th rounds. It would seem that it may be smart to exploit this value differential in points leagues.

WHY ARE THE TOP CATCHERS UNDERVALUED?

Based upon Steamer projections and using a standard points-league scoring system, the z-scores for Posey, Sanchez, Lucroy put their top-end value with players such as Manny Machado and Paul Goldschmidt, and the low-end value with Xander Bogaerts. Buster Posey has a z-score of 2.31, Gary Sanchez has a score of 1.36, and Jonathan Lucroy has a score of 0.75. You may disagree with the ranking of Sanchez over Lucroy etc., but the main takeaway is that there is significant value with the top three catchers, as the next-highest projected scoring is Stephen Vogt, who has a z-score of -.05.

In rotisserie leagues, catchers do not carry as much value, because while Gary Sanchez may be projected for 28 HRs and cost a 6th-round pick, you can wait 6-8 more rounds and draft a Yasmani Grandal and only lose a projected 8 HRs. In points leagues, the difference between Sanchez and Grandal might be close to 100 points. That is the difference between having Paul Goldschmidt or Brandon Belt as your starting 1B. For reference, here are the projections with z-scores for 1B and 3B. I used replacement values of 23 for 1B and 17 for 3B based upon this article: http://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy/value-above-replacement-part-two/

I am not advocating that, because of the numbers, you draft Posey over Rizzo or Sanchez over Bryant, because that would limit any potential value you may get by drafting Posey at his ADP. I also do not believe they carry as much value as those players despite the z-scores. I am just saying that, at least in points leagues, it may be time to reevaluate the value of the top catchers, compared to other positions. Having a Posey, Sanchez, or Lucroy in points leagues gives a significant value week to week in head-to-head leagues, or for total points. Additionally, there is added value in having a catcher like Posey or Sanchez, who also perform occasional 1B or DH duties, which increase their ABs and scoring potential. Ideally, with a top catcher, you are not playing musical chairs week to week at the position, hoping for good match-ups, only to end the week with a catcher who may have scored under 10 points.

Based upon projections and experience, points leagues tend to be fairly top-heavy with scoring, where the top five or so at each position hold significantly more value than they would in standard rotisserie leagues. That is because there are only 20-30 points separating the No. 6 3B from the No. 12 3B, and spaced out in 22 weeks in head-to-head points, it is a difference of 1-2 points per week.

CONCLUSION:

I do not believe you should be drafting Posey or Sanchez in the first two rounds in fantasy points leagues, because it would not be the most efficient way to accumulate valuable players. I do think that catchers are particularly undervalued in points leagues relative to their draft positions. In points leagues, it is more valuable to have a top-three player at a weak position than having the No. 6 player at a strong to average position, even if traditional wisdom may say to draft Freddie Freeman over Gary Sanchez, because points leagues tend to equalize scoring after the top few players.

So my advice is to ignore conventional wisdom that says wait on catchers, and disregard ADPs that put players like Freddie Freeman, Jose Abreu, Jonathan Villar and Xander Bogaerts over Gary Sanchez or Jonathan Lucroy.

We hoped you liked reading Catchers, Points Leagues, and Z-Scores by Ian Fitzgerald!

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Jim Melichar
Member

One of the most interesting valuation concepts is “to or not to do position specific replacement values”. You’ve nicely highlighted the trade-offs and highlighted the league types where it may be more important to pay attention. Generally I try to be aware of both valuation systems and try to figure out which owners implement which especially in my auction leagues.