Utilizing The Utility Slot

Jonathan Daniel

Brian Creagh asks whether filling your UTIL slot early is advantageous or a handcuff.

It was the 4th round of my inaugural 20-team, dynasty league draft, and I nabbed Mark Teixeira. The click of the "Draft" button couldn't have felt worse as I asked myself "Did I just make a giant mistake?" Not only did I just grab a 33-year old 1B coming off an injury-riddled campaign, but I prematurely fired the extra bullet every armchair GM is given. I locked in my Utility spot in the 4th Round. I hate Mark Teixeira. Joey Votto was my first choice as I planned to compete in the 2013 season and the selection of Teixeira meant I had no leniency in the positions I drafted from here on out. I convinced myself I was in trouble. Going forward I would have to draft based on need and not by the best player available. So as the customary "What a steal!" comments were exchanged between hopeless managers as Oscar Taveras was taken in the 4th Round, followed by Zunino in the 5th Round, I was trying to re-gain my focus so I could adjust to the curveball I just threw myself.

The long layover between picks in a 20-team draft can be rejuvenating or crippling, depending on your most recent pick. Unfortunately my time became the latter as I contemplated the benefits of filling my Utility spot so early into the draft. I didn't come up with any overwhelmingly conclusive evidence, which is part of the reason why I'd like to open it up for discussion here on the site. I'll give my opinion below, but I'd like to discuss the options in the comments to hear other's thoughts on the issue. I realize the answer is mostly draft-specific, but is filling the Utility slot early something to shy away from, or is there some hidden value that can be captured by filling the spot early?

Positional scarcity is a well-known variable in valuing a player. It is why Hanley Ramirez is going 1 pick earlier than Billy Butler despite a reasonable expectation for Butler to outperform Ramirez in 4 of the 5 standard fantasy categories. The same could be said for Anthony Rizzo and Jason Kipnis, as well as many other player's going early in drafts. Players are being picked earlier than their counterparts despite the projection to put up lesser numbers, because these projections are stronger when compared to the rest of their positional class. It's a completely valid theory, but when it comes to filling the Utility spot it is not applicable. The boost in value a player receives due to their position should not be considered. This is the first half of the equation.

The second half is my belief that this value boost due to position evaporates in the later stages of the draft. Taking a quick look at the late rounds of mockdraftcentral.com's ADP report I see Cody Ross and Andrelton Simmons both with a current ADP of 247. With Simmons playing the shallowest position in the game, and Ross playing arguably the deepest, we would expect Ross' projected statistics to be far better than Simmons, while Simmons makes up for that value due to his position at SS. What we actually see is Simmons getting the edge in SB/AVG, Ross winning HR/RBI, and R's is a wash. The same split projections occurs when you compare John Jaso to Kevin Youkilis and many others. Admittedly, this theory is not perfect and there are exceptions, but I don't feel there is enough to make the case that the positional value boost is equally as strong as in the earlier stages of the draft.

If you can agree that there are players being undervalued in the earlier rounds of the draft because of the position they play, then the Utility slot offers you a way to capture this value. And since the positional value boost disappears later in the draft, this additional value can only be captured in the early rounds. This is why I feel it might be advantageous to fill the Utility slot of your roster early if the opportunity presents itself. This is why I love Mark Teixeira.

Make sure to follow me on Twitter (@BrianCreagh)

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