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Ron Shandler and Replacability

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Ron Shandler has a very interesting article available to non-subscribers about replacability of fantasy players.  In it, he puts forth the argument that fantasy teams should not use a high draft pick on the type of player who is head-and-shoulders above the rest of his position-eligible colleagues.  Specifically, he mentions Twins SP Johann Santana and Phillies 2B Chase utley.

If, heaven forbid, Santana or Utley ever were to go down with an injury, the replacement talent available via free agent or trade -- even in shallow mixed leagues -- could never measure up to what was lost. There is nothing you can do -- no roster shuffling, multi-player deal or anything -- that will replace that caliber of player.

This is a position deserving of much roto-commentary because it shakes the foundations of the mixed-league snake draft strategy.  It also argues against position scarcity as a legitimate strategy (and against supply-and-demand).  Not to mention he derides the very popular (and cash cow of these fantasy empire-building corporations!) 10-team mixed-league format.

The standard format on that site [ESPN.com] is a 10-team mixed league with 21-man rosters (16 active, 5 reserve). With a player pool penetration of only 28%, this is the shallowest of league formats, but it is apparently what most of their customers play.

What struck me was he never mentioned auction drafts where a case can be made that he would have been arguing, in a different words, exactly the conclusion one can draw from my "What If I Drafted Jose Reyes for $53" series.  (Part I and Part II)  

In an auction league, there is tremendous replacability risk if a team drafts a player who is head-and-shoulders above the value of the next best player not to mention the difficulty one would encounter trying to get fair value in a trade mid-season.  If Johann Santana is the anchor of your staff and you've surrounded him with relievers and one or two middling high W starters and Johann goes down, then you're pitching crumbles - W and innings-weighted ratios decline precipitously.  Those Kei Igawa/Tim Wakefield/Livan Hernandez's begin to do what Santana was there to prevent - rapidly drag your ratios to the bottom of the standings.

However, Mr. Shandler doesn't make that argument.  He just claims a team is better-off with Carl Crawford than Jose Reyes as if position is meaningless in a game where position are a limiting constraint on the acquisition of talent.  Why is Carl Crawford a better pick?  Because the pool of replacement outfielders is deeper in the event of a catastrophic injury to Reyes.  This true and the absolute heart of his argument.

It is flawed.  Can one live a full life if one is worried about the chance of being struck by lightening?  Or of being eaten by sharks?  No.  Each of those events, while harmful, is still unlikely to occur.  So ignoring the elite fantasy player because the chance of a season-ending injury exists, albeit in higher percentages than being eaten by a shark, necessarily limits one's team to the middle of the pack.  And in mixed league formats, the elite are the difference makers given the very small difference between the best free agents and the worst players on teams.

His argument carries much more weight in the traditional Rotisserie format in which he has proven his expertise - auction AL-/NL-only 4x4, but not in what currently exists as the most popular one - snake draft shallow mixed-league 5x5.

(hat tip to Tim at Rotoauthority.)