Welcome to a new installment of Roster Rodeo, an occasional series where I discuss roster construction and manipulation ideas that I have experimented with. I’m not a deeply mathematically inclined fantasy player and I often lack the patience to dig into many players’ peripheral and underlying stats to try to uncover breakouts, inefficiencies, platoon strengths, or other nuggets of usefulness. I generally rely on fantasy articles and podcasts, as well as chats with Jeremy to spur my interest in those things with respect to individual players.
In place of such cold science/math, I actively test a variety of roster-building hypotheses and hair-brained schemes on my own teams. This series discusses the successes and failures of some of these approaches, and will hopefully uncover some strategies that you can employ or avoid along the way.
In this edition of the Rodeo, I’m going to share an attempt I made to roster a bunch of infielders with multiple position eligibility in an effort to save a roster spot or two. Note that this will not be an addition to the discussion currently going on at Rotographs and elsewhere about positional eligibility and value. Rather, the hope was that by grabbing a handful of dudes who I could slot in at a number of different positions, I could create roster flexibility by owning, say, seven guys to cover 2B/SS/MI/3B rather that the eight or nine guys that owners commonly roster. If I could make this work, that would leave me an extra roster spot with which to pursue depth at harder to fill spots (SP/OF) or maybe stash an extra prospect or two.
Every year there are many players that have two or more eligible positions. As I hatched this scheme before the 2018 season, I was looking primarily at infielders who were eligible at three or more spots. That a list of names included Marwin Gonzalez, Chris Taylor, Yuli Gurriel, Yangervis Solarte, Jedd Gyorko, Wilmer Flores, Asdrubal Cabrera, Matt Carpenter, and more. I came out of my auctions with at least one share of all of those guys except for Carpenter, so the experiment was primed and ready.
Before we dive into how things played out, let’s cover some of the known risks of this particular strategy. First and foremost, if you’re paring down the number of guys you have on your depth chart at any one position, you’re obviously at risk of being especially short-handed if the injury bug bites. Secondly, there’s a reason that many of these guys have eligibility all over the place – they are often acting as utility players. There’s a chance that if the dude doesn’t perform, he doesn’t play every day, which kills his value pretty quickly.
Provided that the strategy goes to plan, you could theoretically add depth elsewhere. It takes real work to get to 1,500 innings and 890 OF games, so fattening your roster in areas like that could really boost scoring potential and add invaluable depth. Additionally, you might hit on a breakout player. While many multi-position guys live dangerously as super utility players, there are also some young guys (Garret Hampson, for example) with breakout potential who have diverse eligibility simply because there hasn’t yet been room for a full-time job yet.
Thinking back, I’m certain that the 2017 breakouts of Marwin Gonzalez, Chris Taylor, and Zack Cozart helped motivate me to try this particular roster exercise. Those three seemed to make it plausible that a guy could be both an everyday dude and play a few different positions, a la vintage Ben Zobrist.
To give you an example of how extreme I got with this idea, on one squad I owned Marwin, Solarte, Taylor, Gurriel, Cozart, and Jose Ramirez (who at the time had 2B/3B eligibility). Depending on how granular your player performance memory is, you can probably already tell how my 2018 went for this particular team. But for the sake of suspense… Well into May, Ramirez (obviously), Solarte, Cozart, and Taylor were off to good starts. After that, not so much. While Ramirez went on to turn in an MVP-caliber 2018, Cozart had a season-ending injury, and the rest of the group fell apart, taking my team down with them. For reference, here’s a quick table, showing the 2018 performances of each of the guys I’ve mentioned as part of this experiment:
Regardless what format(s) you play, looking at the numbers makes it pretty clear that we have two groups of players. Carpenter and Ramirez are one group, everyone else is the other group. Cabrera, Gurriel and Taylor are fringy starters at best in any format and, even then, Gurriel and Taylor were bench players at best in points leagues. The rest of the guys should hardly be owned.
There’s a simple answer to what differentiates Carpenter and Ramirez from the rest of that group: (yeah, they’re better players but also) despite having multiple position eligibility, they had everyday jobs, mostly at one position. This fact is the real crux of this experiment. The reality is that there are very few guys worth owning and starting who keep more than two position eligibility for more than a year or two. The most likely outcome is that you really are a utility player or you have a steady job but your business card has multiple titles on it.
Zobrist became a second baseman who moonlights in the outfield when needed. Even when Carpenter has held multi-position eligibility, he has generally had one job. If you want to talk about 2019 guys, look at Whit Merrifield (second base) and Joey Wendle (third base) and Travis Shaw (third base) versus a guy like Niko Goodrum who, as of this writing, Roster Resource has listed at DH (which means he essentially has no position).
In the end, it’s kind of fun and wacky to try to create this kind of roster flexibility, but most of the time it’s really not advisable. Certainly, it can be helpful to have one Swiss Army knife kind of guy on hand who can fill in and help you get to 162 games across the board. But the best course of action should you feel compelled to engage this kind of concept – and this is plenty obvious, in hindsight – is to seek out the guys who actually have an everyday job at one position, but positional flexibility for fantasy.
(Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire)