Waiting Game: Every Position Compared

If you’ve been reading my Waiting Game series (check the bottom of the page for links to each position), you’ve seen me break down the difference between the tiers at every position, particularly the top-5 compared to the rest of the field. Now, it’s time to put it all together and compare the differences of each position to each other. My intention is to create a profile of where talent is most top-heavy, and where there is depth to be had later in the draft.

The 5×5 Roto Summary

Here’s where we stand with the standard fantasy format. Though AB and IP are important in each tier, I’m looking only at the 5×5 stats here. Here’s the infield first.

  Catcher First Base Second Base Third Base Shortstop
Tier 1 .280/66/22/79 .304/91/31/100 .288/100/14/68/35 .280/94/28/94/10 .290/84/13/61/33
Tier 2 .262/48/17/67 .282/82/29/97 .297/78/13/68/11 .276/76/21/80/7 .296/71/10/56/16
Tier 3 .250/49/12/59 .265/77/26/84 .261/79/11/63/9 .277/75/13/66/4 .266/69/12/59/11

Outfielders and the pitchers have an extra tier in this table, and their tiers are 10 players instead of 5. For pitchers, the categories in order are wins, ERA, WHIP, saves, and strikeouts.

  Outfield Starters Relievers
Tier 1 .290/91/28/92/19 17/2.52/1.03/0/235 2/2.10/0.95/41/81
Tier 2 .283/82/17/72/20 14/2.83/1.11/0/187 5/2.22/0.99/24/91
Tier 3 .279/80/19/69/13 14/3.04/1.13/0/159 5/2.57/1.03/19/71
Tier 4 .280/70/15/64/15 13/3.25/1.20/0/158 6/2.80/1.12/8/71

The top tiers at the infield look like classic baseball strategy: power at the corners, speed up the middle. In terms of BA, third base is the weakest, and middle infield is deep. There’s not much power drop-off at any infield position when looking at the top two tiers, but there is in the outfield. What’s glaring is the drop in RBI for third base and outfield, and the drop in runs for the other positions. In a time when power is scarce, it seems you may want to target third base and outfield early, to acquire the most scarce HR and RBI at those positions. Early picks like Donaldson and McCutchen would make sense, perhaps even more so than Miguel Cabrera or Paul Goldschmidt. When it comes to speed, if you want a big-time speedster, you have to take a first-tier MI, or else target the OF. After looking at catcher, the first instinct is to grab one early due to the larger difference between tiers, but if you’re in a one-catcher league, I think you can afford to take a bit of a hit there. Leagues with two catchers may warrant prioritizing a top-tier catcher who gets a lot of AB.

On the pitching side of things, it seems you can get WHIP and ERA help anywhere. What makes the top-tier is save totals. We all know that saves and closers are a risky thing to prioritize, but there’s no denying the elite closers seem like a safe option to give you 40 saves and high strikeouts. If you don’t grab an elite closer, then you might as well wait, and given the priorities at other positions, I’m in the wait camp. As for starters, it’s clear the ERA needed to win a league is getting lower due to the glut of pitching. However, that doesn’t excuse you from taking a top-10 or even top-5 arm early, because there’s a very  clear difference in strikeouts, and as I mentioned in the SP piece, high IP totals means the great ERA and WHIP weigh even more for you.

The Points Summary

Here’s why I really love points leagues. No matter how a player comes about his total, everything he does is quantified into one number. Therefore you can see position depth across the board, and you can also compare players from any position.

  C 1B 2B 3B SS OF SP RP
Tier 1 511.7 688.3 639.1 615.0 533.9 644.7 786.4 618.1
Tier 2 398.0 593.0 528.3 531.8 488.6 560.1 637.5 550.3
Tier 3 344.7 548.2 476.5 489.1 436.8 506.2 578.3 480.9
Tier 4           453.8 530.6 420.8

When it comes to outright points, starting pitching is clearly the best top-tier. There’s far less drop between relievers and shortstop, and third is a bit bigger, but every other position shows a noticeable decline from first to second tier. Due to power at the corners, the point totals in the third tier are better than middle infield. It’s important to note the lower top-tier totals for shortstop (injuries to elite Tulo and Hanley) and third (general lack of studs at position), compared to first, outfield, and starters. Therefore when you consider the drop between tiers plus the comparison of top tiers to other positions, I want a starter, second baseman, and outfielder early, with third base a secondary priority.

In points leagues, the numbers don’t lie: Kershaw is more valuable than Trout, hands down. Bottom priorities are going to be first base and reliever. Once again I’m willing to wait on catcher unless it’s a 2 C league, because although the drop is big, the maximum value you can get out of the position is lower than any other. The same goes for shortstop, though the averages were affected by injuries and smaller AB to some potential top SS; even so, I wouldn’t risk taking Tulo over McCutchen, Jose Abreu, or King Felix — guys who were healthy in 2014 and near the top at their positions. Finally, it’s worth noting that even though you need more OF and SP than infielders, the third tier and even fourth tier options at those positions are as good as or better than the infield third tiers — and SP and OF include 10 players instead of 5. Get a stud OF and ace SP early, but then you can afford to wait and fill your infield. In the waiting game, you can wait on first base the most, because there are always sluggers to be had there.

Series Summary

It’s always good to know where the trends are heading for each position. Don’t get caught in the traditional clichés and values of fantasy baseball when it comes to starting pitching. The days of “you can wait until the mid-late rounds to fill your staff” will leave you far behind in roto leagues and points leagues alike. Take stock of the changing landscape and be sure to acquire an ace or three if you want a chance at success. The depth at first still rings true, but shortstop and third aren’t as deep as they were a few years ago, with the fall of former top players like Wright, Rollins, A-Rod, and Reyes. I also see a lot of value in health, and though you can’t predict every injury and prevent taking those players, I’m not going to add further risk to a position by taking an elite player who often doesn’t reach 500 AB. Collect those reliable AB and IP whenever you can, because they add to your totals in every format.

Compare tiers for the rest of the positions

CatcherFirst BaseSecond BaseThird Base ShortstopOutfieldStarting PitcherRelievers

Kevin Jebens

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Fantasy baseball player since 2000; winning leagues ranging from 12-team H2H to 18-team experts 5x5. Has written for various baseball blogs, including the 2013 Bleed Cubbie Blue Annual.