Sunday, March 8, 2009

Managing Risk with Bench Spots, Part 1

Derek Carty at Hardball Times had a great three part series on injury risks and how they can lead to great rewards. The basic premise is that if you combine a partial season of a good talent with a partial season of a replacement level player, the combined value is much greater than the sum of the parts. I totally agree with this premise (you can see me arguing in favor of it in the comments).

You can use this strategy for any player who is expected to miss time:
  • Matt Wieters will start the season in AAA, but is expected to be called up as early as May.
  • Chase Utley will start the season on the DL, and should be back within a month or so.
  • Rich Harden is currently healthy, but you never know when he'll be injured.
  • Max Scherzer will be the 5th starter in Arizona, but if he's ineffective they might send him to AAA for some work (unlikely but possible).
Clearly the Utley situation is the most valuable; you know how long he'll be out, and you can reasonable guarantee he'll be great when we returns. The Harden situation is the worst; you don't know when/if/how long he'll be out and if he'll be effective when he returns. You need to make sure to balance your roster with these risks. 

Your bench spots are one of your greatest resources for managing risk. Instead of replacing an injured or ineffective player with a replacement player (i.e. free agent), you can replace him with a bench player. You chose your bench players based on your starters. If you draft Chipper Jones as your starting 3B, you'll likely draft another 3B sometimes in the late rounds. That 3B will be better than a replacement 3B. When you do this you're using a bench spot to hedge the risk you took by drafting Jones. (You can use DL spots in this fashion only if the player is starting the season on the DL, like Utley). 

One of the greatest arguments against this strategy is that each replacement player requires a bench or DL spot. Some leagues have as few as 3 bench spots and no DL spots. Thus you have to decide whether to use you bench spots for extra starting pitchers, high-upside players, platoon mates, or injury risks. When planning to draft a risky player, mark off on your draft sheet that one of your bench spots should be reserved for a backup. 

Next post I'll look into how you should decide to use your bench spots.
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