Three weeks ago I was approached with questions regarding how to assess player value in a very complex fantasy league. The dynasty league in question was a 14-category head-to-head league with deep pro and farm rosters in addition to a salary cap. This led to a long exchange of messages discussing the difficulties in coming up with a system to evaluate players in any particular setup. Basically, the more layers there are to consider, the more difficult the task becomes and it really is league-specific.
Today we will go over many of the factors to consider when evaluating players in these types of leagues. In order to obtain answers it is important to understand the problem. Laying out all of these factors will help shine some light on which mindset you should have when looking at players in your league.
Points-only player valuation
Let's start with the most basic of player evaluation systems. There are points-only player value lists at this website for overall skaters, defensemen and prospects. Each player's ranking is based on point-producing ability both now and in the future.
Multi-category player valuation
By adding more categories to the scoring system we begin to see the difficulties in assessing player value. Some leagues are more offense-heavy while other formats allow two-way players to shine. Obviously, your goal is to have a team that is elite in all categories so you will need all types of players to fill out your roster.
In leagues with many categories it can become nearly impossible to visually break down numbers. Each category counts so you must know how much a given player can provide in each category. The total package is what counts, not just the peaks and valleys that catch the eye.
The value of automated tools that help break down multi-category value cannot be understated. The best one out there is Fantasy Hockey Geek but some of the fantasy league host sites such as Yahoo and Fantrax have their own player breakdown system. Fantrax in particular offers a league-specific score for each player based on the current season.
Cap league player valuation
The addition of finances to your league further muddies the water with regards to each player's worth. Finding the right mix is important and the more scoring categories you have, the more difficult it becomes to find the winning combination while keeping everything under your league's cap ceiling.
There are a number of factors that impact a player's value in a cap league, the first and most obvious one being the cost (salary or cap hit). The importance is obvious - some fairly productive players are simply not worth owning due to their elevated cost.
The contract length can also greatly impact value. For example, most players considered cap bargains in your league will be on short contracts. Most are not stars and their lower placement in the lineup means they are very unlikely to earn a long-term commitment from the team. And once that contract ends, the player will be due for a raise that will be considered more fair for himself while also hurting his fantasy-league worth.
It may seem counter-intuitive but investing in some overpaid players on short contracts can be beneficial if you have the cap space to do so. This can be an excellent buy-low opportunity that costs you next to nothing if you foresee the new contract being significantly cheaper.
On the other hand, longer-term contracts can be very risky. Player values change at a rapid rate and the last thing you want is being stuck with a large and lengthy contract tied to a player that has declined either due to age or to a change in his personal or team situation.
Additionally, you have to keep a player's future earning potential in mind. A current cap bargain can sign a new lucrative contract that takes him out of the pool of relevant players in your league (Andrew MacDonald anyone?). A player's cost both now and in the future matters and in the case of shorter contracts you always face some uncertainty.
Approach to assessing player value in cap leagues
The goal of your team should be to spend up to your league's salary cap ceiling while getting the absolute most out of every dollar that you spend. While that rule applies to the team, it does not apply as a global rule for all players. Stars have to be treated differently. Since the goal is to get the most production, the amount that you get from a star player from a single roster position cannot be ignored. These are the horses that will carry your team to victory even if they tend to be very expensive.
In order to fill out the rest of your roster, you will need some cost-effective (mostly lower-tier) talents to keep your budget in line. Your targets will obviously depend on the league setup that you have.
In points-only leagues most of your bargain players will be overachieving youngsters still under their entry-level contracts. Meanwhile, in multi-category leagues the same young options will be appealing in addition to many of the league's top depth players. In some cases fourth-line agitators can produce elite numbers in a couple categories despite limited ice time. As an added bonus, the bottom-of-the-depth-chart guys are far more likely to maintain a lower cost over the years so you can count on them to be mainstays on your roster for a few years.
With regards to projecting future value, keep things simple and stick to a three-year window. Fantasy leagues open and close all the time due to changes in the lives of the key league members. It is difficult for people to stay involved in such a time-consuming hobby over the long haul. Try to avoid looking too far ahead to a time that could easily be beyond your league's existence. Keep it simple and cross that future bridge when you get there. Use your skills as a GM to make the necessary changes along the way. It takes longer than a day to build a championship team.
Since there is no magic cross-platform formula to solve the player valuation problem once and for all, the best thing you can do is understand the league that you are in. Most of the rules affect each player's worth. This is a very difficult task without the use of automated tools (Fantasy Hockey Geek, host sites, etc). Not only do these tools help give a more unbiased look at how each player stacks up in your league at a given time, but over time you will learn how to apply these tools visually when comparing players and even predict future league value including your scouting of prospects.
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