Where should Chase Utley be drafted?

Could Chase Utley be the biggest early-round value in 2009, even though he could miss the first month of the season?

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve discussed the hidden value of injured players. We found that injured players can make excellent draft picks given the right conditions. There were two primary reasons for this: 1) A player’s fantasy value is heavily influenced by the number of at-bats he receives 2) An injured player can be replaced, and the replacement player’s numbers can be included in the original player’s value.

I mostly discussed this in the context of late round draft picks, but in certain situations, using it on a player in the early rounds can be a sound strategy. One player who I strongly believe fits this mold is Chase Utley.

The value of Utley

Utley, as I’m sure you know, could miss up to a month of time at the start of the season. If he does, his production would take a serious hit, but as we know, in the time he misses, we could still collect some modest production from a replacement level player. Below is a chart illustrating what Utley’s value would look like in three different scenerios (500 Utley at-bats, 500 Utley at-bats plus 100 replacement at-bats, 600 Utley at-bats) from four different projection systems (THT, Bill James, CHONE, and Marcels).


As will always be the case when looking at these graphs, we see an upward curve.

500 Utley at-bats
In 500 at-bats, Utley’s value would range from $23 to just $28. This would cause him to be ranked from 15th overall to 23rd overall — a mid-to-late second round pick. Mock Draft Central’s ADP data shows exactly this. Utley’s ADP is 17, meaning he’s generally taken in the middle of round two. Fantasy owners clearly aren’t accounting for the replacement at-bats.

500 Utley at-bats + 100 replacement at-bats
In a 600 at-bat combo, Utley’s value would range from $30 to $35. This would cause him to be ranked from 4th overall to 10th overall — squarely in the first round. This means that even if Utley misses the entire month of April, he would still be worth a first round draft pick.

600 Utley at-bats
If Utley somehow manages to get 600 at-bats all on his own, his value would range from $34 to $39. This would cause him to be ranked from 3rd to 5th overall, among the elite.

The DL spot problem

As many commenters have noted, and as I’ve discussed in part three, this strategy shouldn’t be taken to the extreme. If you end up with several players injured at the same time, you will wind up not having enough DL spots to store them all and would therefore need to use a bench or active roster spot.

I don’t believe, however, that this should be a consideration for Utley. Unlike a player like Chipper Jones who could get injured at any point in the season, we know when Utley will miss his time. He will miss his time in April, which it makes it much easier for us to make adjustments and less likely we will have simultaneous injuries.

If you draft Utley, you will go into the season knowing that he will occupy one of your DL spots for the first three or four weeks. As long as your league has at least two bench spots, though, you should be perfectly fine. It would take some awful luck for your team to lose two more players to injury before Utley returns, and even then, you’d only need to occupy a bench spot for maybe a week.

If it costs you $24 dollars to get Utley and he delivers $33 dollars in value, that $9 is well worth the cost of a bench spot for a week. It would even be worth simply taking some zeroes for that week. And remember, this is the worst case scenario where you happen to have two other players get injured in the opening weeks of the season.

The uniqueness of this situation

Honestly, a potential $9 of marginal value has got me drooling right now. Big value like this usually comes from high risk/high reward type players in the later rounds of the draft. These players are far from sure things, and many will end up being worth $0.

How often, though, do you get a chance to make this kind of profit in the early rounds of a draft? The answer is “almost never”. If I draft David Wright for $40, what are the chances he delivers $49 worth of value? It would take a very big year for that to happen, and the chances of it are relatively low. With Utley, though, it’s about as sure of a thing as we can get. Getting this kind of value early in a draft gives you an enormous leg up on the competition.

Possible deterrence

There is one possible hole in this plan, unfortunately. It’s now being said that Utley could be ready for Opening Day (resident injury analyst Chris Neault examined this situation the other day at his blog). Once this news starts to spread, fantasy owners could become more willing to draft Utley in the first round. After all, everyone knows he has the skills, and his low ADP is mostly a function of the missed playing time.

This leaves us in a bit of a sticky situation. If we’re picking in the middle of the first round, do we pull the trigger on Utley (knowing that he is worth it) to make sure we get him, or do we hope he lasts until our second round pick? It’s a very tough call.

My thoughts on the situation

Here’s the way I’m leaning, as of right now. With picks 5, 6, and 7, Utley would be roughly even value as a “500+100” player. So instead of selecting him here, I’ll take another even-valued player and hope that Utley falls to my next pick. If he does, big value! If he doesn’t, well, I didn’t miss out on much. Taking him earlier would have delivered about the same value as the guy I ended up taking, but it would have eliminated the chances of getting that big second-round value altogether.

With the 10, 11, or 12 pick, I wouldn’t have a problem taking Utley. Here, he’s delivering enough value to warrant the selection.

The 8th and 9th picks are the trickiest. It’s going to be a judgment call here, and it will depend in part on how well you know the other owners in your league. In a vacuum, I’d probably take him given the recent news. If he plays a full-season we’d still be getting good value, and there’s a solid chance that he might not be there by the next pick.

What would you guys do in these scenarios?

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Mike Podhorzer
13 years ago

The concern I have though is how the injury affects his actual performance. Obviously the hip is very important when swinging the bat, so will it hurt his power? Also, will he actually run as much as usual and steal the 10+ bags we’re used to? I’m not so sure. Even adding in the replacement at-bats, I don’t think I’m willing to take the risk in the mid-2nd round that he returns at 100%.

Jim Juza
13 years ago

Beyond the issues with roster spots, I think there is still a problem with this approach.  By adding replacement level ABs to Utley’s total and then saying that this will raise his value $9, you are saying that he is the only injured/part time player that will be replaced in your league all season.  Unless you play with a bunch of owners that don’t pay attention, this won’t be the case. 

In order to get an accurate increase in value, you would need to add replacement level ABs to all players below a certain number of ABs(especially if you play in a daily transaction league).  Doing this would increase the value of the replacement level player and that would cut into the $9 increase in value for Utley.

13 years ago

I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment and actually starting looking into February drafts with the hopes of stealing Utley. I liken this situation what was going on with Pujols last year in draft season.

Excellent point about the relative certainty about the timing/need for a replacement player to the early season if anything. Very different situation than what we talked about a couple weeks ago with the value of injury-risk players.

Dave R
13 years ago

As a H2H participant, I think the potential impact of a loss of 100 AB early in the season is much smaller versus standard roto.  In H2H, if a combination of a replacement level 2B + Utley is good enough to carry you to the playoffs (it should be), you will have a healthy Utley (assuming no further injuries) when it matters most… the playoffs. I think beginning-of-season injuries produce great H2H value opportunities.

Derek Carty
13 years ago

His level of performance is definitely something to consider, although Chris Neault doesn’t think it would affect his hitting too much (http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/fantasy/article/chase-utley-out-4-6-months-fantasy-fallout/)

In the second round, I’d be pretty comfortable taking him, even if he doesn’t quite reach his projections.

This is something I was going to drop a quick post about later in the week.  As the year progresses and players get injured, replacement level will get a little worse.  In the case of Utley, though, this isn’t much of a consideration.  We know he’s out for the first month, so you’ll be getting first pick off the waiver wire, and you could even go as far as to draft his replacement.

Thanks, Sean.

13 years ago

I think what Jim was saying is that other players aren’t projected this way, so adding a replacement player to Utley’s value give him an unfair advantage.  If every other player in your system is projected to have a replacement level guy fill in any ABs they miss up to 600, then you’ll have a better picture of Utley’s value.

Nick J
13 years ago

I have to agree with Mike about the potential loss of steals.  Will Carrol said of Utley in a chat last week…

“I think he should be close to his goal of playing on Opening Day, but until we get to see him play, it’s very hard to guess how it will affect him. I think a bit less running, but I’m more concerned with whether it alters his swing any or gets in his head.”

I agree that there’s potential profit to be made here, but there’s some risk as well.

Derek Carty
13 years ago

I do agree that the SBs could be fewer, but that’s a pretty small part of his value – less than 10%.  And he won’t lose all of that value.  Even 50% would be a lot.

13 years ago

I remember being wary of Pujols last year due to possible injury, and won’t let the same happen this year with Utley. I don’t track him at #1 of course, but if he falls until the late first round, got to nab him.

13 years ago

I’m confident with any of the top 8 players but after that I dunno. I wouldn’t want Howard, wouldn’t want a pitcher and I wouldn’t want Teix or Beltran there so Utley is actually starting to look like a fine pick.

I usually try to draft conservative during the first 4-5 rounds then start to take some risks. So taking a ‘risk’ first round kind of goes against that idea but it may be too good to pass up. 

If you were to take Utley in pick 8,9,10 or so would you draft another 2b in the first 15 rounds or just roll with replacement level until he’s back?  I have a feeling I’d worry too much about just 100 abs at 2b and waste a mid-late round pick on some blah 2b like placido polanco just to be safe.  I know it completely negates the point but it would be so easy to rationalize to myself mid draft.

Derek Carty
13 years ago

I’m not sure it would make a difference.  First, we can’t just add ABs to players until they get to 600, not all of them anyway.  Some will get fewer because they bat lower in the order or get taken out of games in the 7th or 8th inning for a defensive replacement or are simply given random days off.  Those are simply lost at-bats and can’t be replaced.  We could only add replacement ABs for players who will miss chunks of time and even then, I don’t think it impacts the value of Utley much.  It would increase the value of those other players – as we discussed in the three part series – but not Utley, unless I’m still missing the point.

Derek Carty
13 years ago

I definitely would not draft another 2B in the first 15 rounds, at least not one to replace Utley.  Fill your MI spot if you wish, but the marginal value of, say, 100 Kelly Johnson ABs over 100 Mark Ellis ABs isn’t much more than a couple of dollars.  For any pick inside the first $15 rounds, $2 or $3 is nowhere near the kind of value you should be targeting.  Simply roll with the replacement, or if a good enough player slips into the 20th round or so you could consider taking him.

Dave R,
Excellent point about H2H leagues.  Hadn’t considered that, but as long as you can weather the first few weeks, you will be in great shape.

Jim Juza
13 years ago

Utley’s value will be affected by adding replacement level ABs to other players. 

Say you have Utley getting 25 HR and a replacement player getting 10 HR, Utley would have 15 marginal HRs.  If there were a total of 1500 marginal HRs in the player pool, Utley would get about $4 from the HR category (15/1500 * 12 teams * $260 per team * .65 spent on hitting / 5 hitting categories). 

If we just add 3 HR (for the 100 replacement ABs) to Utley’s total, now Utley has 18 marginal HRs and the pool has 1503 marginal HRs.  Utley’s HR value jumps to around 4.9 dollars.

Now let’s add replacement ABs to more players (say the 25 hitters you listed in your previous article) so we end up with 1600 marginal HRs in the pool.  Utley’s 18 marginal HRs aren’t worth as much, dropping to about 4.6 dollars, losing about 30% of the increase.

Utley will still gain value but I think it would be closer to $6 instead of $9.

Steve Parsons
13 years ago

There’s a couple of problems here.

1. Assuming that Utley’s replacement will earn $9 in 100 Abs is not realistic.  If Utley is healthy enough to play 500ABS, and he’s only earning $5 per 100, you’re just north of replacement guy is going to earn double what he does and about the same as what Wright does?  More likely that guy earns $2-$3 total.

2. Utley coming into 2008 was only projected for 550 ABs by many prognosticators.  So your 600 possible seems like a phantom, a function of your projection maker’s methodology rather than any real thought about his injury status. (FWIW Utley has averaged 566 Abs since becoming a full timer,  in about 150 games per season)

3. This assumes 100 discrete ABs that you could actually sub for. We’ve all owned at one time or another a Milton Bradley who decides he can’t go….20 times a year. These are, as a practical matter lost Abs, little or nothing you can do about them.  Utley now seems more likely early on to get odd games off, rain delays, cold days or rest days. How many of those will get picked up by even an owner who is on top of their daily transactions?

4. Is there a value subtract in other areas in carrying a just better than replacement level second baseman rather than something for other needs? I love carrying a quality middle reliever at the beginning of the season, it gets me a good start on qualitatives, allows me more easily to pin my innings to my maximum, and gives me the flexibility to pick up the unexpected starts or closer or whatever. You might be surprised howw much use you get out of such players when teams aren’t using 5 man yet, not letting their starters go long and so on.

5. Winning a fantasy league is about cashing in opportunities. Squeezing the last dollar out of a position is good, but getting the Carlos Quentin is better. As a matter of practice it seems more prudent to fill your bench guys who might be impact players rather than replacement level 2Bers that might realistically play 50 Abs, optimistically 100.