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2011 Draft Prep: Don't be scared to trust scarcity

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It has become conventional wisdom to put Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki near the very top of draft lists this year, due to their absolute dominance of the weak shortstop position. For those who still have some doubts as to how a shortstop could be one of the two or three most valuable players in all of Fantasy, we now have some visual evidence to back up that claim.

Below is a visualization that displays every batter who projects to earn at least 150 Fantasy points this season. Batters are grouped by position, and in the shortstop view, you can see Ramirez and Tulowitzki hovering far above the remainder of the shortstop pool. The vertical distance measures projected Fantasy points for the 2011 season. Also, from left to right, players are arrayed according to their projected OPS. By this measure as well, Ramirez and Tulowitzki stand out from among the crowd. While their production may not be the highest in Fantasy overall, it will probably be the hardest to replace, should you miss out on them on Draft Day.

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Fantasy owners can use this interactive tool to size up position scarcity as well as locate the dropoff points within each position in preparation for your upcoming drafts and auctions. Each view provides an overall picture of how value is distributed by position, but you can also dig in deeper to see the trends that have landed each player in his particular place in the projections pecking order. Hover over each mark to see a player's projections for each of the standard 5x5 batting categories as well as his projected Fantasy point total and OPS. Click on a mark, and you will see the player's three-year history (where applicable) and 2011 projections for Fantasy points and OPS appear just below the scatterplot. The inclusion of OPS trends helps to show how productive hitters have been on a per at-bat basis in recent years, even if their playing time has fluctuated.

In clicking through each of the positions, you can see that each one comes with its own unique patterns of tiers and drafting strategies. At catcher, there is a tier of six players who all promise to provide well-above-average production, but these half dozen backstops are hardly interchangeable, particularly in Head-to-Head scoring systems. While Joe Mauer and Buster Posey are both elite options, owners who pass on Mauer to take Posey are likely to miss out on a significant amount of Head-to-Head value. However, once you miss out on the top six, your options become harder to distinguish apart, making it worthwhile to sit out on catchers for a few rounds while filling other needs.

At the corner infield positions, a small number of tightly-clustered players form a clear elite. Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera are unquestionably the top options at first base, while Mark Teixeira, Joey Votto, Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard form a distinct sub-elite. The gap between the top producers and the near-average talents is even more glaring at third base, as Evan Longoria, Ryan Zimmerman, David Wright, Alex Rodriguez and Jose Bautista are the only players at the position who are clearly far above average. (Bautista, incidentally, does not appear in the third baseman view of the graph, as his primary position is outfield.) This division between haves and have-nots makes it critical to draft elite-level players for your corners.

On the other hand, there is much less urgency to grab either a second baseman or outfielder early, as there are few dramatic dropoffs in projected production at either position. This is especially true for outfielders, while owners in deeper leagues should note that there is a meaningful difference between getting a second baseman ranking near the bottom of the top 13, and getting one who just falls short of this group. In other words, if you are getting to the point in your draft where Gordon Beckham, Kelly Johnson and Neil Walker are the best second base options available, it's time to move quickly on one of them.

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The graphs put the differences in scarcity among the positions in stark visual terms, and it also highlights where competition over playing time could put a player's productivity at risk. When you click on any of the team logos displayed to the right of the graph (after activating the highlight option), it highlights every player from that team for the position that has been selected. For the most part, there is just one player per team displayed, but exceptions, such as the Indians' crowded middle infield situation and the Rockies' collection of first basemen, can be found. Potential time share situations can be found even among outfielders, where three per team is the norm. For example, while Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs should not have to fend off threats to their playing time, the clustering of three Cincinnati outfielders near the bottom of the grid suggests that Jonny Gomes, Fred Lewis and Jeremy Hermida (not to mention Chris Heisey, who missed the cutoff) could all have a shot at snatching playing time away from each other.

One final note on interpreting the graphs ... while projected Fantasy points and OPS correlate strongly in general, even a casual scan reveals some outliers. The high Fantasy point totals, relative to OPS, for players like Juan Pierre, Carlos Gomez and Elvis Andrus shows exactly how dependent these speedsters are on stolen base production to maintain their value in Head-to-Head. It also shows how other outliers like Kurt Suzuki and Miguel Tejada will need to meet their RBI and runs scored projections to produce as expected, though their ability to do so is partially dependent on their teammates.

Have a question or a comment? Send them to DMFantasyBaseball@cbs.com . Be sure to put Hitting Tiers in the subject field.

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