Why Jon Barry matters

4 03 2009

I’ve typed the name Jon Barry a ton recently.  I’m tempted to change the name of this blog to youlikeadajonbarry.com.  I envision Jon Barry’s mom googling him and stumbling onto this site, and being very confused, though perhaps somewhat amused.

The reason I’m interested in Jon Barry, and in Matt Bonner and James Posey, who look like this year’s Jon Barry MVPs for my league, is that they illustrate an interesting concept for fantasy purposes: they’re the best available replacement player (BARP).  There are a number of interesting observations to make about BARPs:

  • They tend to outperform a lot of owned players.  Bonner and Posey are ranked 67th and 91st in my league, in which 144 players are owned.
  • Presumably then, most managers would be well-served by adding them and dropping someone off their team.
  • Managers generally don’t do so, and the same players appear near the top of the waiver wire all season long.

This seemingly irrational behavior by fantasy managers calls into question how fantasy value is determined.  One approach to value is to look at the difference in expected performance between a player and the BARP at his position.  By this calculation, more than a third of owned players would have negative value, and should be dropped in favor of the BARP.  A second approach is to forecast a range of future performances, measure the difference between each and the BARP, assign each a probability, and aggregate.  If done mathematically, this is a very complicated calculation that should involve integrals, but if done intuitively, it’s probably pretty similar to what fantasy managers are doing.

It fits better with the fact that Bonner and Posey are unowned.  For instance, consider a player, say Shane Battier, who has a 30% chance of becoming a top-50 player, a 30% chance of being slightly worse than Bonner or Posey, and a 40% chance of being terrible.  The average of these outcomes is worse than owning the BARP.  But the Battier’s value would be higher if you’re able to identify the 40% of failure scenarios quickly–suppose he gets injured or isn’t seeing many minutes–and drop him for someone else.  This speculative behavior is important in fantasy sports.  Often it’s preferable to have a stream of speculative players, hoping one will make the leap into the top tier, and replacing them if they don’t, than it is to have a solid, Jon Barry-like option.

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