Fantasy Baseball: I'm mad as hell
I'm mad as hell
And I'm not going to take this anymore.
What, you may ask? The importance, focus and attention to saves I say.
I listen to interviews and read chats and message board posts from the sharpest and most inventive minds in the industry and all anyone wants to know is who is going to get the next save in St. Louis or should we be worried about Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria? Don't get me wrong, I'm not questioning the need or even right to do this: saves is an important scoring category and one player can account for a bunch of points. It just pisses me off that several times each spring I stand in front of an audience of fantasy enthusiasts, eager to drop some serious knowledge and the question asked everywhere is "Who is the first closer to lose his job?" It irks me that I hear that Ron Shandler, Jason Grey, our own Lawr Michaels, Brian Walton and Perry Van Hook, et al., are going to be on the radio, and they spend half their time talking about bullpens in flux.
I will spare you the harangue about how goofy a statistic saves is, since it is in a large part reliant on a manager's whim or team economics and not so much about a player's skill. What I will do is heed the sage words of a former boss that we have all heard before, "Don't bring me a problem, bring me a solution."
Granted, the end of May is not the time to lobby for a change to the game we all love, but I am going to do it anyway. My objective is to come up with a rotisserie scoring system that best represents the value of pitchers in the real game.
As suggested by the opening diatribe, I do not feel that a save should be so relevant to fantasy value. I am a skills guy and humbly believe a setup guy that has superior peripherals to a closer should be worth more. I am willing to concede the last three outs of the game are more difficult to earn than the previous 24, but not to the extent that 10 percent of our hobby should score this, and 4 percent of the player population should be the chief inventory for the category.
Speaking of skills, year after year there are pitchers that over- or underperform their peripherals, usually seen manifest in ERA and WHIP. Some pitchers sport a low ERA and WHIP despite pedestrian skills while others have snake-bitten inflated ratios, not representative of how well they actually pitched. These ratios are what fuels fantasy value and not skills.
While I am at it, why not eliminate the other bothersome category of wins. Similar to saves, I will spare you the whining about how randomness impacts the category.
What I decided to do was play around with my pitching CVRC (customizable value and rankings calculator). Don't worry, I bought it dinner first. I used season ending 2010 stats and ran values for a 15-team mixed league. I wanted to replace three categories: wins, saves and strikeouts. The two I know I wanted to add were K/9 and BB/9. Like I said, I am a skills guy and these are the two root skills that really define a player's ability.
The third was a little trickier. I ended up with the last category being innings pitched, plus appearances, plus saves. Including saves is a concession that there is some level of skill needed to handle the pressure of closing out a game. For both a starter and reliever, it seems to me that there is significant value in the number of innings a pitcher accrues. Similarly, an appearance is a good measure of the value a pitcher, especially a reliever, to his real squad. Wins are accounted for indirectly - pitchers that throw a lot of innings with a high skill are more likely to earn wins. Plus, keep in mind ERA is still included and a lower ERA usually results in more wins, or at least it should.
Conspicuous by its absence is inclusion of HR/9, even though it is considered a pitcher's skill. This was a conscious decision on my part, since a high HR/9 is will be reflected by a high ERA and a low HR/9 leads to a low ERA. In effect, this gave me some tangible justification for including ERA in the scoring.
Before I go on, I want to emphasize the above system is my first run. I am doing this as a means to stimulate some discussion. Then over the rest of the summer, I will sweet talk the CVRC into producing some different values, based on the tweaks you suggest. I realize that there is a miniscule chance that this idea ever comes to fruition. But you never know.
It is important to have a baseline from which to compare. The league averages for last season are as follows:
Let's start with the top-100 pitchers in each format. On the left is normal, on the right the adjusted values.
Now I will pick out some hurlers whose difference is significant and discuss them, focusing on why I think the adjusted value is more representative of their true value.
Billy Wagner: I will start with the first closer in terms of standard fantasy value. He was seventh overall last season but would have been 17th under the new system. To be honest, even that seems high with respect to valuing all pitchers. If MLB teams were drafting, would Wagner really be the 17th pitcher selected? I doubt it, but with as little a chance I have getting anyone to agree to this, I cannot make it too radical.
Rafael Betancourt: I chose Betancourt because he is the highest ranked set up man under the new format. He went from being barely draft-worthy at 128 to the 26th ranked pitcher. This may seem absurd until you remember his K/9 was an unreal 12.85 while his BB/9 was an equally impressive 1.16. Compare those to Francisco Cordero's league average K/9 of 7.30 and his worse than average BB/9 of 4.46. Yet, because of 40 saves and six wins, Cordero was the 51st ranked pitcher. Be honest: Which reliever had a better season and should have ergo been more valuable in fantasy? For what it is worth, Cordero would have been ranked 202 with my abridged scoring system. I just as easily could have chosen Joaquin Benoit to represent the stellar setup guy and Kevin Gregg the overrated closer.
Trevor Cahill and Clay Buchholz: I am grouping this duo as the argument is the exact same. Last year, they ended the season next to each other in final ranking, 26th and 27th. Both of their ERAs and WHIPs were exceptional. Cahill sported ratios of 2.97/1.11 while Buchholz checked in at 2.33/1.20. However, Cahill's K/9 was a well below average 5.4 though his BB/9 was a better than average 2.88. Buchholz carried a slightly higher but still less than average K/9 of 6.22 with a worse than average BB/9 of 3.47. Their skills were pedestrian at best, in fact, below league average. Using the new system, Cahill would be ranked 114 and Buchholz 122. In the 15 team format, 135 pitchers are draft-worthy. So both are still viable pitchers, but their adjusted ranking better repesents their true value.
James Shields: Last season, an unsightly ERA of 5.18 with an equally disturbing WHIP of 1.46 rendered Shields a useless negatively valued pitcher as evidenced by his rank of 203. Looking at his skills, his K/9 was an above average 8.28 along with a better than average BB/9 of 2.26. A bloated HR/9 of 1.59 was his downfall. With the new system, Shields would have been the 49th rated pitcher. To me, that makes sense. That puts him a low end SP3, high end SP4 in this format. Perhaps he should be penalized a little more for his poor home run rate, but on the other hand, someone with those strikeout and walk rates should have been ranked higher.
I could pick out more examples, but they all fall into one of five classes: excellent closer that drops a little (Wagner), poor closer that drops a lot (Cordero, Gregg), excellent reliever that jumps up the rankings (Betancourt, Benoit), lucky starter that drops (Cahill, Buchholz) and unlucky starter that climbs (Shields).
As mentoned, I am completely amenable to tweaking the system to massage the relative values a few places. But presently, I am quite pleased with the general direction the rankings are taking. I humbly feel they are much more representative of real-life value.
What say you?
About Todd Zola, MastersBall.com
Focusing primarily on the science of player valuation and game theory starting in 1997, Todd Zola and Mastersball carved out an important niche in the fantasy industry. In 2006, Todd became the Research Director for fantasybaseball.com, and in 2009, he relaunched Mastersball and is now a managing partner.
Todd competes in Tout Wars and the XFL, and has been a multiple-time league champion in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. He has been a contributor to the fantasy content at MLB.com and SI.com, is a frequent guest on Sirius/XM and Blog Talk Radio and is an annual speaker at the spring and fall First Pitch Forum symposiums.
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