Fantasy Baseball: I'm mad as hell

by Todd Zola, on May 25, 2011 @ 20:48:41 PDT


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."

Former Atlanta Braves RP Billy Wagner
Wagner rated highly ... too highly?

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:

ERA: 4.08

WHIP: 1.347

K/9: 7.1

BB/9: 3.3

For those interested, the complete spreadsheet and explanation can be downloaded HERE in .xls form and HERE in .pdf.

Let's start with the top-100 pitchers in each format. On the left is normal, on the right the adjusted values.

1 Roy Halladay 1 Roy Halladay
2 Felix Hernandez 2 Cliff Lee
3 Adam Wainwright 3 Jered Weaver
4 Jered Weaver 4 Felix Hernandez
5 Roy Oswalt 5 Adam Wainwright
6 Ubaldo Jimenez 6 Josh Johnson
7 Billy Wagner 7 Roy Oswalt
8 Cliff Lee 8 Cole Hamels
9 CC Sabathia 9 Mat Latos
10 David Price 10 Dan Haren
11 Brian Wilson 11 Justin Verlander
12 Josh Johnson 12 Tim Lincecum
13 Heath Bell 13 Francisco Liriano
14 Rafael Soriano 14 Jon Lester
15 Justin Verlander 15 Clayton Kershaw
16 Matt Cain 16 Ted Lilly
17 Jon Lester 17 Billy Wagner
18 Tim Hudson 18 Matt Cain
19 Mat Latos 19 Shaun Marcum
20 Clayton Kershaw 20 Colby Lewis
21 Chris Carpenter 21 Ubaldo Jimenez
22 Cole Hamels 22 CC Sabathia
23 Carlos Marmol 23 Tommy Hanson
24 Neftali Feliz 24 Chris Carpenter
25 Joakim Soria 25 Hiroki Kuroda
26 Trevor Cahill 26 Rafael Betancourt
27 Clay Buchholz 27 David Price
28 Tim Lincecum 28 Brett Myers
29 Jonathan Sanchez 29 Carlos Marmol
30 Brett Myers 30 Zack Greinke
31 Matt Capps 31 Joaquin Benoit
32 Mariano Rivera 32 Luke Gregerson
33 Johan Santana 33 Matt Belisle
34 Ted Lilly 34 Brian Wilson
35 Tommy Hanson 35 Max Scherzer
36 C.J. Wilson 36 Ricky Nolasco
37 Shaun Marcum 37 Yovani Gallardo
38 Hiroki Kuroda 38 Jonathan Sanchez
39 Colby Lewis 39 Joakim Soria
40 Francisco Liriano 40 Johan Santana
41 Gio Gonzalez 41 Wandy Rodriguez
42 John Danks 42 Edward Mujica
43 Max Scherzer 43 Ryan Dempster
44 Bronson Arroyo 44 Hong-Chih Kuo
45 Jonathan Papelbon 45 Neftali Feliz
46 Dan Haren 46 Joel Hanrahan
47 R.A. Dickey 47 Sean Marshall
48 Carl Pavano 48 Heath Bell
49 Ryan Dempster 49 James Shields
50 John Axford 50 Stephen Strasburg
51 Francisco Cordero 51 Rafael Soriano
52 Jaime Garcia 52 Sergio Romo
53 Hong-Chih Kuo 53 Matt Thornton
54 Chris Perez 54 Chad Billingsley
55 Dallas Braden 55 Tyler Clippard
56 Ricky Romero 56 Brandon Morrow
57 Chad Billingsley 57 Scott Baker
58 Francisco Rodriguez 58 Ian Kennedy
59 Ian Kennedy 59 Mike M. Adams
60 Ryan Franklin 60 Carl Pavano
61 Matt Garza 61 John Danks
62 Wandy Rodriguez 62 Koji Uehara
63 Jeremy Guthrie 63 Ryan Madson
64 Leo Nunez 64 Jonny Venters
65 Andrew Bailey 65 Kevin Slowey
66 Kevin Gregg 66 Darren Oliver
67 Ervin Santana 67 Daniel Bard
68 Jon Garland 68 Mariano Rivera
69 Yovani Gallardo 69 Dan Hudson
70 Jose Valverde 70 J.J. Putz
71 Phil Hughes 71 Matt Capps
72 Anibal Sanchez 72 Wilton Lopez
73 Dan Hudson 73 Takashi Saito
74 Zack Greinke 74 Clay Hensley
75 Johnny Cueto 75 Hisanori Takahashi
76 Brian Fuentes 76 Francisco Rodriguez
77 Brian Duensing 77 Leo Nunez
78 David Aardsma 78 Dallas Braden
79 Jhoulys Chacin 79 Phil Hughes
80 Brandon Lyon 80 R.A. Dickey
81 Hisanori Takahashi 81 John Axford
82 Brad Lidge 82 Johnny Cueto
83 Joaquin Benoit 83 Joe Thatcher
84 Fausto Carmona 84 Matt Garza
85 Tyler Clippard 85 Jhoulys Chacin
86 Evan Meek 86 Kris Medlen
87 Luke Gregerson 87 Sean Burnett
88 Clay Hensley 88 Travis Wood
89 Matt Thornton 89 Ervin Santana
90 Matt Belisle 90 Joel Peralta
91 Jason Vargas 91 Gavin Floyd
92 Clayton Richard 92 Tim Hudson
93 Mike Pelfrey 93 Darren O'Day
94 Andy Pettitte 94 Ricky Romero
95 Tim Stauffer 95 Nick Masset
96 Daniel Bard 96 Anibal Sanchez
97 Livan Hernandez 97 Joba Chamberlain
98 Jonny Venters 98 Jonathan Papelbon
99 Huston Street 99 Evan Meek
100 Derek Lowe 100 Brett Anderson

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?

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About Todd Zola,

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, 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 and, 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. Fantasy Baseball

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