Hi,

Our three-player keeper/yahoo standard roster /10 team league/ daily moves. wants to modernize our standard 5×5 categories for next season, but we can’t come to an agreement.

Either 6×6 adding OPS, QS and replacing S with S+H.

Or 7×7 adding OBP, SLG, QS, Holds separate.

We are expanding the rosters slightly next season as well, and we also don’t want to drop the win category all together.

We don’t know what potential issues we will have with these potential set ups, thanks for your help.

“Cats Meow”

Dear Cats:

I’m in favor of modernizing, for sure, but you were right to ask, because there are implications worth considering in all your potential moves.

The big one: Do more categories make for a better game? The obvious answer is with more categories you have more verisimilitude. More different players have value doing different things and that’s good, right?

Maybe not. Or rather, more categories means you run into a math problem. Back in ancient times we played 4×4 (no Runs or Strikeouts), but sometime around 2000 it became obvious that more and more people were playing 5×5 (with Runs and Strikeouts). In Tout Wars we switched over and those of us who do player pricing discovered something that makes total sense but wasn’t at all intuitive: More cats mean the most expensive players earn less.

The reason is math. Each category siphons off some value from the players at the top, and gives it to the players in the middle. Last year the game’s premiere strikeout pitcher, Max Scherzer, earned \$40 in 5×5 (with strikeouts) and \$41 in 4×4 (without strikeouts). Crazy, eh? Be prepared for that.

In other instances, you’re adding redundant categories. For instance, if you add OPS to a league that counts batting average, too, you’re counting batting average twice. And counting home runs twice, too, since they’re a big part of the SLG slice of OPS. I would recommend replacing BA with OBP, so that you count walks on the hitting side as well as the pitching side, and be done with it.

Similarly, adding QS as an extra category in addition to Wins, means starting pitchers games started are counted twice in counting stats (plus strikeouts! That’s three times) and they loom larger in ERA and WHIP as well. This will make good starting pitchers much more valuable, and much more pricey I would think.

Plus, adding Holds to the Saves category makes relievers much less valuable. The reason is supply and demand. Saves have value because there is only one fellow on a team getting a save in any given game. Holds can be spread between two or three pitchers, which expands the pool significantly. With more supply comes less demand, and lower prices. Is that what you want?

In The Fantasy Baseball Guide 2012, I think, Tim McLeod pitched the idea of using Saves + Half Holds as a category, to give recognition to middle relievers, but to continue to venerate those who are able to close games without getting hurt or becoming ineffective. I think this is much better way to go.

And while we’re at that, Wins + Half QS as a single cat recognizes that bad luck can hurt starters who are pitching effectively without destroying the notion that getting a win is something pitchers are trying to do and should be rewarded for.

Okay, so right now I’m on: OBP, Runs, HR, RBI, SB for hitters. ERA, WHIP, W+Half QS, Sv + Half Holds, and Strikeouts for pitchers. Hmm. 5×5.

I guess if you wanted to go to 6×6 I’d suggest adding SLG to the hitting side (count doubles as well as homers) and Innings Pitched to the pitching side, though I fear that doubling up on IP and Ks is going to push too much value to the pitchers again. Tristan Cockcroft has long suggested adding IP and changing Ks to K/9, making it a third pitching rate stat. That does restore some balance to the starter/reliever mix.

Might there be unintended consequences having half the pitching cats be rate stats? There might be, but Tristan swears by this and so it is surely worth a shot.

One other idea: Fielding stats. I know, they’re all flawed, but in fantasy baseball the goal isn’t a perfect reflection of a player’s contribution on a baseball field, but a given valuation based on the stats you choose to count.

Inside Edge has published fielding stats in recent years that track plays based on difficulty. So they have plays rated Impossible (no one can make them), Remote (a 1-10 percent chance), Unlikely (11-40 percent chance), Even (40-60), Likely (60-90), and Routine (91-100). My idea is to add Remote plays as a counting stat.

Last year, Nolan Arenado made 39 Remote plays, two more than Brandon Crawford, who made one more than Manny Machado. This would be a little like Home Runs, events that some players do regularly, but far from every day. Giving value to Brandon Crawford for his defense seems like a worthwhile idea.

The other category would be to count Routine as a rate stat, so every error or misplay on a play everyone should make would hurt your team in that one. Many outfielders and catchers top this list, having not made a mistake on a routine play last year, but there is Rougned Odor in 19th place, the highest ranked middle infielder by far. Let’s give him a hand.

The only problem is that this data is not available from Inside Edge in game, and FanGraphs is not even showing it for 2019. If no stats services have it, it doesn’t exist, so for now this is a pipe dream. But in the future, I’m all in.

Good luck with your decision. I hope you and your leaguemates have a fun discussion.

Sincerely,

## How to Use The Guide’s Big Price in Shallow Mixed Leagues

A reader writes: “How would you equate or gauge the Big Price to a 12 man 5X5 mixed league auction with \$260. We play keepers too but that’s really not my issue. The Big Number seems to be about right as most other magazines I’ve seen will list auction prices using that format.”

But before you do that, you may want to read this.

The prices in The Guide are for a 24-team mixed league, and are intended to emulate the pricing of a deep AL and NL only leagues. The reason I don’t publish AL and NL only prices—the leagues are a little different, which makes the values of their stats a little different—is because when we put together the Guide in December there are usually hundreds of free agents out there. We don’t know who is going to be in which league.

The important thing to remember about deep prices is that the value of the stats, be they homers, RBIs, runs, hits, steals, are linear. That means that every home run a batter hits has the same value. Every stolen base has the same value. Et cetera. The reason for this is because the vast majority of stats that are produced in the whichever league one is playing in are counted in your roto standings. The replacement level is pretty close to nil for any stat category.

In a 12-team mixed league, you’re playing with just 12 of baseball’s 30 teams. You’re only using the half the available stats overall, roughly (this varies by category). This means that a player has to hit a bunch of homers before those homers have any value. And if he doesn’t hit them, there will someone available for free who will.

What this means, practically, is that in a AL or NL only league, the last player taken costs \$1. And in a 12 team mixed league the last player taken cost \$1. But the last player taken in the mixed league would have cost about \$13 in the only league. The chart below shows the prices for players taken in a 15-team mixed auction, likely Tout Wars in 2016, from most expensive to least.

The thing to notice is that the graph goes pretty straight at about the 50th player taken, which supports the observation that after the third round in a mixed draft the players in each round are pretty interchangeable. No matter who someone takes, there’s another player like him still available. But this isn’t so among the best players. They are not interchangeable, and their value drops quickly, as the left side of the graph shows.

When someone takes Mike Trout, there isn’t another Mike Trout out there. There is Jose Altuve, but when he’s gone there isn’t someone similar. By the time you get to the sixth or seventh player the options are not nearly as appealing as the early choices were. In a draft, the compensation is the earlier pick in the next round. In an auction there is no compensation. Those irreplaceable players can only go to the person who pays for them, and that drives their prices up. Hence the steep curve in the graph showing the prices of the best players.

This situation is even more extreme in a 12-team league than a 15-team league. The bottom line is that if you convert the magazine prices to your mixed league size, it is important that you then reallocate money from the least expensive end of the list to the most expensive end, so that you have realistic prices for the Trouts, Turners, and Scherzers in your game.

Your draft day goal is to have a list that shows the prices you’re willing to pay for each available player, and have that add up to the amount of money available in your auction.

You don’t have to buy those most expensive players. In this year’s Guide, Tout Mixed Auction 2017 winner Jeff Zimmerman talks about how the prices for the top guys in that auction were overinflated. He complains that people always inflate the prices of the top guys in mixed auctions, as if that’s a mistake. I think Jeff is such a numbers guy that he only looks at what people earned to determine their price, and from his success you can see that his price list can work. But I think his list worked in spite of his error, rather than because of it.

What makes me think so? The graph above.

## Big Profits, Big Losses: The Midseason Spreadsheets – Pitchers Edition

The bottom line in fantasy baseball is where are you in the standings. Absolutely.

But the bottom line is a moving target as the season goes along. The top performers in the first half don’t usually perform as well in the second half, and some folks we’ve left for dead in the first half reemerge in the second half full of life. All of which aligns with what we know about regression to the mean. If you’re the best (or worst) at something for a little while, you’re likely to do worse (or better) for the next little while.

You can see the first half fantasy profit/loss spreadsheet here. Use this information to help target players for the second half.

Top 20 Pitching Profiteers in the First Half of 2017:

Jason Vargas
Ervin Santana
Alex Wood
Mike Leake
Gio Gonzalez
Chase Anderson
Ivan Nova
Max Scherzer
Robbie Ray
Jimmy Nelson
Felipe Rivero
Scott Feldman
Corey Knebel
Ariel Miranda
Jordan Montgomery
Zack Greinke
Luis Severino
Greg Holland
Dallas Keuchel
Kyle Freeland

Of course, everyone wants to know who is killing their team, as if they didn’t already know.

The Bottom Ten Biggest Losers in the First Half of 2017:

Noah Syndergaard
Sam Dyson
Bartolo Colon
Tyler Glasnow
Zach Britton
Chris Tillman
Francisco Rodriguez
Aroldis Chapman
Masahiro Tanaka

No. 11 is Jason Verlander, BTW. You have to decide whether to bail on bad first halfs by historically good pitchers. I would bet on a better second half for Tanaka and Verlander, and worry more about Tillman and Glasnow.

But Tillman and Glasnow are talented, and history says that if they stay healthy they will have their moments.

## Big Profits, Big Losses: The Midseason Spreadsheets – Hitters Edition

Yesterday I posted lists of the Top 20 hitters and pitchers in 2017, sorted by the Most Costly (with 2017 earnings), and the Most Earned (with 2017 prices).

Today I’m dumping the whole spreadsheets, sorted right now by Biggest Profit to Biggest Loss.

The most profitable hitters so far this year are:

Aaron Judge
Jeff Zimmerman
Justin Smoak
Cody Bellinger
Corey Dickerson
Avisail Garcia
Mark Reynolds
Logan Morrison
Marwin Gonzalez
Ben Gamel
Chris Taylor
Michael Taylor
Trey Mancini
Chris Owings
Andrelton Simmons
Aaron Hicks
Tim Beckham
Travis Shaw
Tommy Pham
Whit Merrifield

The Top Losers? From worst to less worst…

Starling Marte
Josh Donaldson
Kyle Schwarber
Carlos Gonzalez
Leonys Martin
Ryan Braun
Marcus Semien
Miguel Cabrera
Greg Bird

That’s enough, right? These are guys someone paid real money for, and the results have not been good.

## Halfway Hitters: The first half’s big earners

Looking at hitters the other way, from the top of the list of big earners, is a very reciprocal view than looking at them ranked by preseason expectations.

In fact, the Top 20 big earners so far cost \$491, the exact same amount the Top 20 most costly hitters earned. That’s weird.

And the Top 20 big earners have earned \$665, just \$30 less than the Top 20 most costly hitters cost!

None of the Top 20 big earners went for free on auction day, but Aaron Judge, Ryan Zimmerman and Corey Dickerson went for single digits and are earning big profits.

Here’s the list:

## Halfway HItters: 5×5 Earnings at the midpoint

Hitters are generally considered more reliable than pitchers, in large part because they do not get hurt as catastrophically as do hurlers. But a look at the Top 20 hitters ranked by auction day 5×5 price shows disasters for owners of Mike Trout, Josh Donaldson, Freddie Freeman and Starling Marte.

Still, the Top 20 hitters cost \$695 and earned \$491, a better ratio than the Top 20 pitchers.

A closer look at the list shows that most of the attrition is due to injury, and a slight overvaluing of the best players, who also happen to put up big stats even when they’re not having a great season.

## Pitchers at Midseason: This year’s top earners (so far)

Another way to look at the pitching pool is to see what the top earners are earning, and just how much they cost on auction day.

The ratio of cost to earnings in this group reverses. The Top 20 players cost \$313 and earn \$596.

The biggest earner, Max Scherzer, was the third most costly pitcher, while Clayton Kershaw, also on this list was the most costly by a lot, but the big differences are the guys nobody expected so see here. Jason Vargas, Ervin Santana, Alex Wood, Ivan Nova!?!?!? No bigger surprise comes in at No. 20 on the list, Chase Anderson, who was not even bought by the experts on draft day.

Here’s the whole list of biggest 2017 earners so far (click to enlarge):

## Pitchers At the Halfway Point: The 20 Most Expensive 5×5 Pitchers

Through June second, the Top 20 most expensive pitchers are a mixed bag. Some, like Max Scherzer, shook off preseason injury worries, and is dominating right now, the best pitcher in either league in the first half.

Some, like Clayton Kershaw, who was bid up to \$43 in the expert leagues because of his dominance and reliability, has reliably earned exactly that in the first half of play this year. So there.

But overall, this top group cost \$521 in salary in the preseason and has thus far earned only \$357, thanks to injuries and busts. Madison Bumgarner was the second priciest pitcher on auction day, and was effective in the few starts he made before he was shut down with a sprained shoulder following a dirt bike accident in mid April.

Ouch! Here’s a look at the Top 20 highest paid pitchers this year, and how they’re faring. You can click for a larger view.

## The Fantasy Baseball Guide 2017 Projections Update Is Here.

Actually, it was here a week ago, but a screwup on my part made it very hard to find.

If you would like the FBG projections and prices update, it is here. The password is the last name of the first player profiled on page 90 of the 2017 Fantasy Baseball Guide. It is case sensitive.

You can track what changes I’ve made to the projections since March 15 here.

## Maas No Maas: The Trouble With Trea Turner

Everybody’s buddy and fine fantasy baseball analyst, Howard Bender, had a piece in the NY Post this week warning about overestimating Turner this year, the way Carlos Correa was overestimated last year.

That’s good advice in general, and probably as it applies to Turner, but it raises the question of how do you draw the line on a young player with a spectacularly good partial season under his belt.

I looked at hitters who had an OPS+ of 130 or better in the year they lost their rookie status since 1980 (the Roto Era), who had 249 plate appearances or more. Sixty one hitters qualified.

Five of those seasons came in 2016. That would be Corey Seager, Aledmys Diaz, Trea Turner, and the Ryans Shrimpf and Healy. One player, Kyle Schwarber, had a qualifying first season and didn’t play the next. That leaves us with 55 hitters in the pool.

What can we learn from them?

If we sort them from top to bottom based on first year OPS+:

The top 11 had an an OPS+ of 157 in year 1 and an OPS+ of 137 in year 2. Two of this group improved in year two, a man named Trout and another named Greenwell. Three had less than a 130 OPS in year 2: Luke Scott, posterboy Kevin Maas, and Miguel Sano. This group averaged 499 plate appearances.

The next 11 averaged  143 in year 1, and 109 in year 2. One of this cohort, Randy Milligan, improved. Seven had less than a 130 OPS+. Five has less than a 100 OPS+. This group averaged 442 plate appearances.

The middle 11 averaged 137 in year 1, and 116 in year 2. Kris Bryant was the only one to improve. Two were better than 130 in year 2. Only two had less than a 100 OPS+, both at 99, which is why the year 2 average went up for this group. This group averaged 349 plate appearances.

The fourth 11 average 133 in year 1, and 120 in year 2. Ryan Howard and Jason Bay improved. They were also the only two to have an OPS+ the next year better than 130. None of this group has an OPS+ of less than 100. This group averaged 416 plate appearances.

The last quintile averaged 131 in year 1, and 113 in year 2. Josh Hamilton, John Kruk, Lonnie Smith, and Ryan Klesko all improved and had an OPS+ of better than 130. Four hitters had an OPS+ of less than 100. This group averaged 343 plate appearances.

Another way to split these guys into groups would be by plate appearances.

The top quintile averaged 639 plate appearances, with a 151 OPS+ in year 1, and a 137 OPS+ in year 2.

The next group averaged 463 plate appearances, with a 141 OPS+ in year 1, and a 136 in year 2.

The middle quintile averaged 388 PA, with a 138 in year 1, an 85 in year 2.

The fourth group averaged 337 PA, with a 135 in year 1, a 122 in year 2.

The last group averaged just 273 PA, with a 139 in year 1, a 116 in year 2.

All in all, 20 of the 55 players did better than 130 in OPS+ in year 2, 25 did better than 120 OPS+, 33 did better than 110, and 48 did better than 100. That leaves seven true busts, and 30 total who could be considered disappointing.

Eleven of the 20 players who topped 130 in OPS+ had more than 450 plate appearances. Only four of the next 20 players had 450 PA or more.

A final set of ranks, based on percentage of change from year 1 to year 2.

The top quintile averaged 428 plate appearances, posting a 138 OPS+ in year 1, and a 154 in year 2.

The next averaged 508 PA, with 142 in year 1, 131 in year 2.

The middle quintile averaged 415 PA, with a 141 OPS+ in year 1, a 116 in year 2.

The fourth quintile averaged 352 PA, with a 137 OPS+ in year 1, and a 103 in year 2.

The bottom quintile averaged 388 PA, with a 153 OPS+ in year 1, and an 85 in year 2.

Comparing the top half sorted by percentage of change from year 1 to year 2, the top half had 487 plate appearances while the bottom half had 384. The average age of the top half was 23.4 years old, while the bottom half was 24.5. Perhaps not surprisingly, the bottom half hit more homers and stole more bases per plate appearance.

Plate appearances and high OPS+ are the best indicators of a repeat season of top performances for these players, but players of all types do repeat and get better.

So, what happens if we look at only those players with fewer than 450 PA in year 1? There are 37 of them.

Sort them into thirds, and we see that the top two thirds are younger than the bottom third. Older is definitely worse when you’re looking at partial seasons with a high OPS+ in your rookie year.  Or maybe it is better put, younger is definitely better.

So, what do we make of this year’s crop?

Corey Seager and Aledmys Diaz should be the most trusted, because they had the most at bats, but neither had a particularly high OPS+ last year, which is a bit of a warning sign. And Diaz is somewhat older, a reason to distrust.

Trea Turner had the best OPS+ last year, but only 324 plate appearances. Still he’s young, which is a positive sign.

Ryan Shrimpf just snuck onto the list at 130 OPS+. He’s 28 years old, very old, and only had six more PA than Turner. He’s neg all the way.

Finally, Ryon Healy is slightly old, with a 135 OPS+, and only 283 PA. Not as negative as Shrimpf, but not as positive as the other guys.

Bonus No. 1: Kyle Schwarber missed last year, but will be back this year after a powerful world series. He’s still young, but is coming off a 130 OPS+ in 2015. He’s a mixed bag until you see him swing.

Bonus No. 2: Gary Sanchez didn’t make the 250 PA cutoff, but in 229 PA last year he put up a monster 168  OPS+. Only Mike Trout and Jose Abreu did better in our 250+ PA cohort. On the other hand, if you look at the cohort of those who didn’t qualify, the only hitters who did better in year 1 were Frank Thomas and Phil Plantier. Both were 22 their rookie year. Thomas followed up his 177 OPS+ rookie year with a league leading 180 the next year, and then 177, 174, 212, 179, 178, 181 in the next six years. Plantier followed his 178 with a 90 and never topped the 122 he had in year 3.

Finally, what to do with all this? Although there is data here, this sort of study is really anecdotal. The sample is small, the results so various as to mock any absolute conclusions. But maybe you read the above and feel differently.

What I think it tells us is that there are players who post a super first season and then repeat. You can’t rule that out for these guys this season.

But as you would expect, extreme performance usually regresses to the mean, so you should not count on a repeat. And you should fear charging ahead taking anyone with such a small performance sample, because the possibility of sophomore slump is always there (except for Corey Seager, right?).

Which is pretty dull and which brings us to Howard’s comment about Trea Turner. He says, “Of course Turner is a great talent, but just doubling his total because he will get twice the at-bats this year is not the proper way to project.”

The trouble with Turner is that even if you regress back his stats you end up with ridiculous numbers. My projection, which doesn’t come close to doubling last year’s numbers is 18 homers, with 49 steals, a modest 93 runs and 68 RBI, with a .307 batting average. In 5×5, that’s worth \$37. First-round value.

ZIPS chops more aggressively. It gives Turner 260 more plate appearances than last year and one more homer, three more steals, a .282 batting average and modest 77/66 runs and RBI split. But even that modest projection is worth \$29, which is a Top 15 hitter.

Is my projection the median projection? Is ZIPS’? That’s the trouble with Turner. Right now I have him with an NL-only bid price of \$27. That’s not going to get him, and paying more isn’t necessarily going to hurt the team that buys him.

So, what you do is you keep bidding. Certainly to \$27, maybe to \$30. This is a place to read the room. Once you’re at \$30 you don’t really want him, but the risk of bidding up the guy who does really want him isn’t huge. I mean, you might end up with Trea Turner!

At that price, that could be trouble, but might not.

Here’s a link to the data, both that which I used and that which I didn’t.