A Pitch Clock.

pitchclock-arizonaThere’s a story here that is all gung ho in favor of a ML pitch clock that limits pitchers to 20 seconds between pitches.

The writer shows the average times for the Royals pitchers last year, and only Bruce Chen averaged less than 20 seconds. He notes, however, that there wasn’t a pitch clock, that hitters were allowed more time to get ready than they presumably will if the pitcher is facing a clock, and the Royals other starters, Ventura and Guthrie, were just a hair over 20 seconds on average, so maybe wouldn’t be too rushed if the rule is adopted. All well and good.

I just wanted to report that after watching some games in the Arizona Fall League last November, in which the pitch clock was used, the main thing we noticed is that there were clocks everywhere. In order to make sure everyone knew how much time remained, there were clocks on the fence behind the catcher, on each dugout, and on the right and left field fences. Maybe it was the novelty, but the bright flickering light was a definite distraction. (The picture above shows the clocks on the first base side.)

And just as at a basketball game, there was almost as much suspense watching the pitcher beat the clock as there was seeing him work the batter. So, the clocks are ugly and distracting. Will they speed up the game?

Another point is that the clock is reset when the pitcher starts his rocker step. So, if a pitcher uses all 20 seconds to start his rocker step, his full windup and delivery will put him on a longer than 20 second pace.

With that in mind, if each pitch is made on average five seconds faster, a game with 250 pitches would save 1250 seconds. That’s 21 minutes or so, which would be quite an accomplishment, but would we even notice? I suspect that we wouldn’t. We would still be irritated by pitching changes for every batter in the later innings, in games aren’t all that close, and two minute breaks between half innings for commercials, and three minutes for the 7th inning stretch’s two songs–at least. These are the things that make baseball games seem slow and too long, and each is hard to address because it either is an important part of the competition strategically, or it is a money generator.

So if we’re really concerned about game length, let’s try another idea: Seven inning games.

Crafting Rules: A few thoughts

xfllogoI play in a mixed fantasy baseball league with 14 friends. We meet in Arizona at the First Pitch conference in November and auction off 23-man teams for $260. It’s a keeper league, you can keep up to 15 players each year, and in the auction you’re limited to players who finished the previous season on a major league team’s active roster. When you roster someone without major league experience their price escalated by $3 each season after they make the majors. Other players’ prices go up by $5 each year they’re kept.

We started playing in 2003, and made up a set of fantasy rules that are unlike any other league in the world, with the goal of having a simple-to-administer keeper league. It has worked out pretty spectacularly. I love going to Arizona to see AFL baseball and my friends, but making sure I’m at the auction is very important. You can’t play if you don’t auction.

The second part of roster provisioning is a 17-round reserve draft in late March, during which you can draft anyone in the world who hasn’t already been rostered. We’ve had high school players drafted, and players years away from Japanese free agency. The teams draft in order of last year’s standings. At the end of the day,  in time for Opening Day, each team has 40 players for the season.

Since this is a keeper league, dump trades are a part of the process, but each year it seems that teams with bad teams dump earlier than they did previously. Last year there were seven dump trades on May 19th, just seven weeks into the season.

We’ve recently been discussing whether these early dumps are a good thing or not for our game. I thought not, because it felt as if marginal teams were in a race to the bottom. The first ones to bail were able to pick off the best prospects from the teams competing for the top, so there was constant pressure to bail earlier, in order to make the best deal.

This meant that other teams were pressured to make deals as early as possible, too, in order to compete. Once teams dumped, they were no longer competitive, and once teams added real talent they were no longer catchable.

My suggested solutions, a variety of them, all involved increasing the pain for teams dumping. For instance, teams that fell below a certain number of points would lose some of their freezes, depending on how far short they fell. Or the price of players traded before the All Star break might be automatically increased to $10 or more, in order to decrease their value as keeps. Or they would pay a financial penalty, depending on how many points they fell below a threshold. This isn’t a money league and there is no reason to reward winners, but the money could go to charity, simply to induce a little pain if standards weren’t achieved.

Other suggestions, like a reduced inseason salary cap and having losers pay winners some amount, were suggested by others. These are all standard ways for leagues to control dump trades, but in this league at this time these suggestions were met mostly with derision, primarily with the not-really-an argument notion that in a keeper league you can’t/shouldn’t punish dumping. Though that isn’t what any of us were suggesting.

I started this post spoiling for a fight about this and thought that maybe a look at the trades made last May 19th would help me win my argument (something I know never happens on the Internet, or anywhere, really). On May 19th…

The team that eventually finished first traded Garin Cecchini, Dom Smith, and Wily Peralta in two trades for Joe Nathan, Adam Jones and Prince Fielder (when he was still expected to come back). (14 and 13)

The team that eventually finished second traded Matt Harvey and Alexander Reyes for Ben Revere and Adam Wainwright. (15)

One of the teams that tied for third traded Maikel Franco, Marcus Stroman and Daisuke Matsuzaka for Pedro Sandoval, Alcides Escobar and Francisco Rodriguez. (11)

My team was the other team tied for third and didn’t make a trade.

The team that finished fifth didn’t trade.

The team that finished sixth traded Miguel Sano and Matt Moore for Mark Teixeira and Kenley Jansen. (15)

The teams that finished seventh and eighth didn’t trade.

The team that finished ninth traded Alex Meyer and Addison Russell for Ian Kinsler and Asdrubal Cabrera. (14)

The team that finished 10th traded Gregory Polanco and Miguel Gonzalez for Troy Tulowitzki and Brett Gardner. (13 and 12)

All the teams that traded away quality players finished in the bottom five in the league. The teams that finished first and second traded away quality prospects for immediate help and were never caught.

This division, last year, clearly meant that there were teams that were winning, teams that were losing, and then a bunch of teams in the middle who could not win and would not lose.

That in itself isn’t a problem. It’s part of the game dynamic. There is no penalty in our rules for coming in last. In fact, Brian Walton came in last this year with a pathetic number of points (28.5), and that’s a good thing! As he explains, if you’re going to dump you should go all in, trade in this year’s assets to improve next year’s squad.

But that brings us back to dumping in May. There is a problem if somewhat competitive teams are willing to sacrifice their season so early, basically locking in the tiers of competition. The problem is that this is less fun for many teams, and devalues the auction that we enjoy so much. My suggestions of adding friction to dumping wouldn’t end dumping, but they might slow the process, and make the stakes higher for the dumping teams. They would have to not only reload their squads, but try to claw for points this year (and would be rewarded for their success).

This would be good, because it was make it easier for the teams that didn’t trade away prospects early to remain competitive longer. For instance, my team didn’t trade prospects in mid May because it got off to a horrible start (bad pitching mostly) and was in 11th place on May 19th. The team looked too good to dump, but was not competitive enough to buy by trading away prospects. Of course, once we didn’t buy we had no chance to catch the teams that did when we started rising in the standings.

If the trading didn’t get going until June we might have been tempted to trade Oscar Taveras and Archie Bradley. Instead, we decided to play for third, which is a different way of playing for next year.

While trying to make my argument, I looked at the May 19th standings and wasn’t exactly surprised to see that the bottom four teams finished in the bottom five at the end of the year. After all, they had traded excellent players for futures, most of whom didn’t contribute much this year at all.

What surprised me more was that a look at the Draft Day Rosters, the team that was bought in November (something of a less than perfect estimate of the amount of talent a team had last year on Opening Day), three of the five lowest finishers were in the bottom four (the other two were sixth and ninth). If anything, with the die cast before the season started, it seems as if these teams actually waited too long to dump. Or maybe, it was the teams that were contending who waited to be sure they were in the fight before swapping their top prospects and futures for reinforcements.

In either case, the problem I thought I was actually seeing was subtly different than the one I had diagnosed.

Instead of marginally talented teams racing to dump, mostly truly bad teams recognized they were better off dumping than not. Increasing friction for them might make the game marginally more interesting inseason, and might protect the value of the auction a bit, but any rational player with a bad team would still dump.

I suppose this seems like a fairly esoteric tale. A league unlike any other trying to fine tune rules that aren’t working all that badly isn’t much of a tale. But what I found in the telling was evidence that the problem I was seeing wasn’t totally the problem I was experiencing.

I still think adding some friction for teams that finish poorly is a good idea, simply to make sure they take it seriously. Just because they usually do doesn’t mean an incentive doesn’t help order things properly. After all, two of those bottom five teams  had Top 10 teams based on the Draft Day Standings. Why were they dumping a quarter of the way into the season? Because that’s when you can get the best prospects.

This friction, call it an incentive, isn’t a punishment. That definition is what got me riled in the first place. Every league’s rules define limitations that shape the way the game is played. Deadlines, keeper rules, categories, position eligibility all shape the way the game is played. In the context of the current rules, adding more restrictions might seem like punishing certain behavior when it’s really incentivizing others.

But to go back to Brian Walton, he hits the nail on the head in his story when he says, “It is always best to agree on the original problem statement before throwing around ways to address it.”

Our division is between those who think we can make the game better (but have to recognize that the problem at this point isn’t acute) and those who think dumping and rebuilding should be an unfettered process (apart from the inseason salary cap, of course), who don’t see a problem.

So, for now, we take no action, but we each snap our lips trying to make the other side see reason. It’s almost Hot Stove season.

 

 

LINK: Did pitchFX Destroy Baseball?

marcummoveDerek Thompson surveys the scientific literature of the strike zone today to demonstrate that fewer homers hit is bad for baseball, and that fewer homers are being hit today for two primary reasons:

1) Starting in 2006 stringent drug testing reduced the use of PEDs in the game.

2) Starting in 2006, the introduction of the pitchFX system increased the size of the strike zone, most notably by expanding the low part downward. Follow the link for more about pitchFX, a video and computer sensor system that tracks the speed and trajectory of every major league pitch.

It’s an interesting piece, especially the chart that shows how much better the umpires have gotten since their work could be not only reviewed, but reviewed against real objective data (not that it is always perfect).

As someone who, perhaps naively, argued in the early days of the homer boom that it looked to me like the real cause was a flattening strike zone, which meant hitters could look inside or outside and not so much up and down, the data strongly suggests this is at least partially true. One researcher says that the decline in homers since 2006 is 40 percent due to changes in the strike zone.

That’s a lot, and could be true, but I suspect we haven’t heard the last of this.

At the end of his piece Thompson lists other causes for a drop in offensive power, including defense (though this shouldn’t have much of an impact on homer rates) and changes in the baseball, but when he tries to remind us all of the shadow of PEDs use on this issue, he falters.

He writes:

Perhaps most importantly, the harsh 2006 rules against performance-enhancing drugs offer a compelling explanation for baseball’s dearth of power—although it’s odd that baseball’s minor leagues haven’t seen a similar decline in offensive performance since their own steroid policy was implemented.

The minor league drug policy is in many ways more stringent than the major league program. What the minor leagues don’t have is pitchFX and the absolutely best umpires.

Baseball_umpire_2004Oh, and to answer the question in the headline: pitchFX didn’t destroy baseball, it simply made the administration of the game more accurate and fair.

But if the low run environment proves to be persistent and unpopular, MLB can raise the bottom of the strike zone back to 2006 levels. That’s what they do. (It perhaps pertains that it was part of my argument about the power of the strike zone to change other outcomes, that umpires would be inclined to make this adjustment in an ad hoc way if the pitchers became too dominant, in order to help sustain the game’s equilibrium, which wavers but never cracks.)

Trade Opportunity: Finding the right price for Price

Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher David Price (14)In the American Dream League, which is an ancient 4×4 AL only rotisserie league, a player who is dealt to an NL team is lost to it’s ADL owner.

Stats no longer accrue, he becomes a sudden bad memory, and a daily irritant, since the ADL owner may keep him on his reserve list, and where his production is posted daily accompanied by the notation (N.L.).

This leads me to experience a certain panic, because I am the owner of David Price in that league, and offers up something of an opportunity because I am the owner of David Price. Yesterday I emailed all the other owners in the league:

Subject: Trade Opportunity

Because we are approaching the month of July, and what we used to call the inter league trading deadline is looming, my thoughts turn to David Price.

Price is one of the best pitchers in the game, and has had an excellent if star-crossed first half. His Ratio is lower than his career Ratio, his strikeout rate is higher and his walk rate is lower than his career rates (he’s walked just 14 in 124 IP), yet his ERA is the highest of his career. Why? He’s allowed quite a few homers, and his BABIP is outrageous, partly because the Tampa defense hasn’t been as efficient as in the past, but also because he’s been wicked unlucky.

With all of that he’s earned $11 in the first half in 4×4, according to Alex Patton, and is on pace to earn $22. The important thing about that, however, is that he could earn much more than that if some of the bad breaks go his way in the second half.

Alas, we have a rule in the American Dream League that a player traded to the National League is dead to us, and David Price is the player most likely to traded this year before the July 31st deadline.

Now, he may not be traded to the National League. There are AL teams in the running for his services, too, but that drop dead rule means he’s about a 50/50 chance to be either the excellent pitcher David Price for an ADL team or null and void.

My team is in the running for the Lukas Cup this year, currently in second place, and is strong enough that I might be able to stay in contention without Price, but it occurs to me that it might make sense to flip him at this point and get half a pig rather than a poke.

Please feel free to make an offer. I’m not really in the market for speed or batting average, in fact I might package some of either or both for a nice power upgrade. I would also consider trading a potential keeper next year, if the price is right. My ideal candidate is a power-hitting catcher, for what that’s worth.

Thanks for reading along, and for your cleverest offers.And enjoy this lovely weekend.

Sincerely,
The Bad K”

So far the letter has elicited a few offers of decent hitting catchers, which tells me I shouldn’t have used that example, and a gag offer of Vidal Nuno, who I was disappointed I didn’t land in the auction.

As I’ve discussed these trades Price’s price has become clearer:

His market price was $30, which included a little discount for the possibility he would be traded. But let’s say he’s a $30 pitcher (since there was also some draft inflation in our keeper league).

Half a season is worth $15. Because he has a 50/50 chance of being traded out of the league, his worth is actually $7.50. But because he actually probably has a month of playing time left in the AL, worth $5, his actual value is somewhere between $7.50 (if he were to be traded today) and $12.50 (if he were to be traded on July 31).

Because I probably just lost Josh Reddick to the DL, I have a hole in the outfield, so I’m looking for an outfielder who cost $25 more than Endy Chavez on auction day, or a catcher who cost $20 more than Carlos Corporan.

One interesting aspect to the ADL this year is our standings, which have bifurcated. There are seven teams between 71 and 56 points, and five teams between 40 and 32. A team that finishes with fewer than 35 points is penalized $1 of our $50 FAAB the next year for each point lower than 35 he finishes.

Plus, teams that finish 10-12 have fewer keeper slots the next year. So there’s a lot of incentive for one of the cellar dwellars to make a big play to climb out on David Price’s arm.  If he were to stay in the AL the rest of this summer, he’ll be a terrific bargain and give a down team a big edge. And might even turn out to be a keeper next year, too, if he signs a long-term deal.

I’ll let you know how things work out.

ASK ROTOMAN: What is FAAB Worth?

Dear Rotoman:

I was thinking about redeeming the DLed Nate Jones in Tout Wars AL, which got me thinking about FAAB, Vickrey bidding and being in last place a few weeks after the season starts. I wrote about it here at USA Today.

Does it make sense to add Jones’ $14 now? Or should I wait to see if he can get healthy and reclaim the closer job in Chicago?

“Ron Shandler”

Dear Ron,

I had some thoughts about your recent column and thought they made a better topic here than at your various discussion boards. Though perhaps I’ll show up at those, too.

You raise a few interesting issues that I wanted to touch on.

I will admit that I thought the Tout Wars redemption process was going to be a disaster. It has instead been a great success. (I thought the same about FAAB trading as well, and was wrong about that, too.) In Tout Wars teams are allowed to cut any player on the DL and reclaim their draft day price as FAAB up until the All Star break—after which they can reclaim half their draft day price as FAAB.

The  usual dynamic for redemption is determining how long a player will be out, versus his utility when/if he returns, filtered by the value of the added FAAB. This means that guys who are out for a while, but who may not be out all season, can reside on a team’s unlimited DL reserve until it becomes clear that the extra FAAB is going to matter (as we approach the break, and the interleague trading deadline).

What makes Nate Jones interesting is that he could return to the bullpen eventually and not gain the closing job, which would pretty much waste his $14. That’s a good reason to cut him and reclaim his bid price, though at this point he’s not close to returning, and it is pretty unlikely that the $14 you add to your FAAB total will have any utility at all until much later in the season.

For those reasons, I suggest waiting until he’s either done for the year, close to returning as a non-closer, or you need the $14 to buy something better.

As for Vickrey, the bidding auction system that we use in Tout Wars, it awards the FAAB player to the highest bidder, but reduces their cost to $1 more than the second highest bidder. Cory Schwartz was quoted earlier this week about how he thinks Vickrey just randomizes the process, and he doesn’t like it, but his bidding last week in Tout Mixed Auction is a prime example of Vickrey’s importance and why you and I like it.

As we all know, there were some closers available in last week’s bidding. Cory decided he needed one of them. Zach Steinhorn agreed with Cory that the best available closer was Francisco Rodriguez. Zach bid an aggressive $33, but Cory trumped him by bidding $60, which was then reduced a la Vickrey to $34. One can look at this as Cory “saving” $26, but it is a fairer evaluation of Vickrey to say that Cory bid aggressively because he wanted K-Rod most. Such overbids are made knowing that someone else who did the same thing would raise the price of K-Rod a lot, but that was a price Cory was willing to pay. The stated intention of Vickrey auctions are to limit system rigging, since bidders are encouraged to bid the absolute most they’re willing to pay (knowing that if they value more than the market they won’t have to pay their full price). Cory bid what he was willing to pay, and since no one else would pay as much, he ended up with a discount, as it were. That’s a feature, not a bug.

Where Vickrey excels is when there are a number of bidders. Where Vickrey falters is on the players for whom there is a limited market. With only 12 or 15 teams in a league, many without holes at particular positions, there may only be one or two teams looking for a player at a particular position. There may only be one or two of those players at that position available. One of those teams may value one of those players a lot, but chances are, even if he bids aggressively, his bid will be reduced to $1 or a few dollars because there was no market for that player. That seems to me to distort the bidding process.

For a couple years we played in Tout Wars with a $10 floor on bidding. If you bid $10 or less, that was the price you would pay if you won, with no reductions. If you bid $10 or more and no one else bid more than $10, your winning bid would be reduced to $10. If two bids exceeded $10 the standard Vickrey rules applied. The idea was to increase the cost of roster churning at the low end, where the market is less than robust. Many objected to this, saying they thought that if we were going to play with Vickrey we should play pure Vickrey. After a rule change, that’s the way we play now, and while I still think it makes the low-level bidding somewhat arbitrary, it isn’t really a problem.

I recommend Vickrey bidding for the most contested players, but the use of a floor for the cheap bidding. That’s the best balance in my opinion.

Okay, back to FAAB and inseason values. One rule that might help us find the balance between Draft Day dollars and FAAB dollars would be to combine the two. Let’s say teams are given $360 on auction day, and are told that they can spend as much of that as they like, with the balance ending up as their available FAAB balance. How much would they actually spend on Draft Day?

Or, less radically, you’re restricted to the $260 for your regular team, but then can bid FAAB $ for the reserve rounds.

By increasing the porousness between Draft Dollars and FAAB budgets, we open up ways for teams to play different strategies at the draft table, in the reserve rounds and all season long during waivers and claims.

Earlier this year I looked at how many stats were available via FAAB and claims in the NL and Mixed Leagues. This is what our money goes to buy on draft day versus what we’re able to add as the season progresses. Would that number change if we spent more cash on draft day and had less available for inseason buys? It sure looks to me that paying more on draft day is the way to go.

Sincerely,
Rotoman

 

 

ASK ROTOMAN: Do We Value Relief Too Much?

Hey Rotoman,

A few weeks into a league in its inaugural year and looking for some advice for next year. We seem to have skewed our format and put too much weight on relief pitching. Here are the specifics:

-H2H points league using pretty much all scoring categories offered in ESPN standard format. (including Total Bases which gives hitters a significant boost)

-Roster spots for all positions + 2 DH + 1 extra infielder & outfield. 5 starting pitcher spots + 3 relief pitcher spots.

-8 start limit.

I think our issue arises from the 3 RP spots. With 12 teams, there are not enough ‘starting closers’ to cover this position and our draft showed this with many people loading up on closers in round 5-8. I also think our 8 start-limit is too low and limits the value of quality starting pitching. My thought is if we increased the start limit to 10 or 12, it would even out the people hoarding closers vs the people with depth at starting pitcher. Or would dropping relievers from 3 spots to 2 be better?

Any thoughts are much appreciated, thank you!!

“Cat In The Bag”

Dear CITB:

It is my personal opinion that you can make any game you want, so I have little to say about league-specific rules. But since you are unhappy and asked, here’re a few thoughts:

Limiting the number of starts per week to a low number means that you’re effectively taking IP off the table. Starters on good teams gain value, as do those with high strikeout rates, since you’re turning the K category into a ratio, like K/9. If you have daily ups and downs, maybe there is a reason to limit starts, but it should be fairly high, so that teams can choose to run up the innings OR protect their ERA and Ratio as a way to gain points.

Another good reason to have a Starts limit is because of the S/R designation, which often makes a mockery of fantasy pitching staff balance. But since you’re complaining about the relievers having too much value, something else is going on in your league, and I’m not sure what it is. Limiting teams to three relievers, when there are only 32 closers, seems like a red herring. Too many teams right now have no closer, or multiple arms to feed save ops. Sure, the best relievers might go early, but isn’t figuring out when to jump there  a key part of the game?

And I’m not sure the guy who went early for Craig Kimbrel is feeling that good right now.

For me, any set of rules can take a few years to gel. Maybe teams thought something would happen this year, drafted accordingly, and they’re now learning that it didn’t, and so the team that marched to a different drum will win in the end. You have to decide if that’s a good or bad thing.

I’m personally in favor of as few rules as possible that describe how the game has to be played. Multiple strategic approaches makes for a more fun and challenging game. So maybe don’t cap starts or innings, but cap the number of decisions a team can have (162 wins + losses, for instance). When a team reaches that number it no longer accrues pitching stats.

Or broaden categories, so that relievers count for saves and holds, instead of just saves. I recommend half-holds + saves as a category, giving value to middle relievers while recognizing that the role of closer has a value unto itself.

The thing to recognize is that the shallower the mixed league, the less the fantasy league is likely to look like real baseball and the more it’s going to become something else. Whatever that is is just fine, if it pleases you and your leaguemates, but my advice if you’re looking for fix things is to make the rules expansive and encourage creative play rather than trying to stick everyone in some restrictive box.

Hope the end of this bit comes as a relief.
Rotoman

 

LINK: OBP’S Lawr

Mastersball.com’s Lawr Michaels tackles on-base percentage, as Tout Wars’ AL and NL leagues transition to the greatest stat ever! Um, to a better stat than Batting Average. Read it here.

ASK ROTOMAN: My League Is Using New Categories. Help!

Dear Rotoman,

My 5×5 Rotisserrie – 10 team NL-Only Yahoo League is switching categories this year:  New Categories are XBH, OBP and E, replacing HR, BA & SB to go with RBI and R for five categories.  In pitching we are keeping W, Sv, ERA & Whip and replacing K with K/BB.  How do I project what I will need in categories without a previous history of scoring?

“Categorically Insane”

Dear CI:

Wow. I’m a big fan of experimentation and innovation, and I love the fact that your league is jumping into it head first, but I’m sorry to inform you that you are uncorking an Albert Belle bat’s worth of complication with your changes (the least of which is projecting how much of any category you’re going to need to win). Here’s why:

Valuing stats is easy. Knowing how many you’ll need to win isn’t, but isn’t necessary unless your league doesn’t allow you to trade. And even then you’ll be better off knowing how much each player is worth than targeting category totals.

Your goal is to amass value, which means buying stats that others are undervaluing. Targeting category totals too often leads to teams overbidding to reach their goals.

Obviously, there is a point when too much is too much, when you have way more steals or saves than you can gain points for in roto scoring, but common sense should be enough to guide you there. In the meantime, collect value.

The problem for your league is that some of your changes are provocative and disrupt the way we usually play the game.

Not XBH, which is just like HR, only it rewards Doubles and Triples hitters. And not OBP, which is just like BA, but rewards guys who take a walk. But Errors? Hell yes.

Errors is a backward category. The lower the number, the better. The problem is that fielders make errors not only in proportion to how many they make, but by how much they play. The more they play, the more errors they make.

More playing time has long been a key strategy for 5×5 roto. You want to win the AB race, even though AB isn’t a category, because the more AB your team puts up the more Runs and RBI and HR it will accrue.

So, if we look at the top 15 NL shortstops last year in fewest Errors allowed (200 AB minimum), they averaged 621 innings played and 7 errors (84 innings per error), while the top 15 NL shortstop last year in Offensive contribution (not including steals, which you’re replacing), averaged 990 inning played and 12 errors (83 innings per error).

As you can see, there’s almost no difference in quality as a group, but the heavier offensive contributors play more and hurt more in your Error category.

While there are clear winners (Troy Tulowitzki, maybe Jose Iglesias) and losers (Jonathan Villar! Dee Gordon!), it isn’t clear to me how you go about choosing whether to roster Brandon Crawford, good defender but makes errors because he plays a lot and is a marginal offensive talent, or Daniel Descalso, who played much less, contributed less offensively, but hardly made half as many errors.

And since the player pool determines the value of players, every change to the pool has the potential to shift all the prices. Fascinating stuff. And good luck with it.

(SIDEBAR: To value the reverse category you would credit each player with Each Error He Didn’t Make. So, Starlin Castro made the most errors as a SS in the NL last year, with 22. Every other player Didn’t Make 22-the number of errors he did make.)

Converting from Strikeouts to Strikeouts Divided By Bases on Balls is a whole ‘nother matter. Here you’re switching from a quantitative stat that measures playing time almost as much as quality, there are many leagues that play with IP as their fifth 5×5 category rather than strikeouts. Put this together with ERA and WHIP, also qualitative stats, and you’re almost begging for teams to try pare their innings pitched to a minimum.

Remember that no starters earn Saves, and few closers rank highly in Wins, so you’re basically measuring pitchers on their quality innings. I’m a bit skeptical about this innovation being a good idea, but if you have a stringent minimum IP limit it might work.

Still, if you’re playing with real Yahoo rosters, guys who qualify as SP but work in relief are going to be gold.

To get back to your question. In standard roto leagues, a good benchmark for last place in the qualitative categories is the major league average. Players who do better than that are some roto help. In your somewhat smaller league the right number is going to be better. To figure out K/BB I recommend sorting last year’s stats based on different IP threshholds.

With a minimum IP of 40 last year, 22 of the Top 30 pitchers in K/BB were relievers.

 

Who Walks Most?

BOW copyTout Wars, you may have heard, is moving it’s Mixed Leagues to On Base Percentage this year, rather than that old standby category Batting Average. The reason, as described here, is because OBP measures a player’s ability to draw walks, which is a valuable baseball skill that the traditional fantasy stats undervalue.

Some Tout Warriors are arguing that OBP is a baseball metric that measures better baseball players, but that using it in the fantasy game will break the delicate balance of fantasy baseball’s categorical imperatives. Steve Gardner, in USA Today, summarized: “Dissenters pointed out that eliminating batting average gives far too much weight to sluggers, many of whom have higher than normal walk rates, when those power hitters already get additional credit in runs and RBI for every home run they hit.”

My first response was fear that this was true. That the guys whose value would jump most were already valuable guys. That wasn’t why we’d changed the rule. But the fact is that some players in every strata of the game, from homer hitters to speed merchants, show an ability to walk, while others with those same talents don’t show that ability. The adoption of the OBP rule was intended to value home run hitters who walked more than home run hitters who didn’t walk. It was intended to value stolen base guys who walked more than those who didn’t walk. It was intended to value guys who hit for a high average who walked more than those who hit for high average who didn’t. The bottom line was, walks are a valuable skill that fantasy baseball has valued only peripherally, and as I noted here the other day in the Derek Carty is Absolutely Right post: By giving up an at-bat when taking a walk, a player hurts his fantasy value overall while often improving his real baseball team. Guys who walk get fewer chances to homer, fewer changes to drive in runs, and can even end up with a low batting average while their high on base percentage helps their team win games.

My second response was to see if this claim that the guys who would be helped most actually were the supposedly already-overvalued home run hitters. Here are the top 25 hitters with 250 or more AB with the highest walk rate in 2012. These are the guys whose value would be most improved by using OBP rather than BA (in parens 2012 PA/HR):

  • Joey Votto (475/14)
    Adam Dunn (649/41)
    John Jaso (361/10)
    Chris Carter (260/16)
    Dan Uggla (630/19)
    Carlos Santana (609/18)
    Jose Bautista (399/27)
    David Ortiz (383/23)
    Ben Zobrist (668/20)
    Carlos Pena (600/19)
    Bobby Abreu (257/3)
    Alex Avila (434/9)
    Joe Mauer (641/10)
    Todd Helton (283/7)
    Mark Reynolds (538/23)
    Mike Napoli (417/24)
    Jonny Gomes (333/18)
    Edwin Encarnacion (644/42)
    AJ Ellis (505/13)
    Dexter Fowler (530/13)
    Chris Snyder (258/7)
    Miguel Montero (573/15)
    Chipper Jones (448/14)
    Josh Willingham (615/35)
    Chase Headley (699/31)

There are a few sluggers on that list, many guys who hit home runs, but certainly not only the best home run hitters. Many of these are guys whose baseball creds are mocked by fantasy players, because they don’t hit for big power and have bad batting averages. Why do they even have jobs, the neophyte wonders? Because getting on base is a valued skill. It has real value that fantasy leagues that don’t use OBP aren’t capturing. It’s also a skill that a player like Joey Votto has when his power deserts him because of injury.

So, just for giggles, who are the guys with the lowest walk rate? Who will get hurt most by the change? Let’s go 10 deep:

  • Miguel Olivo (323/12)
    Alexei Ramirez (621/9)
    Pedro Ciriaco (272/2)
    Luis Cruz (296/6)
    Josh Rutledge (291/8)
    Delmon Young (608/18)
    Ichiro Suzuki (663/9)
    Josh Harrison (276/3)
    Willie Bloomquist (338/0)
    Omar Infante (588/12)

It’s true, not as many sluggers here. And a lot of marginal offensive talents, or special talents (Ichiro) whose ability to hit for BA while not taking bases on balls should be noted, not applauded, by fantasy players. Welcome OBP!

(illustration adopted from bluejayhunter.com)

Derek Carty is Absolutely Right! Except that he’s wrong.

Todd Zola ran a Roundtable I participated in over at KFFL this week, about Tout Wars move to on base percentage instead of batting average as a category in the Mixed league this year. The support of the merry knights was fairly strong, which surprised me. We decided to ease into OBP in mixed only because we’d disrupted the AL and NL leagues last year introducing the Swingman.

parry_riposteNow, Derek Carty has laid out an argument against using OBP, at his blog.

I agree with him 110 percent that the object of the fantasy game is not to mimic the real game. The fantasy game is derivative of a real world game, but it has it’s own very distinct rules and strategies and calls on totally different skills to play. For me this is a major point of the thing. When I was young I played baseball on the diamond. If I wanted to keep playing that game I’d play it, or a computer version of it. To my mind the genius of the fantasy game was the establishment of eight categories that collect data about the skills and roles of players, allowing one to create a great or crappy team based on one’s ability to collect the categories efficiently. I begrudge the move to ten cats, we don’t really need more than that, and I have no desire to play with more (though many people do).

As Derek points out, these basic categories are not the ones that best represent a player’s skills. What I want to point out is that these trad cats collect players with a variety of talents into a team that can compete against other teams, ensuring that diversity and scarcity are valued. But that doesn’t mean these cats can’t be improved, and I think the obvious improvement we’ve been waiting for has been adopting OBP instead of BA. There are two reasons for this:

1) Taking a walk is a fundamental skill, and the only ways the original roto categories valued walks was in runs scored (guys on base more score more) and stolen base opportunities. So, walks weren’t nothing, but they weren’t much either. OBP gives real value to hitters whose game involves getting on base more, at the expense of less-talented hitters who don’t take walks.

2) When fantasy leagues use BA as a category, a player who takes a walk can help his major league team and hurt his minor league team. Every BB in standard roto is a miss, a lost chance to get a hit or (usually) drive in a run or hit a home run. In standard fantasy, if you draft a team of guys who walk a lot you’ll lose the at-bats race, and often (though not necessarily) lag in the counting categories. Shouldn’t fantasy value the better hitter more if it can?

I think OBP is an obvious improvement over BA, and maybe the knights of the roundtable did too because many of them have played in the XFL, which adopted OBP 11 seasons ago. The differences aren’t huge, but suddenly the .255 hitter with a .380 OBP becomes the stud he is in real life and it feels right. That’s the way it should be.