Fantasy Scoring for Real Baseball

The holidays are upon us, and while there is plenty of serious business to discuss, it’s also time to sit back, relax, and have some fun. So this week I thought I would try to answer (or at least glance at) a question I’ve wondered for years – what would happen if Major League Baseball scored the AL and NL like fantasy leagues instead of looking at something silly like “winning percentage?”

The question you are asking yourself right now is probably, “He has really wondered this for years?!” but once you get over your shock and my nerdiness, you’ll want to know why I have been wondering this. When we created ottoneu, one of the things we wanted to do was closely replicate the job of a real GM and that meant, in part, picking a scoring system that reflected what really drives teams to win games or lose them. But, of course, we are still just counting stats. If a player only hits his HR in blow outs, you as a fantasy owner do not care, and the chances are this has little or nothing to do with the player’s value, but it certainly could impact his teams post-season chances. So what happens if we just look at the numbers put up by the real teams?

Well, it turns out fantasy scoring doesn’t do a half-bad job of replicating the standings. I took a look at both the AL and the NL and scored them based on three ottoneu scoring systems – traditional 5×5, the original ottoneu 4×4, and FanGraphs Points – and at the end of the day, the standings just don’t differ that much.

  5×5 Rank 4×4 Rank Points Rank Winning %
Red Sox 1 2 2 1
Rays 8 4 3 5
Athletics 4 3 4 2
Orioles 5 7 9 9
Tigers 2 1 1 3
Angels 9.5 9 7 10
Royals 6.5 8 8 7
Indians 6.5 6 6 4
Rangers 3 5 5 6
Blue Jays 11 10 11 11
Yankees 9.5 12 12 8
Twins 14 14 14 13
Mariners 12 11 10 12
White Sox 13 13 13 14
Astros 15 15 15 15

In the AL, the Red Sox and Tigers are the clear top two across the Fantasy leagues, and the A’s slot in right behind them. There is also general consensus that the Twins, White Sox and Astros were really, really bad. The Rays were a pretty weak 5×5 team, but fared much better in the other two systems. They didn’t steal too many bases, which hurt them a lot in 5×5 and they were sort of middle-of-the-pack in Saves, which downplays how strong their pitching was (they were tied for second in holds – their pen did just fine, they just didn’t accrue saves as fast as the competition). And just two more Saves would have earned them an extra point in 5×5, moving them from 8th to 6th in the AL standings – not so far off their actual 5th place finish.

The AL team that would have benefited the most from a switch to fantasy scoring was Texas, who ranked between 3rd and 5th in all the fantasy scoring systems, but finished sixth by winning percentage (well, they would have tied for fifth, but the play-in game against Tampa counts). The Indians, on the other hand, would have fallen outside the playoff picture if the AL were a fantasy league.

  5×5 Rank 4×4 Rank Points Rank Winning %
Dodgers 3 4 4 4
Giants 10 10 8 8
Braves 1 1 3 2
Reds 2 5 5 5
Cardinals 6 2 1 1
Pirates 4 3 2 3
Diamondbacks 9 8 7 7
Nationals 5 6 6 6
Padres 12 13 12 9
Mets 11 12 10 12
Brewers 7 9 11 11
Cubs 13 11 13 14
Rockies 8 7 9 10
Phillies 14 15 14 13
Marlins 15 14 15 15

Much like the AL, the bottom of the NL did not move much – the Marlins would have escaped the cellar in a 4×4 scoring system, but only to finish 14th, and the Padres would have fared much, much worse than they did. And while you would like to blame their home park (after all, any fantasy owner worth his salt knows to avoid playing too many games in Petco!), their fantasy offense was better than their fantasy pitching.

At the top, things are more interesting. The Cardinals look quite good by 4×4 and Point standards, but fall to sixth in the 5×5 standings. Why? well, they piled up runs and RBI, but hit VERY few HR (just 125, 3rd worst in the NL) and they were dead last in stolen bases. Home runs matter across the board, but when you replace abysmal base stealing with stellar on-base and slugging, they go from looking like an average team to the best team in the NL – which they were, by winning percentage.

There is not much to learn from this. I suppose you can take this as an indictment of SB and saves as fantasy stats, but I doubt many of you reading this here corner of the ‘nets are unfamiliar with the arguments against these two stats for fantasy purposes. I somewhat expected to find that the 4×4 and Points scoring systems were more reflective of actual wins and losses (despite neither of these actually counting Wins or Losses), but even that didn’t really shine through. In the NL the Points standings were clearly the best, with the 4×4 next best, but in the AL, the three systems all fared about equally well. And, besides, this was hardly a scientific study of scoring systems vs the standings.

Nope, this was just some good, post-holiday fun.

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3 Responses to “Fantasy Scoring for Real Baseball”

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  1. Tak says:

    Could you combine both leagues?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Todd says:

    Interesting! I’d love to see the results for my league setup (OBP/SLG instead of AVG/HR), but that’s assuredly too much to ask.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

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