My Favorite Set of Categories

I’ve discussed fantasy baseball categories in this space on the last few Thursdays. Certain aspects of the traditional rotisserie formats (4×4 and 5×5) don’t appeal to me. I’m not a big fan of the fact that hitters and pitchers are valued a bit differently in traditional formats because hitters have only one ratio category and pitchers have two. That’s the main reason for my preferred 5×5 format.

I dislike the perceptible randomness of wins and, sort of similarly, saves and holds for pitchers. They are team-context stats, unlike runs and RBIs to hitters, for example, which aren’t necessarily reflections of a player’s skill. But the production of them does increase their team’s chances to win a little, just more or less depending on the context of the game. I’d prefer a couple of pitching statistics that can represent a pitcher’s contribution to his team’s chance to win a game a little more closely than wins, saves and holds do. Not everyone does, but I think that there are others who do, too.

I strongly dislike counting categories for negative events, such as K’s for hitters and losses for pitchers, in rotisserie leagues, even head-to-head roto. I don’t intend ever to play in leagues with them again. I don’t really get why people like them. I kind of feel the same way about net categories (SB-CS or W-L), although it’s lessened ever so slightly by the net effect. Those categories penalize a player twice, in essence, for one non-positive event. Why have a category that also registers the negative event?

When a hitter strikes out, he’s made an out, and his batting average or on-base percentage is reduced. Why would you want more reasons not to own players like George Springer, who leads the majors in K% among qualifiers, when his batting average is .233? When a pitcher takes a loss, just like when he receives a no-decision, he therefore isn’t getting a win. Why would you want more reasons not to own players like Jeff Samardzija, who was 2-7 while he was with the Chicago Cubs? He’s even a minus-5 in the net category. Players who run more often steal bases more often – and are caught more often, generally speaking. Some are more efficient than others, granted. When Juan Pierre attempted to steal a base in 2011 and was caught, wasn’t it bad enough that he didn’t register a stolen base? Aren’t these players’ shortcomings (in the pitcher’s case because of his team’s lackluster run support only) already hurting you enough in some way, by not giving you something else that could help you to win?

Besides, I, in essence like Mojotronica, agree with Baseball HQ founder and Shandler Park proprietor Ron Shandler: Less is more. The more categories, the likelier the occurrences of redundancy. Seven or more categories per side is overkill, to me. I’m not big on most 6×6 setups I’ve seen or heard. Of course, too few, and you lose dynamics. I think that 4×4 or 5×5 just works well.

I hope and believe that I have collaborated with many other readers to stoke the dialogue. Please don’t take my expression of my preferences personally. If your 7×7 or 10×5 setup works for you and your mates, then you have no complaints.

Despite my reservations, I agree with this general sentiment, occasionally expressed in the comments on my recent articles: In the end, give me the categories, and I’ll adapt to the game. But if I can design the game, then why, given my dissatisfaction with certain categories, can’t I make it a tad more precise yet still unpredictable?

My ideal 5×5 setup (so far):

Hitting

  • R (cume): traditional category
  • RBI (cume): traditional category
  • SB (cume): traditional category
  • OBP (rate): accounts for the three main ways – hit, walk and hit by pitch – to reach base
  • SLG (rate): replaces HR; credits doubles and triples, not just home runs

Pitching

  • QS+CG (cume): quality starts plus complete games; replaces wins; as I stated last week is the idea from Metsox; is a way to give extra credit for pitchers who go deep into a game or perhaps credit at all to a pitcher who throws eight innings but fails to register a quality start
  • SV+HLD (cume): saves plus holds; a somewhat increasingly common replacement for SV; allows fantasy owners to choose from a wider pool of relievers and acquire those of greater quality, not just those a manager has tabbed his closer, if he has named one
  • K (cume): traditional category
  • ERA (rate): traditional category
  • BAIP (rate): bases allowed per IP (name a work-in-progress); replaces WHIP; measures, basically, the quality of hits against a pitcher by adding the total bases allowed for each hit against him, plus walks issued and batters hit by pitch, divided by innings pitched; is similar to a stat I’ve seen Ray Flowers mention that he uses to evaluate pitchers

This last category incorporates some of the concepts I’d hoped to include in a redefined QS, based on an idea also contributed by MDL, again mentioned last week, but I think that it’s just a better substitute for WHIP. It penalizes pitchers who give up hits that go for extra bases more so. That helps to mitigate the distinction of tendencies for fly-ball (fewer hits, more home runs) versus ground-ball pitchers (more hits, fewer home runs) and instead just measures the quality of the hits they allow.

To replace W or QS or (QS+CG), I think that a modified version of Baseball HQ’s Pure Quality Starts, with some concepts from Game Score, could work. I’ve devised a scoring method that I believe is pretty efficient. However, it duplicates many of the concepts from ERA and WHIP (or BAIP), and I’ve stated that I’m trying to avoid that.

However, I think this instance of redundancy would be OK, kind of like in the case of QS and ERA (since the pitcher must allow three earned runs or fewer to be eligible), because in the end the idea is sort of to count each time a pitcher delivers a start of the type of quality we can associate with a reasonable chance for his team to win. It’s sort of a consistency measurement. Two pitchers, each with an ERA of 3.00, can obviously have a different total of quality starts, because one can consistently concede two earned runs in six stanzas while the other can concede zero earned runs in six innings half of the time and four earned runs in six frames in the other half of his outings.

Someone might call me a hypocrite, then. But I think that a simpler way to categorize these efforts, as well as of relievers, is available, anyway. I mentioned some possible substitutes for saves a couple of weeks ago. I like the shutdown, a category that’s defined by benchmark in Win Probability Added (WPA) for a reliever and recorded here at FanGraphs. I think that a similar measure for starting pitchers would work quite well, too. However, I think that each needs a twist, and that’s the division of WPA by Leverage Index (LI) by appearance.

WPA/LI, available in a pitcher’s game logs (Clayton Kershaw’s, A.J. Burnett’s and Shelby Miller’s, or Craig Kimbrel’s, John Axford’s and Randy Choate’s, for example), is a good measure of a pitcher’s effect on the game. In the end, his team may not win, but he may have contributed to its chance to win. The benchmarks for a starting pitcher and a relief pitcher would be different, some positive number, which would require queries on every single pitcher’s database of game logs in order to develop the benchmarks as well as to sum the number of these positive events by player once benchmarks are determined. In the end, it’s a binary outcome for the event, no matter the quality above or below the benchmark, though.

It sounds like a lot of work, and it probably is, but I think that if you ponder what these numbers mean, then you might agree that they make a good bit of sense as substitutes for W, QS or QS+CG, and SV or SV+HLD. WPA, LI and WPA/LI aren’t so much predictive, they just tell us what happened. That’s kind of critical, as those who don’t like the idea of the use of sabermetric stats as cats have pointed out.

A couple of readers have stated this potential problem: Even if a roto commissioner and his league mates deem any of these proposed substitutes worthy, there isn’t a host that would accommodate them. That’s not true, I believe. Fantrax, for one, is highly customizable, perhaps more so than any other host I’ve encountered. I’m not 100% certain of this breakdown, but. … I think that players in leagues hosted for free can propose stats or categories for consideration; those who pay for premium service can request customized categories, and as long as Fantrax has access to the stats to calculate yours, they’ll do it, I’m fairly certain. Don’t think of this as a shill for their service. I’ve heard from a couple of folks in my years who dislike the site. I like it and use it for one of my longtime football leagues. Perhaps any of the categories I suggested is possible in Ottoneu down the road, instead or also.




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Nicholas Minnix oversaw baseball content for six years at KFFL, where he held the loose title of Managing Editor for seven and a half before he joined RotoGraphs. He's played in both Tout Wars and LABR since 2010. He also writes for FanGraphs. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasMinnix.


43 Responses to “My Favorite Set of Categories”

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  1. nickolai says:

    why not net SB’s (SB – CS) instead of straight up SB’s? This would factor in success rate of overall SB attempts.

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    • Steve says:

      I don’t know if there’s a stat that factors this in already, but I like the idea of adding stolen bases to total bases. So a single plus a stolen base is viewed as the equivalent of hitting a double.

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      • Quetzalcuddyer says:

        For me, the real reason for including stolen bases rather than doing something like adding in bases is that it is the best way to proxy defense. It’s not even a really good proxy, but it tends to be that someone with speed will play up the middle or will play a generally better version of one of the corner outfield spots. These skill sets tend to make those guys who have real baseball value, more valuable in fantasy.

        I’m completely down with NSB over regular stolen bases. A baseball team wants a guy who is a good baserunner, not just someone who is fast. By the same token, I wouldn’t mind using net saves plus holds.

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    • Fischer says:

      Agreed completely as it follows the logic that if a stolen base is a positive, than the inverse (CS) resulting in an out and losing a baserunner is a negative.

      The same thing applies to Net Sv+Holds.

      However, I think Net W-L is stupid, mainly because both those categories are terrible.

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  2. pudieron89 says:

    It’s like you don’t consider the opinions of the many, many commenters who have told you that you just have to change how you value players. If you don’t like a certain format, such as the basic 5×5 or 6×6, it means you haven’t thought hard enough about how to value players in a certain league.

    I fully admit that either counting negative stats or double-counting categories shifts the valuation. In our league we count both XBH and HR, so HR count twice — in fact, HR help boost OBP, HR, XBH, R, and RBI. So, unsurprisingly, sluggers are a premium. If you value them properly you can craft a well-balanced team. If that means inflating the value of mediocre players on good teams (becuase they have more R/RBI chances) relative to sabermetrically better players on worse teams, you have to weigh those and come to a decision. THAT’S THE WHOLE CHALLENGE OF FANTASY!

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    • Nicholas Minnix says:

      It’s like you didn’t read the blog. “Despite my reservations, I agree with this general sentiment, occasionally expressed in the comments on my recent articles: In the end, give me the categories, and I’ll adapt to the game. But if I can design the game, then why, given my dissatisfaction with certain categories, can’t I make it a tad more precise yet still unpredictable?”

      I agree with you. minus the part about not considering the opinions of many, many commenters. Also, it hasn’t been many, many who have said what you did. But there have been some, and I read them, and as I said, I in essence agree.

      I’ve thought long and hard about how players are valued in different types of leagues. I’ve adapted to and won different types of leagues, many of them. My goal is to develop a format that I like more. Which is what it says in the blog.

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      • pudieron89 says:

        Just seems to me that demonizing stats like Ws make the game less about predicting outcomes and more about predicting performance…which we will never be able to do as well as the machines. But predicting Ws is a more multivariate outcome depending on performance as well as the context of that performance – offense of pitching team, defense of pitching team, offense of opposing team, park, league….

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  3. MustBunique says:

    RBI’s are team-dependent and are not that accurate a measure of how good a batter is.

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  4. pudieron89 says:

    There have been 67 complete games in the major leagues this year, which sounds like a lot until you consider that each team has played almost 100 games. Reduced to the number of fantasy-relevant complete games, exclude games started by fringe-unowned pitchers. Consider that we are 15 fantasy weeks into the season, and that’s maybe (high estimate) 4 games per week, or 1/3 CG per team in a 12-teamer (and why would you play anything less? personal preference here, but w/e).

    What’s the fun in counting a stat that happens with that frequency? The rate is so low, and it’s so much more context dependent than a Win…kind of flabbergasting anyone enjoys using this bizarre, bizarre category.

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    • Atreyu Jones says:

      The category in discussion is QS+CG, not CG.

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    • Nicholas Minnix says:

      I agree, if it’s a category by itself. I think it’s a neat twist to add to the QS category, a way to give extra credit there in the case of a performance of even greater quality (or to the eight- or nine-inning effort that results in four earned runs, for example, in which case at least a pitcher gets something, because that’s not a bad start, even if it doesn’t fall under the definition of QS). In the end, to avoid this type of criticism, which I think isn’t so logical, it’s probably simpler just to keep the cat as QS, sure. But I expressed my preference.

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    • Jose says:

      Because it is a cool thing to do and it feels good to have a little extra points for something cool.

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      • pudieron89 says:

        Feels good to randomly earn points for something that happens unpredictably… And you’re trying to make a better, more sabermetrically inclined fantasy cat set? Give me a break.

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  5. Atreyu Jones says:

    “QS+CG (cume): quality starts plus complete games; replaces wins; as I stated last week is the idea from Metsox; is a way to give extra credit for pitchers who go deep into a game or perhaps credit at all to a pitcher who throws eight innings but fails to register a quality start”

    Am I missing something or won’t the only 8-inning outings that would get the extra credit be pitchers who lose on the road?

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    • Nicholas Minnix says:

      You’re correct. It registers as a CG. Ah, and I see the potential issue, because it’d be a rare 8-IP, 4-ER effort that would net the one point. Yeah, that does suck a little. OK, QS alone it is. Man, there’s never enough time to devote to category contemplation, I should have discounted this one.

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  6. yojiveself says:

    you gotta have HR. way more valuable than doubles or triples because it guarantees a run and an rbi for the hitter

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    • atoms says:

      But you’re already getting points for runs and RBI, right? Even if you switched to SLG or ISO, you’d still probably prefer a player with the same SLG or ISO that hits more HR than one that hits more doubles, because he’ll help you in R/RBI.

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  7. jdbolick says:

    Quality start is by its very definition redundant with ERA.

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    • Quetzalcuddyer says:

      Not quite. A quality start means 6+ innings and 3- earned runs. Pitching 6 innings and allowing 3 runs is an era of 4.5. That’s poor by fantasy standards. It’s certainly not a perfect stat, since, as pointed out, someone could pitch 8 innings allowing 4 ER and not get a QS.

      However, it ensures is that it won’t reward performances of negative value , while providing some reward for, at a minimum, a valuable performance. A guy who gives up 6 earned runs in 5 innings shouldn’t be gifted a win when he flat out stunk but was lucky enough to stink less than the other guy. However, going 7 innings and allowing 3 runs, but losing, has value. You went deep into the game, saved the bullpen, and gave your team a chance to win. Over 162 games you’re playing with a lot of randomness. If you can increase your draws by increasing the games your team is in it, good things will happen more often than not.

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      • jdbolick says:

        A quality start is defined by ERA, so yes, it is by definition redundant.

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      • Atreyu Jones says:

        QS overlaps with ERA but it is obviously not defined by it, otherwise a certain ERA threshold would result in a QS.

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      • jdbolick says:

        A certain ERA threshold over a certain number of innings is what defines a quality start.

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      • ab says:

        You’re saying redundant, as though by including qs and era, we’re picking up the same thing in terms of some positive correlation. Obviously there is correlation but there is with most categories. But, a 6ip and 3 er performance is a 4.5 era. I don’t think you win many era titles with that. So, there is no way to argue so strictly that it is by definition redundant unless we’re changing what the definitions of these words mean.

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  8. James says:

    I never thought to use BAIP in my Strat-O-Matic league but I think that would be a quick and easy way to evaluate a pitcher.

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  9. Nick says:

    My issue with BAIP is that it punishes (credits) pitchers with bad (good) defenses 2X and sometimes 3X. Similarly, home ballpark would make a huge difference in a pitchers expected BAIP.

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  10. Nick says:

    What about K-BB% as the fifth pitching stat?

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  11. ToMcN says:

    My friends and I have been playing a month by month war league and I’d love to get some feed back on it. The rules are outlined here: http://chaniac.com/war/rules.html

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    • ToMcN says:

      But to feed back on the article I would have hitting and pitching nearly identical: k%-bb%, babip, ISO (iso against), PA (batters faced), WPA.
      I know I’m ignoring base running, but everybody ignores defense so I don’t see how this is any different.

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  12. atoms says:

    Why SLG instead of ISO?

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  13. danlby says:

    I love the ottoneu rule that SP slots and RP slots get credit only if they appear in those roles, not based on position eligibility. And I like having 3 rate stats for each side of the ball. For hitters, I want three roughly separate rates: hit rate, BB rate, and extra base rate (which includes SB and penalizes CS). For pitchers, give me run rate, bases rate, and K rate (which includes a penalty for BB in my case)

    The particulars:
    R+RBI – traditional but stack ‘em
    H/AB – traditional
    (BB+HBP)/PA – essentially isolated discipline
    (TB+SB-2*CS-H)/AB – essentially isolated power with credit added for SB
    WPA/LI – give me some arbitrary clutchiness, it’s a game, right?
    —————–
    W+QS+SV+HLD – traditional and new, stack ‘em. Wins and QS are stacked to bring starters closer to relievers in this category.
    K%-BB% – replace K with a rate stat.
    RA – rate stat that gives extra credit to pitchers that overcome errors.
    BAIP – I like it.
    WPA/LI – more clutchiness.

    Of course, I like Fangraphs Points in Ottoneu better anyway.

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    • William Wallace says:

      Points leagues are the easiest way to address most of the issues. And if you stick with simple counting stats, a points league gives you the bonus of easy calculation of projected value without calculating Z-scores or estimating ratios of obscure stats to common stats. For people who work full time every day, don’t underestimate the power of simplicity!

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      • Mojotronica says:

        Thanks for the shout out, Nicholas. I like points leagues but they make trade deals a little less interesting. In 5×5 Roto, one can trade steals or average for power or vice-versa, or useful hitters or pitchers for saves (or vice-versa.) In points leagues, a players value is extremely simple – however he gets you points, that’s what he’s worth. There is some positional motivation to trade but it’s not quite the same.

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  14. Katphiche says:

    We need the baseball statistic gods to change a quality start to either 2 runs in 6 innings or 3 runs in 7 innings. At least you get an ERA under 4. I tend to cull starting pitchers with 4.50 ERA from my fantasy teams.

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  15. Eric Cioe says:

    I play in a league with one category: WAR.

    It’s a minimalist thing.

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  16. rustydude says:

    Cool article. Thanks.

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  17. TL says:

    Good commentary for ths most part. We use almost the same exact format you outline here, but we stuck with HR and QS since 1> everyone loves the long ball and 2> CG doesn’t mean well pitched game, since a CG could not be a QS. If it is both, that’s double credit for one good performance, which is unneeded.

    Thanks for calling out the shortcomings of traditional formats. Wins are a dumb category, as is BA. Both have too much luck involved, which adds too much randomness to the equation and makes it hard to predict outcomes.

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  18. Micah Stupak says:

    Late to the party, but I had hoped the article (or comments) would have had a defense of RBI. Nobody has one, eh?

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