Why I hate and love fantasy baseball.
If you have not figured it out yet, I love baseball. I think with all my time out of the U.S., the one thing that makes me realize that no matter what I do, what I eat, or where I live, I am an American is the fact that every April my attention makes a noticeable shift towards a quaint little stadium on Eutaw street in Baltimore and the team that plays there. While I can’t actually watch this team live, or even on TV (as there aren’t any Koreans on the team, I’m only afforded the chance to watch highlights of Korean players doing well against them if I am lucky) I can’t shake my love for the Orioles despite the fact that they’ve been terrible for most of my life. (In my early childhood they were good, then only decent, then good again when I got to college, only to collapse into mediocrity once I had enough money to actually watch them as much as I wanted to after college.) Even though my team has basically sucked since I’ve really gotten into baseball, something has been very instrumental in making me more of a baseball fan despite all the losing. According to my fantasy profile on Yahoo, this year marks the 10th year that I’ve been playing fantasy baseball.
What’s fantasy baseball?
Fantasy baseball is a game where you assemble a team of real players and use their real stats against a league of other teams over the course of a long baseball season.
I don’t get it.
Okay well before I explain, let me get one of my reasons I hate fantasy baseball out of the way.
5. Nobody cares about fantasy baseball enough to want to hear you talk about it unless they also play fantasy baseball, but then they only want to talk about their own team, not listen to you talk about yours.
And if you’re one of those people, you should probably stop reading now. If you’d like to read on, then you can learn more after the break.
Okay, to explain what fantasy baseball is, at the start of the season, I and 8 – 14 friends get together on Yahoo and draft teams of real players. So you try to take the best players in the league in order. You can get one guy from the Yankees, another from the Giants, and another from the Dodgers, it’s really up to you, but once an opponent has taken a player, you can’t. So each player you get is yours. You get all the stats that player accumulates for as long as he is on your team. He will be yours until you either drop him or trade him.
So how can your team play against other teams if the players aren’t actually playing together?
Like I said, you keep all the stats. There are two basic formats for fantasy baseball. One is called rotisserie, and the other is called head to head. In both, there are an equal number of stats for batters and pitchers. The official standard formats use 5, but it’s not uncommon to use 6. These stats are:
R – runs
HR – home runs
RBI – Runs batted in
SB – stolen bases
AVG – batting average
W – wins
SV – saves
K – strikeouts
ERA – earned run average
WHIP – walks + hits/innings pitched
What are the extra categories if you play with 6?
That really depends on what the league wants to emphasize.
Well, might as well get another hate out of the way now.
4. With the standard stats, only power hitters seem to matter, and non-closing relief pitchers don’t seem to matter at all.
The best possible offensive play in baseball is obviously a home run. Using the standard fantasy baseball stats, 4 of the 5 would be affected by a home run. The batter would be credited with a run, a home run, 1-4 RBIs (depending on how many runners were on base), and his batting average would go up. Because of this, fantasy owners look to stock their team with as many power hitters (who hit 3rd 4th or 5th in their real life batting order) as possible. It’s very rare to see fantasy teams with any players hitting below 5th with the exception of catchers, shortstops, and Yankees. (Well maybe not this year, but certainly in most years.) Catchers and shortstops tend to hit as low in the batting order as possible, with few exceptions, as they are generally on the the team for their defensive skills, and the New York Yankees usually spend so much money in the off season to make sure that they have the best players in the league. Their 6-7-8 and 9 hitters would be hitting 3-4 and 5 if they were on other teams.
For pitchers, generally you’d want guys who get lots of strikeouts and pitch for good offensive teams (as they can sometimes get wins after pitching badly, which is a lot more settling than a pitcher who throws 7 scoreless innings with few strikeouts, only to lose the game because his own team didn’t score many runs and his bullpen couldn’t keep the lead.) Strikeouts contribute greatly to having a good ERA and WHIP. Like I said before, relief pitchers aren’t good for anything other than saves, as they generally pitch only 1 inning and can’t possibly do enough to affect your overall ERA or WHIP in that 1 inning. Some would argue that you’d want the long relief guys so that they’d be in the game longer, but those types of guys are only pitching long relief because they aren’t good enough to be in the starting rotation, nor are they good enough to setup or to close. So generally you want to stuff your allotted pitcher slots with top of the rotation guys and closers.
The 6th categories are usually added to ease the inadequacies of the stats so that other kinds of batters and pitchers are more useful, therefore the game itself will be more realistic.
Under the 5 stat format, you’ve accounted for power hitters with the RBI stat, and for the people that score the runs thanks to the power hitters, you’ve got the R stat, and both with the AVG stat. What you didn’t account for is anyone who gets on base by means other than a hit. And this is, in fact, the most important stat that separates good hitters from bad ones.
What do you mean?
Players who draw a lot of walks do so for two different reasons. A) They are such good hitters that pitchers are afraid to challenge them. B) They have plate discipline, and even if they can’t hit every ball in the strike zone, they can at least foul them off and wait until the pitcher makes a mistake enough times to get a walk.
There are far more batters in category B than in category A, and lots of these types of batters really make a team successful. In game mechanics alone, a walk is almost as good as a clean hit, but under these stats in fantasy baseball, taking a walk is almost as bad as simply having the batter rest on the bench for the day, because the only benefit you get is that it doesn’t count against the batter’s average, and he might score a run.
I’m still not following you. You’re saying that a walks should be counted as well?
Well not exactly, but on base percentage is a lot more important to real baseball than batting average is.
Here is an example. With 2 outs and a runner on second base, which batter would you like to have at the plate? Batter A has a .350 batting average but never walks. Batter B has .220 batting average but walks 30% of the time. The guy with the .350 average would be considered one of the greatest hitters in the game, even though batter B is actually a much better player. Sure, if now happens to be in the 35% where batter A gets a hit, then you’re going to score a run. But if it isn’t, then the inning is over and you’ve got nothing. Most likely, he won’t, because there’s a 65% chance he’ll somehow make an out. On the other hand, with batter B, there is a 45% chance that he will get on base. That’s a 45% chance that the inning will continue, which is better for the team overall.
So, some leagues add the OBP stat to take walks into account.
On the other hand, another flaw in the stats is that a single, double, and triple might as well be the same, even though clearly triples and doubles are better than singles. So some leagues use the stat OPS (on base percentage + slugging percentage) to take both of these into account. But even with this concession, too much damage is already done in favor of power hitters because R, HR, and RBI are being counted. If I had to redo fantasy baseball scoring, I’d count only one stat for batters. That would be self attained bases.
Huh? What kind of stat is that?
Well, it’s not a real stat, but scoring a run or getting an RBI isn’t really the achievement of the batter by himself. A batter, after all, can only get an RBI when there are runners already on base, or when he hits a home run. In addition, a batter can only get runs if he hits a home run, or if someone bats him in while he is already on base. The only thing the batter can really do on his own while he is already on base is steal. So, this stat would take into account all the things that a batter can do on his own, which is, get bases off his own hits, and stealing bases after he’s already on base.
Well what about the fast guys who can run from first to third off of someone’s hit, when others would only be able to go to second?
I admit, the run stat does take those guys into account more (as it is more likely that those types would score more often than slower guys), but no stat can be perfect. I think it’s more important to focus entirely on what the batter can do on his own than worry about things that are dependent on the play of his teammates. The only thing is that this doesn’t take sac flies or sac bunts into account, so maybe we can give the bases attained in this manner to the batter.
Okay well what about the 6th stat for pitchers?
Leagues that add a 6th stat category for batters have to add one to pitchers too. There’s no real consensus as to what those are though, and often a random one is chosen just to have another stat. I’ve played in leagues that count holds (pitchers who enter the game with a lead of 3 runs or fewer and leave the game with the lead in tact), Walks/Strikeouts, and I’ve even played in a league that counts appearances. (The point was to give people a reason to use relief pitchers). All of these stats don’t really show how good the pitcher is. So..
For the same reason, I’d eliminate all of the stats and make a new one.. total batter attained bases surrendered. That’s basically what a pitcher does. He tries to prevent the batters from getting on base or advancing once they’ve gotten on.
There are some who would argue that a strikeout is the best possible outcome for a pitcher in any situation. I disagree. An out is an out.
Some might take the other extreme and say that an inning ending triple play or double play is far better than a strikeout, but there will also be cases where a strikeout would be better than a double play (a bases loaded no out double play involving second and first base would score a run, whereas a strikeout would not.)
Either way, the pitcher will be penalized for all the bases he gave up to the batters he faced. Really, he can’t control what they do off of other batters he faces, so yes, while a double play would be better than a strikeout sometimes, and sometimes not, the pitcher is being penalized for those guys being on base in the first place, which effectively neutralizes the whole difference between double plays and strikeouts.
Again, if we decide to award the sac flies and sac bunts to the batter who sacrificed, we can penalize the pitcher for those too.
In the end, we have bases attained on own merit, vs. bases surrendered on own merit. Perfect stats for how to run a fantasy baseball league.
I think I get it. What’s the difference between Rotisserie and Head to Head?
Wow, good memory. Rotisserie takes into account the whole season of stats, ranking your accumulated stats against all the other teams. For each stat you get points, depending on how many other teams there are in the league. In an 8 team league, first place in one stat would be 8 points. Second would be 7, third would be 6, etc…
So for example, let’s say that there are only 3 teams playing in a league using only R, RBI, and AVG.
Team A: 20R, 20RBI, .300AVG
Team B: 25R, 15RBI, .290AVG
Team C: 15R, 22RBI, .310AVG
Team A would be in 2nd place in runs, 2nd place in RBI, and 2nd place in AVG… 6pts.
Team B would be in 1st place in runs, 3rd place in RBI, and 3rd place in AVG… 5pts.
Team C would be in 3rd place in runs, 1st place in RBI, and 1st place in AVG… 7pts.
Team C would be in first place.
Now, Head to head does the same thing, but puts you up against only one other team, over the period of one week, giving you a win for every category you win, a tie for every category you tie, and a loss for every loss. Each week you get a different opponent until the season ends.
So, what are the reasons you hate and love fantasy baseball?
This post is getting long. I’ll give you the rest of the reasons in another post.
Okay, back. Here’s #3
3. Sometimes I have to root against the Baltimore Orioles or FOR the Yankees or Red Sox to do well in fantasy baseball.
I’ve never actually wished for the Orioles to lose, but have wished for them to be no-hit until my starter gets tired, and then pummel the relief after my starter gets taken out of the game.
I’ve also wished for non Oriole players in my offense to pummel an Orioles starter and rack up stats for my fantasy team, while simultaneously wishing that all my Oriole players (or those not picked up by any team) to return the favor in a slug fest. This is actually also one of the reasons I like fantasy baseball, but when the Orioles are involved, wishing for some crazy outcomes is a staple.
An example, this week (last week of April) I faced a guy who had Nick Markakis on his team. The Orioles were facing two of my starting pitchers that week, so I was in the uncomfortable position of hoping for the Orioles to be dominated by my starters, especially Nick Markakis. Once my starter is pulled out of the game I would hope for the Orioles to destroy the relief pitching, with the exception of Nick Markakis. One game, Markakis actually got a crucial hit when it was needed, and I found myself hoping that only one run would score so that the Orioles’ next batter Derrek Lee (who is my player) would be able to drive everyone in.
2. No matter how good my team is, the Baltimore Orioles continue to suck. Not much to say here. We’ve sucked since 1998. We’ll probably always suck while we’re in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox, unless both teams are involved in plane crashes… and that’s not something I want to wish for at all.
It’s been a while, but I should try to finish this post.
1. Second guessing
The thing about fantasy baseball is that you can trade players with other owners, drop players, and pick up free agents. That’s the meat of the game there. Sure the draft is 70% of the season, but even if you have an amazing draft the trades you make or don’t make will make the difference between mediocrity and a championship. You have to be able to evaluate talent well. This causes several problems.
Players who were great last year might not actually be great this year. You want to hold on to someone who’s slumping early on but he continues to struggle. If you keep him, he has a mediocre year and you realize in August that he’s not going to get better, and you would have been better off picking up someone who has been on the free agent wire but is performing well above expectations (true story). Either that, or you try to get what you can for him from some other schmuck of an owner. You get a player that you know will perform to expectations for your slow starter. Right after the trade, your .150 power hitter figures out how to hit again and finishes the season hitting .320, meaning that the other owner got a player who hit near .400 the rest of the season. (true story).
You also have to know who to pick up. Sure that no name player might be having an amazing April, but if you get him, you’ll only have him for the time when he falls down to Earth. You also won’t notice it, because when that .340 avg April player is hitting .300, you still think he’s okay, but that means he’s hitting only .260 in May. Since his lifetime average is .275, it means he’ll only get worse and worse the rest of the season…. unless of course you drop him. Because you are unlucky, once he’s off your team, he’ll find his stroke again and become the AL MVP (true story!)
After things like this happen to you so many times, you begin to not make any moves, and someone else’s overperforming pitcher who was offered to you early on for your mid tier pitcher who performed exactly to expectations, ends up winning the Cy Young award that year (true story!)