Changes are needed in fantasy baseball. Whether it be the style of leagues we play in or the categories we use, the time is now for the changes needed to help move baseball into the future. Ray Flowers believes that some of the changes should revolve around the way that we record player performance, and he’s looking right at Saves, Steals and Wins as viable options for the fantasy chopping block.
*Note, I could easily argue for replacing batting average with OBP in this column, as well. My home league actually did this in the 1990’s. Tout Wars has made the move too, and I know OBP is starting to gain steam around the fantasy water cooler, so I didn’t feel the need to push for its inclusion in this article.
ARTICLES TO REVIEW
Before I get to the meat of what I have to say, a couple of pertinent links.
MY INITIAL POINT
I’m a traditionalist.
I truly disklike the idea of interleague play.
I don’t want the NL to have the DH.
I think starting extra innings with a guy on second base, or playing seven inning baseball games in a double header is an abomination of the first order.
Hell, my favorite subject in school was always history (it still is).
So that’s my starting point.
I don’t necessarily like change, but we desperately need it in fantasy baseball.
I began, what is apparently turning into a crusade for change in – What Is Wrong With Fantasy Baseball? In that piece, I touch on a series of ideas that I believe need implementing for fantasy baseball to grow and move forward. Don’t be the person who is thinking ‘fantasy baseball is just fine Ray’ because it isn’t. I’m not talking to those of you who have been in a keeper league for 22 years. I’m not talking to those of you the spend $2,000 a year to play in the NFBC. I’m talking to the other 10 million people who play fantasy baseball. Our hobby/game has a problem, and if you are ignoring that, well, I just don’t think I can help you.
However, the above line of thought isn’t where I want to go in this article. This piece isn’t about the needed global change. This piece is about specific change, so let us dig into that.
WE NEED TO REMOVE SAVES
Saves are awful. You can read all about that in the article linked above.
When the fantasy game was basically created, “closers” were just starting to become a thing. We, and by “we” I mean the fantasy universe, knew that there needed to be an accounting for relief pitchers since we couldn’t have all the stats pertain to starting pitchers if we wanted fantasy baseball to replicate the game on the field. We didn’t have access to advanced analytics at the time, hell, it was even tough to get all the stats in-season (I’ve told the story many times how we didn’t know the standings until Sunday night each week cause the Sunday paper was the only one all week that included the stats from all the teams and not just the two local squads – Giants and Athletics). So, they went with saves, and it made sense.
It’s 2021. It no longer makes sense.
Saves are arbitrary.
Saves are being spread out as many teams don’t have a single closer. They basically crowdsource the 9th inning throughout the year.
Even if you want to argue for saves, let me ask you this – does your league count blown saves? By that, I mean, do you have a blown saves or net saves (saves – blown saves) category? I know you don’t, but if you use saves, you should. Why?
Do you use batting average? If a guy hits .280, that means you are also recording his .720 fail rate when you use the number.
Do you use ERA or WHIP? When a guy does poorly, those ratios are torched, right?
So why do we use “negative events” only for some of the categories in fantasy baseball?
Look, even if you don’t buy 90 percent of what I’ve touched on here, there is an inescapable fact. The majority of what needs to occur for a produced save has NOTHING to do with the pitcher who actually garners the save. You think I’m nuts, right? Well…
The pitcher has to be asked by the manager to get the last out. The game score has to be just right. This means that the offense of the opposing team has to do X while the offense of the pitcher’s team has to do Y. If anything occurs out of step by either group, over the course of at least eight innings (unless you are getting the rare three-inning save), then there is no save to be earned.
So, in most instances, again there is that three-inning save thing, at least 89 percent of the game has to go just so with ZERO impact by the pitcher we are crediting with a save (the percentage obviously goes up if the game goes to extra innings).
There’s also the practical component to deal with in the fantasy game.
We don’t know when a guy will get a save opportunity.
We don’t know when the “closer” will be active and actually pitch in a game.
We don’t know who the manager will call on when there is a save chance.
We do know that we will spend large amounts of draft capital on relievers that will fail to do much of anything.
We do know that we will blow copious amounts of FAAB, or waiver-wire priority, every time a “new” closer is named. My experience tells me that there are two commodities that we overspend on each year – rookies and closers. The return is usually poor. How many of those guys hold on to the gig and live up to expectations? Why do we insist on playing the guessing game versus trying to establish something more real, something more knowable with relievers?
I’m not a mind reader and neither are you. So why do we invest so much time and energy trying to read the mind of a manager and an organization? Any honest analyst has to write the following phrase about 28 times each fantasy baseball season. ‘Reading all the info we’ve got, my assumption is…” when the question is – who is the new closer? It’s not cause analysts don’t try, we try like crazy. The simple fact of the matter is that they best bullpen arm, the guy who “should” be closing, is not the guy who always closes. It’s just not how the game of baseball works.
Why I get so much resistance from wanting to do something like use Solds (saves + holds) is simply beyond me. Remember, I’m an admitted traditionalist and even I am forced to admit we gotta get rid of saves. Honestly, at this point, I think that Solds is merely a half measure and that we should seriously consider simply moving on from saves altogether.
WE NEED TO REMOVE STEALS
I wrote about steals, linked to above (as well as in this piece last year titled Basepath Effectiveness).
Back in the 1980’s, guys ran. Look at the leaderboard from 1980-89.
Rickey Henderson stole 100 bases three times.
Vince Coleman stole 100 bases three times.
Ron LeFlore, Omar Moreno, Tim Raines and Henderson all had seasons of 90 steals.
All told, there were 13 seasons of 80 steals and 19 efforts of 75 steals.
In the last full season of 2019… the league leader had 46 steals and only two men stole 40 bases.
The stolen base no longer mattered as the ball started flying out of the ballpark.
Teams learned that running into outs wasn’t worth it.
Teams learned that advancing a base wasn’t worth as much as folks expected.
The game of baseball has changed.
The game of fantasy baseball… has not.
Why do we continue to play a game that isn’t played on field anymore?
Have you ever asked yourself that question right there in bold? If you haven’t, what do you think of it now that you see it?
Why are we obsessed with chasing our own tail? Why do we fight for, on draft day and off waivers, for guys that steal bases but who aren’t very good offensive players? Why is it that we think it makes sense to have Mallex Smith’s 2019 season (.227-6-37-70-46) be worth $23 while Kris Bryant’s season (.282-31-77-108-4) is only worth $22 in the fantasy game? Who was the better performer? Which player would any team in baseball rather have? So why is it that we allow steals to hold such powerful sway over the value of fantasy players? You gotta play the game that is which is why, for years, I had to tell people to draft Billy Hamilton while at the same time writing articles that had titles like ‘Billy Hamilton Can’t Hit.’
We are rewarding mediocrity by counting steals. Further, we often end up damaging our team’s overall outlook chasing steals. How useful are six homers and 37 RBI? How useful is that .227 batting average? The answer to both those questions is that they are basically useless. Yet, we are still forced to chase players who produce crap like that as we try to find steals. Please, don’t give me that crap either about using strategy with it. I hear folks say things like ‘it takes skill to figure out how to find the steals then still win with a .227 hitter.’ Maybe it does, but doesn’t it take skill to win no matter what nuance you are tossing out there? Steals are weighted the same as the other categories in a 5×5 setup, aren’t they? Why do you need more skill to capture points in that one category than the other four?
There’s also the fact that steals are just gone.
Every year from 1982-1993, the league stole at least 3,032 bases.
In only one of those 12 seasons did the league play more than 52,000 games.
The last time the league stole 3,000 bases was 2012.
That year the league played 69,521 games.
That 2012 effort required more than 17,000 extra games than any year from 1982-93 to get to 3,000 thefts.
Teams just don’t run like the used to.
Players don’t run like they used to.
Somehow, we are still using steals to record player performance as if Vince Coleman got run over by the tarp yesterday. It’s time to move forward, and stop looking backward.
WE NEED TO REMOVE WINS
I wrote about wins, linked to above.
Wins are a terrible way to value the performance of pitchers. Let me count the ways.
A starting pitcher throws 4.2 shutout innings – he doesn’t even qualify for a win.
You can allow five runs in five innings and get a win.
You can allow no runs in eight innings and get a no-decision.
In the last three years, the best pitcher in baseball is likely Jacob deGrom. He is 25-19. There are 36 pitchers with more wins in that time, including a guy like Jon Gray, who has a 4.76 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. Guys pitch great and they don’t always get wins, while sometimes guys pitch like ass and they do.
Wins are a result of the performance of the pitcher but also the performance of his teammates. If a hurler isn’t supported by runs, it is impossible for him to get a win. The pitcher’s performance has nothing to do with the team’s offense, yet the win is a direct result of something that the pitcher has no control over.
So why do we use wins in the fantasy game?
We use wins because that’s how we grew up analyzing pitchers. We looked at wins, ERA, strikeouts and innings pitched. We can never rid ourselves of the win. After all, that’s the point of playing a game – winning it. While that position may have made sense when everyone was throwing 240-innings, counting victories, it no longer makes sense today. Did you realize that starting pitchers last season, for the first time ever, failed to throw five innings per start? The average starting outing last season resulted in an effort that didn’t include enough outs to even qualify for a victory. So, why are we still using wins as a measure of pitching performance again?
SO, WHAT DO WE DO?
After we agree, and we all do now right?, that we need to replace Saves, Steals and Wins, the question moves to – what do we replace them with.
THE SIMPLE CALLS: Net Saves (Saves – Blown Saves), Net Steals (SB – CS), Net Wins (Wins – Loses)
THE MID-TIER LEVEL: Solds (Saves + Holds), There really is no other speed component to use, so we will likely have to go elsewhere for player performance, QSW (Quality Starts + Wins)
THE AGGRESSIVE MODEL: We just ditch all three.
If you are in a points league, you can decrease the points awarded to all three measures, but I’m near to the point that I want to do away with all three categories in 5×5 roto setups.
We could replace steals with any of the following: OBP, OPS, Total Bases, Troubles (doubles + triples), wOBA, wRC+, etc. Those options range from the simple (Troubles) to the more complex, but all speak more to the performance of players than steals do, even if they do include some double-counting.
We could replace wins and saves with any of the following: K/BB, SIERA, FIP, GB/FB, etc.
Really, I’m open to any new ways you might consider to replace the old, and frankly outdated, categories we’ve discussed in this piece. Hit me up in the chatroom with any of your thoughts on the matter. You may likely have better ideas than I do when it comes to replacement options.