MASTER NOTES: Alternative Categories

Longtime Master Notes readers and listeners probably know that I believe the fantasy baseball categories are not as good as they could be. Over the years, I’ve written in favor of completely changing the category setup to more closely align to winning teams in MLB (takeaway: no SBs or Saves), and a couple of years back, about Ryan Quality Starts (7 IP, 3 or fewer ER) as a Wins replacement.

All of this came back to me this week when I heard the discussion resume on one of the fantasy shows on SiriusXM, or maybe on a fantasy podcast. Whatever the case, the debate got me to thinking about how things would be different on a player level if we used some different categories.

Luckily, BaseballHQ.com has a perfect tool for analyzing the effects of alternate stat categories: the BHQ Custom Draft Guide, which we call “The CDG,” like it's a Roald Dahl novel. BHQ subscribers can use The CDG to create fantasy player valuations using a huge range of choosable stats categories, including the most commonly discussed alternatives.

Most often, The CDG is a pre-season draft-prep tool, but it’s also possible to choose YTD stats to generate player values in-season as well (and projected stats, which is a real help for trade evaluation).

So I set up The CDG with balanced budgets and a 70-30 Hit-Pitch split, and ran The CDG with the usual 5x5 categories. After that, I made these changes for the hitters:

  • OBP instead of BA—I’ve been an advocate of this change for years. It only seems rational to me that if we consider the walk to be significant enough to punish pitchers through the WHIP category, then surely it should be significant enough to reward a hitter. The Tout Wars leagues play OBP.
  • Total Bases (TB) instead of HR—That column I wrote way back when analyzing how to match the roto categories with actual MLB team success, concluded that HRs were overemphasized, and that Extra Bases was a better measure of overall run generation and, therefore, success. But that was in conjunction with changing BA to Hits+Walks, a position I’ve since changed (to OBP, as noted earlier). The CDG doesn’t have Extra Bases, but it does have Total Bases, which is better than HRs because it rewards overall production without “zooming in” on one event while ignoring other hits, notwithstanding their effect on BA or OBP. Besides, the HR remains a premium event across the categories, generating a run, an RBI, and four TB.
  • Both—In addition to assessing each change separately, I assessed them together.

In each case, I checked how player values changed with the new categories.

Results

To set levels, The CDG ranked Mookie Betts as the top value guy this season, at $42.27. Here  are the Top-10 hitters using standard 5x5 categories:

Hitter                $
=========================
Mookie Betts       $42.27
Manny Machado      $34.35
Mike Trout         $33.70
Francisco Lindor   $32.87
Ozzie Albies       $32.14
A.J. Pollock       $32.01
Jose Ramirez       $30.11
Aaron Judge        $29.98
J.D. Martinez      $28.96
Starling Marte     $27.73

A few early surprises among the hitters, including Albies and Pollock. When the CDG uses OBP instead of BA (new list members in boldface):

Hitter                $      +/-
=================================
Mookie Betts       $41.86  -$0.41
Mike Trout         $39.70  +$6.00
Aaron Judge        $35.50  +$5.52
Manny Machado      $35.08  +$0.73
Bryce Harper       $33.95  +$9.47
Jose Ramirez       $31.74  +$1.63
Francisco Lindor   $30.91  -$1.96
Freddie Freeman    $30.75  +$3.13
A.J. Pollock       $30.24  -$1.77
Trea Turner        $28.74  +$3.61

The difference here, of course, is that the walks help hitters like Harper, Freeman, and Turner, while the absence of walks reduces the pure BA value advantage of high-BA, low-walk guys. Albies, has a .350-ish BA, but his 4% Walk Rate leads to a $3.87 loss in value. Interestingly, Walk Rate also affects Martinez (8% Walk Rate, -$2.43) and Marte (9%, -$1.23), who also leave the list. Their Walk Rates aren’t actually bad, pretty much league-average, but they’re relatively bad when the leaders are well into double-digits, led by Harper at 22%. But any change that gets Bryce Harper into the list seems like a positive development.

Several other high-walk guys jumped by $5 or more in 5x5 value with OBP: Trout, Rhys Hoskins, Matt Joyce, Judge, Matt Carpenter (whose .294 OBP is still very low but a lot better than his .145 BA) and Justin Bour. Big dollar-value losers are led by Dee Gordon, whose .353 OBP is fine, but confers less of a relative advantage than his .327 BA, and ends up costing him almost $6 in value.

Repeating the exercise using TB instead of HR, the revised Top-10 hitters are:

Hitter                $       +/-
==================================
Mookie Betts       $39.99   -$2.28
Mike Trout         $32.49   -$1.21
Manny Machado      $32.33   -$2.02
Francisco Lindor   $30.95   -$1.92
Dee Gordon         $29.86   +$2.95
A.J. Pollock       $29.78   -$2.23
Aaron Judge        $29.22   -$0.76
Ozhaino Albies     $28.86   -$3.28
Freddie Freeman    $28.65   +$1.03
Starling Marte     $28.59   +$0.86

This time, the list is almost the same, although some of the hitters shuffle places and every hitter loses overall value from the regular valuation. This looks to be the case because TB is a more compressed category than HR, so again any particular high-HR hitter loses relative ground to batters with fewer HR but a lot of other hits.

For example, Gordon replaces Martinez, because the TB category removes what amounts to a low-HR penalty and instead rewards Gordon for his many hits and extra-base hits. As I said in the intro, this seems like a good thing. HRs remain the most valuable outcome for a hitter, as noted, but this stat gives credit for other very positive outcomes as well.

And finally, what about The CDG values if we both replace BA with OBP and HRs with TB? This:

Hitter                $      +/-
==================================
Mookie Betts       $38.39  -$3.88
Mike Trout         $37.27  +$3.57
Aaron Judge        $33.68  +$3.70
Manny Machado      $32.12  -$2.23
Freddie Freeman    $30.86  +$3.24
Bryce Harper       $30.20  +$5.72
Trea Turner        $29.80  +$4.67
Francisco Lindor   $28.24  -$4.63
Jose Ramirez       $28.04  -$2.07
A.J. Pollock       $27.30  -$4.71

Again, (relatively) low-walk guys Albies, Martinez, and Marte lose ground to more well-rounded hitters. The biggest beneficiary is not in the list, but Joe Mauer’s walks help him to a .400+ OBP and he has enough hits and doubles to get some TB help and add a little over $8 to his Roto value. Other winners in this area include Hoskins, Brett Gardner, Alex Bregman and Jesse Winker.

Conclusion

I’m under no illusion that an exercise like this will create a groundswell of support for getting rid of HRs and BA from our scoring methods. I just think they should be replaced, to get a broader and fairer way to assess actual hitters.

Next week: the pitchers.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.