MASTER NOTES: Decimals

For a long time, Todd Zola, a very smart guy, has been reminding us that it’s never too late to work “the decimals.” That is, making moves to improve the ratio categories of Batting Average (BA), ERA and WHIP. (The same is true for leagues that wisely use OBP instead of BA.)

Fantasy owners often think that late in the season, like now, we can’t move the decimals because with 67% of our at-bats (or plate appearances) and innings in the books, the ratios’ denominators are getting too big.

But Todd says that while you can’t move as much as you could earlier in the year, you can still move enough to gain points in the ratio categories.

As I said, I think Todd is one of the smartest fantasy analysts in the game, and I trust everything he says about fantasy baseball, because he thinks about it a lot. He also applies his background in the physical sciences, which makes me respect his ideas even more.

All that said, neither Todd nor I, nor any analysts worth reading, expects the whole world to simply believe what they say. Any theory has to withstand testing. So while I believe Todd, I’m going with the old Cold War credo: “Trust, but verify.”

I set up a little spreadsheet with some imaginary team stats, which I got by averaging teams in a 15-team mixed experts’ league. Then I set up a table to see how much an owner can gain, first just by dropping a poor performer in the category. Even if we can’t replace a poor performer, we can drop anyone. Second, I checked how much a team could improve by not just dropping the poor performer, but also by replacing him with a good performer.

In my own Tout-AL league, I’ve picked up about .009 in OBP over the last month or so, partly by dropping low-OBP killers, and partly by adding higher-OBP helpers. For one example, I reserved a very low-OBP corner infielder, moved the relatively decent OBP catcher Russell Martin to CI (he’s eligible at 3B), and then FAABed a minor-league catcher with no projected PAs to fill the vacant catcher spot. (That catcher, by the way, is Danny Jansen of TOR, and he has a 12% walk rate and .387 OBP in Triple-A. Stash if you can.)

So let’s see how much we can move in the categories with MLB teams having around 52 games to go.

BA

The basic setup for the test was this: a team projected to finish the season with 1,915 hits in 7,660 AB (the AB figure pro-rated from averages in that experts’ league). That’s a .250 BA. I first checked for the effect of dropping a hitter with 190 projected AB (pAB) at various low BAs, and not replacing him. Here’s the result:

  • .215 hitter dropped: Team BA finished at .25087
  • .225 hitter dropped: Team BA finished at .25060
  • .235 hitter dropped: Team BA finished at .25034
  • .245 hitter dropped: Team BA finished at .25007

These are not huge gains, but I’ve played in BA leagues with narrower margins than these in the BA category. And if you’re wondering how much gain a team would get from dropping, say, a hitter with a .200 pBA, the team’s end BA would project to be .25127. So if you still have Chris Davis, think about it.

As I said, the gains are amplified when the poor pBA hitter is replaced with a high-pBA hitter. Here’s what the gains look like in table form (gains expressed in hundredths of points over the .250 pBA baseline, so +2.29 means a closing BA of .25229):

              |            pBA of Hitter Added            
              |   .305    .295    .285    .275    .265
======================================================
pBA     .215  |  +2.29   +2.02   +1.76   +1.50   +1.24
of      .225  |  +2.02   +1.76   +1.50   +1.24   +0.98
Hitter  .235  |  +1.76   +1.50   +1.24   +0.98   +0.72
Dropped .245  |  +1.50   +1.24   +0.98   +0.72   +0.46

If you could somehow drop a .215 pBA hitter and add a .305 guy, you would jump more than two points in pBA, which would be a solid category gain in many leagues. Down in the lower-right corner, dropping a .245 and adding a .265 gains almost half a pBA point, to .25046. That’s less likely to jump you significantly in the category, but it ain’t nothin’.

ERA

Gains in the pitching decimals can be greater because the ratio denominator is a lot smaller than BA—around 1,200 innings instead of 7,500 AB. This part of the study used a team with a 4.20 pERA team in 1,325 IP.

So let’s start again just with dropping a poor performer with 55 pIP:

  • Dropping a 5.50 pERA pitcher: Team ERA finished at 4.146, improving by .054
  • Dropping a 5.25 pitcher: 4.160, improving by .040
  • Dropping a 5.00 pitcher: 4.167, improving by .033
  • Dropping a 4.75 pitcher: 4.181, improving by .019
  • Dropping a 4.50 pitcher: 4.188, improving by .012
  • Dropping a 4.25 pitcher: 4.202, improving by .002

And now, not only dropping a pitcher but adding a low-pERA replacement:

             |            pERA of Pitcher Added           
             |   2.75    3.00    3.25    3.50    3.75    4.00
=============================================================
        5.50 | -0.115  -0.109  -0.095  -0.088  -0.075  -0.068
pERA    5.25 | -0.102  -0.095  -0.082  -0.075  -0.061  -0.054
of      5.00 | -0.095  -0.088  -0.075  -0.068  -0.054  -0.048
Pitcher 4.75 | -0.082  -0.075  -0.061  -0.054  -0.041  -0.034
Dropped 4.50 | -0.075  -0.068  -0.054  -0.048  -0.034  -0.027
        4.25 | -0.061  -0.054  -0.041  -0.034  -0.020  -0.014

In the upper left corner of the table, dropping a 5.50 disaster for a 2.75 stud means an ERA improvement of more than 11 points, enough to move 2-4 points in the model experts’ league, and enough to move a lot in leagues where the ERA category is tighter. Passing through the table to the lower right, we see a modest improvement of .014, still a potentially useful gain—three of the 15 experts’ teams gained an ERA point even with this small improvement.

WHIP

Finally, we repeat the process for WHIP, with a baseline of a 1.25 WHIP in 1,325 pIP. Again, let’s start just by dropping a bad performer:

  • Dropping a 1.50 pWHIP pitcher: Team WHIP finished at 1.239, improving by .011
  • Dropping a 1.45 pitcher: 1.242, improving by .009
  • Dropping a 1.40 pitcher: 1.244, improving by .006
  • Dropping a 1.35 pitcher: 1.246, improving by .004
  • Dropping a 1.30 pitcher: 1.248, improving by .003

These are not earth-shattering outcomes, although picking up .009 WHIP points could help move in the category. But again, the real impacts come when the drop of the bad is paired with the add of the good:

               |            pWHIP of Pitcher Added           
               |    1.00     1.05     1.10     1.15     1.20
============================================================
          1.50 |  -0.021   -0.018   -0.016   -0.015   -0.012
pWHIP of  1.45 |  -0.018   -0.016   -0.014   -0.012   -0.010
Pitcher   1.40 |  -0.016   -0.014   -0.012   -0.010   -0.008
Dropped   1.35 |  -0.014   -0.012   -0.009   -0.008   -0.005
          1.30 |  -0.012   -0.010   -0.008   -0.006   -0.004

Similar to the ERA story above, we see a relatively gigantic move in the upper left, where the awful 1.50 guy is subbed by a the 1.00 guy, creating a WHIP gain of .021. In the experts’ league, most teams gained, and a couple gained three points. Down in the lower right, the result is muted, but even at that, two teams in that league would enjoy a one-slot gain in the category.

Closing Thoughts

The main point in all this is that Todd Zola is right: We can move, and often significantly, in the decimals. Of course this approach requires some careful assessment of the categories. Dropping a low-BA hitter who is providing HRs—Gallo, Schwarber, Olson, Sano—could cost a team as much in swats as it gains in BA. Similarly, dropping a high-ERA or –WHIP starter could cost a team in wins and strikeouts. Often, the teams pursuing these strategies are “locked” in the counting stat categories.

But there are opportunities to trade from strength or weakness to gain in the decimals. As I’ve documented in past Master Notes, my power stats in my league are locked into the cellar. So I recently swapped my last two power sources, OBP liabilities Avisail Garcia (.311 pOBP) and Adam Jones (.295), and got back Brett Gardner (.342) and Mallex Smith (.326, .371 YTD). That created a gain of about .018 in OBP, from a .309-ish pOBP to .311-ish, which puts me in range of some points in the category. Meantime, I was also able to set up a potential gain in SB, a category in which I have some possibilities.

There’s one other advantage in the decimals that Todd Zola always mentions, and I will echo: It’s possible that while you’re moving forward in the decimals, your opponents will help you out by move backwards in those same categories.

Indeed, one of the first steps to take is to calculate the finishing positions of all the teams in your league, so you set your target where you, your immediate category opponents and your league are going to be, not where you are right now. Then get busy moving those decimals.


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