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THT's Fantasy Archives
Monday, October 19, 2009
Both my most recent column and Paul Singman's touched obliquely on how league settings affect the dynamic of play. Commenter, Andrew, mentioned his opinion that daily transaction leagues “lose a bit of credibility” as compared to leagues with free-agent auction budgets. I’m not going to use this column to discuss that point in depth, but the comment did get me thinking about the determinants of a competitive and credible league.
Let’s face it: Many of us here at THT are guilty of at least some degree of roto-snobbery; this goes for both writers and commenters. One of the, perhaps shortsighted, assumptions common to us roto snobs is that leagues with more advanced designs are “better,” more “legitimate/credible” or more competitive. I’m not necessarily sure this is the case though.
Let me digress briefly to state for the record that I don’t mean to use the term “roto-snob” as an insult. I think it is important that there are those out there who take fantasy sports seriously and treat it as a discipline worthy of study and analysis. Although fantasy sports comprise an extremely lucrative industry and are undoubtedly good for the corresponding leagues, fantasy sports is still treated as a frivolous and naïve endeavor. This is evidenced by the way the term is used as a de facto pejorative in the mainstream sports lexicon, i.e. “[Player X] put up great numbers, but this isn’t a fantasy league.” Us fantasy snobs represent a voice to refute these misguided ad hominems.
Getting back to the question of fielding a competitive and legitimate league however, I think the most important determinant of such a dynamic is an evenly matched and consistently engaged group of participants. In fact, when considering competitiveness this is even more important than the particular level of skill or knowledge the body of the league shares. To make a simple baseball analogy, the various levels of minor league baseball are not necessarily any less competitive than MLB, in terms of games themselves. And, while the overall quality of play may be inferior, that does not make the sport that is being played any less legitimate than that sport being played at higher levels.
I don’t think the above paragraph is particularly controversial, by any means. But, I’d like to dig a little deeper into the perceived connection between how advanced or difficult a league is, and how “pure,” “legitimate” or “good” it is. This may get a little messy because we’re often dealing with terms that are more value judgments than empirical observations, but it should be a fun, if pedantic, ride.
Theoretically, it is harder to build a high quality team in a (perhaps AL- or NL-only) league that involves auction dollars, keepers, pay-scales and minor league rosters. Such a league requires higher competency in additional skill sets, as compared to a simple mixed league that utilizes a draft. So, depending on the subjective criteria one uses to judge the “quality” of a league, such a league may be “better.” However, that does not mean that your experience participating in such a league will be better or more competitive than in a more simply designed league—and that, I believe, to be a very important point.
It seems that before going any further, it is a good idea to try approximate what is meant when people use terms like “legitimate,” or “credible” when referring to a fantasy league. I think there are two primary meanings of these somewhat subjective terms. The first refers to leagues being designed with characteristics that increase the likelihood of the most knowledgeable and skilled managers triumphing. Of course, even this definition is somewhat existential as it begs the questions of what kinds of knowledge and which particular skills should be privileged. Further, it prompts questions as to whether certain advantageous behaviors are even to be considered “skills” in the first place. Is getting to the wire quickly a skill? Depends on how you define “skill,” I presume.
The second is more straightforward; are the categories representative of the breath of skills baseball players have and are they weighted sensibly? For example, I’ve played in a number of leagues that use both OPS and batting average as categories and that doesn’t make sense to me. Everything that counts toward batting average counts toward OPS as well; OPS is ostensibly a more comprehensive way of measuring offensive prowess. Why not just choose the more accurate metric attempting to measure the same general principle? I’m not as heavily concerned with this second point for the purposes of this article though.
Considering the first principle underlying legitimacy, we arrive at a fundamental question:
Do deeper and more advanced leagues, by virtue of their design, lead to results that more accurately reflect the relative skills and knowledge of the league participants than simpler leagues do?
I think the instinctive answer is yes, but I’m not so sure it’s correct. I think many people may confuse the selection bias of these league designs with a perceived meritocracy inherent in the design of such a league. That is to say, the complexity of the design attracts more seasoned and knowledgeable participants as opposed to the league design itself doing anything tangible to promote meritocratic results.
For the sake of discussion, I would just like to mention a few reasons why a more advanced league may actually be less conducive to meritocracy. Many of these points deal primarily with league depth and one may also be able to argue that some of these dynamics, for reasons not unrelated to those I discuss, indeed help to separate the wheat from the chaff.
At the end of the day, I think the overall competitive dynamic of a league is largely determined by the relative skill level of the participants. As for a league’s quality, credibility or legitimacy, I might offer an alternative, though still subjective, barometer by which to measure these subjective qualities.
There are different philosophies regarding the overall aim of designing a league. Should it most accurately reflect actually running a baseball team? Is fantasy baseball an entirely different animal from real baseball, with its own rules, dynamics and view of long- and short-term returns? Should the league aim to neutralize individual circumstance of each participant’s life that may lead to advantages or disadvantages?
I think it’s important for the body of a league to discuss these issues from a philosophical perspective and agree on the type of league they want to create. For example, what are the relative merits of using more advanced statistical categories—increased accuracy in terms of reflecting what actually wins baseball games, but an introduction of more esoteric principles, which may further stratify the participants. Perhaps a league’s legitimacy, credibility or overall quality is largely determined by how accurately it mirros its collectively agreed upon vision. In some respects, this is a $10 way of saying that a league’s overall quality can be largely approximated by how much fun the league participants have playing it out.
What does your ideal league look like, and what are your anecdotal experiences regarding the overall “quality” of advanced and simpler leagues?
Posted by Derek Ambrosino at 2:10pm
Chone Figgins became an all around multi-position player in the infield who could gain plenty of steals and most years go in at second base, shortstop or third base. He has lost his eligibility at every position now except third base, though. His value is in his speed and a sudden ability to get on base. On the other hand Denard Span is a classic one-position player. He doesn't have the value that Figgins had as a multi-position guy, but what about Figgins as just a third baseman?
R RBI HR SB AVG OBP SLG K% BB% Spd Chone Figgins 114 54 5 42 .298 .395 .393 18.5% 14.1% 6.7 Dernard Span 97 68 8 23 .311 .392 .415 15.4% 10.8% 6.6
He spent two seasons working himself into the lineup only earning 282 PA in his first two seasons. Then in 2004 he reached 600 PA and totaled an impressive number of runs (83) and stolen bases (34). Getting on base wasn't one of his strong suits early on, though. He had a 7.8 percent walk rate and his OBP was only at .350 for much of his early career. This definitely limited his steals and run totals early on.
His on-base skills have gotten remarkably better as his walk rate has climbed a percentage or more each season going from the 7.8 percent in 2004 to the 14.1 percent he held this year. Many players will lose some contact skills when adding that many walks, but his contact rate has climbed right along with his walk rate.
His speed took a hit in the past few years with some injury problems. In 2007 he went to the 15-day DL for a fractured finger, but in 2008 he took two separate trips to the DL for an injured hamstring. His speed score was a career low in 2008 at 5.6 and his ability to steal as many bases was a question coming into 2009. His speed score was below career averages at 6.7 this year and his total steals were down. He stole 52 bases in 2006 before the injuries started. This loss of speed is a possible concern fantasy wise.
His ability to get on base is something he comes with right away. Unlike Figgins who took a few years to learn this skill, Span is already walking more than 10 percent of the time. The skill wasn't something he always had shown in the minors, though. His two seasons at Double-A resulted in walk rates around 6 percent and his first season at Triple-A also had a walk rate at 7.6 percent. He has solidified this in the majors though with a 11.5 percent rate in his two seasons so far.
While he gets on base very well, he does not seem to have the speed of a younger Figgins. He has had approximately 40 extra times at first base than Figgins did in 2004, but has only 23 steals. Figgins had 34 in that season. He was also caught stealing 10 times this year, giving him a less-than-ideal 70 percent success rate. He needs to work on his steals for 2010 to really gain value since his power is lacking.
Speaking of power, he hit eight homers this season. With 145 games played and 676 PA, his ceiling right now looks to be 10 homers. At only 25 years old, he is entering the stage of his career where he could add some power to his swing, but it might be worth a gamble in 2010 with the new stadium in Minnesota.
Span has a head start on Figgins by getting on base so well, but his limited position eligibility and speed make him slightly behind the younger Figgins. Moving forward, they are much closer than that. Figgins' speed has taken a step back, and third base is usually a position at which you want a power bat, and he is not that. Putting a speed guy who is limited to third base on your team can be a handcuff in building your lineup. It requires an abundance of power throughout the rest of your lineup. On the other hand a 10/30 guy in the outfield, like Span, can fit in nicely.
Posted by Troy Patterson at 2:03am
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