Department of redundancy departmentby Derek Ambrosino
December 29, 2010
In the past I have been accused of being judgmental, or projecting my values upon others. In fact, a few weeks ago a commenter took issue with my suggestion that those who aren’t ready to put their rooting interests in real sports aside to embrace owning stars on rival teams shouldn’t even bother inserting themselves into serious fantasy baseball leagues.
I freely admit that I can be very prescriptive as to what should and should not be; in fact this behavior is not, by any means, limited to the subject of fantasy sports. But, since I’m not here to write about anything else, I’m going to subject you to all to another prescriptive fantasy opinion. When I write here, I usually presume that the preamble disclaiming my opinions as just that – opinions – is simply taken for granted, but every now and then, I guess it’s important to explicitly state that disclaimer.
With that out of the way, I’d like to ask something of a rhetorical question regarding what I feel to be questionable decisions in league construction, particularly when it comes to delineating scoring categories. I know many of us like to experiment with tweaks on the traditional 5x5 categorical set-up. I, too, sometimes play in leagues that are 6x6, or those that substitute OPS for AVG, net SBs for raw SBs, or K/9 or K/BB for raw Ks.
However, there are certain tweaks that I do not understand. I’ve had prospective commissioners tell me that they intended to expand the traditional categories to make inclusions such as a triples category, and I’ve seen leagues that include both average and OBP as individual categories. These tweaks seem senseless to me. There are two main things that I suggest commissioners avoid when setting up scoring categories in their leagues.
First, I would suggest you avoid selecting arbitrary and incomplete niche categories. For example, triples may seem an enticing category add because triples are exciting to watch and their supply is highly limited (I’d actually argue that they are too limited, making them a bad category choice as their mere inclusion tilts the value of some players so drastically). But, the simple question is, why triples? Triples are simply one variation of base hit. So, why choose to privilege their importance or relevance above singles or doubles? The inclusion of a category like triples is not only arbitrary (granted, all category choices are arbitrary to some degree), but they represent only a small fraction of a larger group of like events.
Now, I’m sure some of you are just waiting to lash out, “what about home runs?” Doesn’t the same logic by which I criticize triples also apply to homers, too? Well, not exactly. Home runs have a few things going for them that singles, doubles and triples do not. For one, they are a part of the standard, traditional scoring system. And, yes, their inclusion there is, or rather was somewhat arbitrary, but we mustn’t let the notion of arbitrariness devolve into a slippery slope that undermines the category selection process. Home runs have a well-established place in fantasy baseball scoring and to treat the initial arbitrary nature of that decision as akin to the arbitrary nature of including triples as a category while excluding doubles is disingenuous. I’m just going to hope we can agree on that.
Second, the home run is the pinnacle of offensive achievement and it is defensive independent, which makes it a per se wise choice for inclusion as an offensive statistic. I normally frown on the inferior double counting of stats (I’ll get to this in a minute), but the home run is a unique animal. Seeing as how R and RBI are also traditional and common categories, the home run is the most pure way of accumulating offensive production; it is a hit, a guaranteed run, and a guaranteed run batted in at the same time. It is complete and pure. Unlike the double or triple, the home run is not just one of several different kinds of base hits.
The other dynamic I think prudent to avoid when setting up scoring categories is what I’m going to call inferior redundancy. I think it’s a good idea to try to encompass crediting as many offensive achievements as possible by using stats that reflect different kinds of success and distinguish between incremental successes. In the same vein, I think it is a poor idea to choose to include two or more categories when one is basically duplicative of the other(s) and more profound.
For example, I can understand choosing to use AVG, OBP, SLG, or OPS individually as an offensive stat. However, I don’t think it is sensible to use AVG in combination with OBP, as both stats are essentially aiming to measure how successful a player is at reaching base (in the case of OBP that’s what it does, in the case of AVG that’s how it is commonly misapplied). They’re more similar than they are different.
I also don’t think it is makes sense to use both AVG and SLG, as AVG measures how often a player succeeds at getting on base via batted ball, while SLG does as well, but differentiates between the value of different kinds of hits.
To me, it seems most logical to use OPS alone (or wOBA or something else that counts walks and credits extra base hits) if you are just going to use one rate category. If you need an extra category to counteract an extra category on the pitching side (I hope nobody is playing with an uneven amount of pitching and offensive categories), I think the most sensible choices are either OBP and SLG, which simply breaks the single best choice into its components, or AVG and OPS, which includes the simplest and most encompassing choices and utilizes an original, traditional stat thereby invoking the damage control argument of, “yes, this system is flawed, but I’m not introducing new flaws into the system.”
I hope I’ve been sufficiently diplomatic in stating these preferences. I have given a fair amount of thought to them and try to adhere to an internal logical consistency when I determine how I think things “should” be done. I have been known to decline to play in leagues because I think the set-up is flawed and I think everybody should be willing to do the same. If you enter a league thinking that the set up is flawed, it will negatively impact the experience you have participating.
It is entirely possible to create novel league set-ups and scoring systems, and I’m all for innovation, but league set-ups need an internal logic and a consistent vision in terms of the real life events it wants to reward. If you are tempted to create your own system, please give it thought and kick the tires before rolling it out. You don’t have to reach the same exact conclusions that I do, but you owe the effort of vetting it to all your prospective leaguemates.
Derek Ambrosino aspires to one day, like Dan Quisenberry, find a delivery in his flaw, you can send him questions, comments, or suggestions at digglahhh AT yahoo DOT com.
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