Too many stats spoil the broth

I recently received an email from a reader whose shallow home league uses a 12 x 12 roto scoring system. The reader is frustrated and suggests that this system doesn’t produce a champion that reflects the best overall team or owner because the mish-mash of categories undermines the league’s integrity. Nor surprisingly, some of the previous league champs disagree and think this system is fantastic. So, the reader contacted us to help settle this debate.

Here are the categories used for batters and pitchers in this league.

Batters—R, H, 1B, 2B, 3B, HR, RBI, SB, BB, K, E, AVG
Pitchers—W, L, CG, SHO, SV, BB, K, HLD, ERA, WHIP, QS, BSV

Let me start of by top-lining my conclusion here—unequivocally, this is a bad scoring system, if you ask me. It looks more like a Bingo card than a consciously developed system attempting to address a set of underlying principles.

Yes, there should be a set of principles underlying a scoring system. Here are a couple of ideals that you should strive for:

  • Stat categories should measure actual underlying skills.
  • Skills that are important to helping teams win baseball games should be credited (for batters, at least offensive skills)
  • Stat categories should not result in further skewing positional values; modifications from standard scoring should strive to mitigate imbalance, and not exacerbate it.
  • Rostering a single player should not unduly tilt a team’s odd of winning a category or the league.
  • Avoid inefficiently counting the same achievement multiple times. For example, don’t have OBP, SLG, and then also have OPS.

Knowing that these are not all always fully achievable, and that some folks decidedly prefer non cookie-cutter settings, let me offer a few thoughts on how I would modify this scoring system.

Batters
This league is essentially counting every type of hit, as well as walks. I’m not sure what the specific rationale for offering doubles and triples as separate categories —and further, counting total hits and then counting each type of hit as its own category. Why should we specifically reward a player who hits a ton of singles? So, for the combination of H, 1B, 2B, 3B, BB, and E I think there are a few possible consolidations that make sense.

Combine hits and walks either as on-base percentage, or as times reached base. Or, combine doubles, triples (in addition to homers, which will remain a standalone category) and use either sluggingpercentage or extra-base hits.

This is also a shallow league, so finding mere playing time isn’t something worth rewarding. Therefore I’d lean toward rate stats and go OBP and SLG. If this were a deeper or NL- or AL-only league, it might be interesting to go with times reached base and extra-base hits instead. Honestly, either way would qualify as an improvement.

Strikeouts are only marginally worse than any other out (and better than a double play), so I’m not sure they should be uniquely penalized—remember, outs are already penalized via any offensive rate stat, or counting stat, as a wasted opportunity. However, strikeouts and walks do represent defense-independent at bat outcomes, so I can see an argument for keeping them in some capacity. I’d suggest BB/K ratio.

Why are errors included? Middle infielders will make more errors and first basemen and outfielders fewer. Is there some sort of bias inflating the value of middle infielders that the introduction of errors is an attempt to correct? I don’t think so. Therefore, I see no objective rationale for including it among the categories.

While the homer is guilty of double-counting (it’s a hit, an RBI, and a run), it is the most important play in baseball and it is defensive independent. Let’s leave it in. Runs is flawed, but it too can stay. RBIs can stay too, but I have a feeling the league likes to have some interesting wrinkles. Since this is a shallow league, separating good players from great players is something to strive for. So, if possible, an interesting modification might be to go for RBI percentage—the percentage of runners in scoring position driven in by a player. This mitigates mere opportunity a bit and rewards those who come through most often when in such a position.

Also, to cater to the crowd that likes to be a bit off the beaten path, we can use net steals instead of raw steals.

So, that leaves our offense with seven categories—OBP, SLG, BB/K, R, HR, RBI%, SB-CS.

That’s not exactly standard, but pretty fundamentally sound.

Pitchers

This means we have to cut five categories from the pitching side of the equation.

The first thing that strikes me is the inclusion of wins, losses, and quality starts. I’d suggest using either wins or quality starts, since the inclusion of quality starts is recognition that wins are highly flawed. I’d recommend these three categories merge into one—either quality starts or net wins (W-L).

On the relief pitcher side, I’d look to either eliminate blown saves (really one of the stats that tells us the least) or once again go the net route and combine two categories in saves minus blown saves. I’d also get rid of holds. For one thing, they are a bad stat, and for another, while I appreciate the idea of giving elite set-up men value more similar to elite closers, this league is just too shallow to ask owners to have to mine more groups of specialty players for production. (Note that using blown saves in any way without holds will hurt the value of non-closer relievers.)

ERA and WHIP, can stay. I often like to combine Ks and BB into K/BB, but since we are seeking a 7×7 league, we can measure each of the DIPS categories individually, either counting wise or rate-wise. I’d suggest K/9, BB/9, and HR/9.

I’d also drop complete games and shutouts altogether, as they are too rare and unpredictable to be discrete categories. Plus, such games tend to be really well pitched, so they are already well-rewarded across the spectrum of pitching categories.

And that gets us to seven—W-L, ERA, WHIP, SV-BSV, K/9, BB/9, HR/9.

The reader’s email concluded by asking:

I have unsuccessfully argued that there are so many categories it does not determine a statistical significant champion because so many stats are accumulated that there is a statistical “noise” created, and thus randomness is the actual “champion.”

My question: Am I correct in this statement? Am I crazy? Does this system actually determine the best champion?

I can’t answer this question completely objectively. I haven’t, for example, run the rosters of previous seasons of his leagues against a set-up with a “better” scoring system to see if they produce the same champion. But, I don’t think it is a stretch to say that at the very least that the current scoring system lacks an objective rationale behind its formation and is far from ideal.

I’ve turned down invitations to leagues simply because I thought the scoring systems were deeply flawed. I can say that, on that basis, I would not accept an invitation to a league with the original 12 x 12 scoring system.

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Comments

  1. Kyle Brown said...

    Actually, because it’s H2H the matchups each week are a give-take. If you get blown up early you have to make a decision about whether or not you are gonna punt the ratio categories and go for the counting stats. Conversely, if you get the ratios nailed down you might try to limit your innings. On top of all that you have to monitor and adapt to what your opponent is doing so on a week to week basis there hasn’t been a trend. Those who have won have focused on acquiring pitching. But to be fair the winners have always had balanced teams, and we have waivers so adding PA is difficult. There is certainly a good bit of streaming in the league.

  2. Brandon said...

    Kyle, I think having stats like 3B and CG diminish other stats.  You can certainly win each of those categories 1-0 some weeks and it has no correlation to how well your team performed.  You also have 3 categories that are benefited by a strikeout (not including IP, ERA, and WHIP which also benefit).  I think trimming some of the categories would be a good idea.

  3. Kyle Brown said...

    Is it crazy of my to think that sometimes winning a category 1-0 in a given week is actually a benefit of the system? I see what you are all saying, of course, it doesn’t correlate and all that, but it does add drama to the matchup without really affecting the overall outcome of who makes the playoffs and who misses out. For example, if in a given week you’re going to lose 10-11 to someone and you only have one hitter left on Sunday and the only category you could even the matchup with is triples it makes your experience on that Sunday much richer. Whether or not you even the score isn’t going to have much impact on the season standings so what’s the harm if it adds to the experience? That’s at least why I like them, as crazy and as flawed as it may sound.

  4. David said...

    I don’t like your proposed 7X7 categories – too many ratios.  I like counting stats better, because I can read the ticker at the bottom of the tv, and see how my team is doing.  Also, I like stats like W and RBI that are dependent on a player’s team around him.  That’s a fun part of the decision making process.  Remember, you’re not playing baseball, you’re playing fantasy baseball.  Kyle had a couple points I really agree with.

  5. Zipple41 said...

    “Oh no! I lost this week because my guy hit a stupid homerun instead of a single!” This should never be a possibility…

  6. Kyle Brown said...

    I run a 12×12 league that has twelve managers. The stats are: runs, RBI, 1b, 2b, 3b, hr, bb, k, avg, obp, slg, SB…..IP, W, L, CG, hr(against), k, k/bb, k/9, era, whip, qs, saves.

    I think this set of 12 and 12 is better than the league in question, but it does have its flaws. W and L (and CG) are definitely bad stats but it also seems like a similar situation to runs and RBI being tied to lineup, i.e. W and L are helped or hurt by the team that a pitcher plays for, so I find it acceptable. The league is a H2H league and CG, W and L can provide some fun in that regard, I always find myself glued to the results of MLB games on each Sunday because I might score a win/loss/CG, albeit undeserved or randomly placed in the season. This goes against your fundamental idea that stats in fantasy should correlate to stats in baseball that express the ways baseball players actually help teams win baseball games. I would challenge that idea, if only slightly. I also want to give due credit to legit accomplishments but don’t want to lose out on some element of randomness. Randomness is an element of real baseball and sometimes an OF slips or a defensive shift opens a hole that would not have “normally” been open and David Ortiz gets a double by hitting a weak ball down the 3rd baseline. My point is that, you try to set your team up, in real an fantasy baseball, to try and have the best chance to win your league. I try to find the best pitchers out there and hope they get wins when they deserve it and avoid losses when they pitch well, but sometimes that just doesn’t happen. I am willing to allow some stats in my league’s matrix that are going to be a touch random because this randomness can lead to extremely fun times, feast or famine.

    As long as stats don’t overlap and randomness isn’t overly rewarded I think that some stats that don’t express achievements that help teams win baseball games are ok. This of course comes down to the reasons one plays fantasy baseball and I don’t think that there is a definitive answer to the question: is there a correct motivation for playing fantasy sports or are all perspectives created equal?

    Anyway, I went on a tangent there. Are my leagues stats bad as well or are we doing a decent job?

    Thanks,
    Kyle

  7. chongo said...

    We have a H2H 8×8.  H, 2B, HR, RBI, R, BB, S, A;  W, QS, H/9, K, S+H, IP, ER, and BB.  Only one ratio- it has played very nice having just counting stats.  The A is for Assists, which favors (and attempts to balance) some positions over others- just like other batting stats.  Worked so far.

  8. Brian said...

    We run a league with avg, obp, slg, HR, TB, SB, K, R and RBI for hitters. Pitching is W, L, QS, K, K/BB, BAA, ERA and WHIP and S+H. In a perfect world, I would gladly replace TB with 2B+3B, hitter K’s with BB/K ratio, and W and L with Net wins, but I have yet to find a website with these categories.

  9. Greg Simons said...

    Kyle, I’m in a standard 5×5, which I prefer, so take these off-the-cuff comments with that background.

    On the hitting side, I’d get rid of 1B and BB since you have OBP, and I’d combine 2B and 3B into 2B+3B.  That leaves nine hitting categories.

    On the pitching side, I’d dump CG (too rare) and either K or K/9 (somewhat redundant).  Also, either get rid of HR allowed or convert it to HR/9 (to help balance rate and counting stats) and combine W and L into W-L.

  10. Brad Johnson said...

    The categories aren’t really the problem (some are, like using H, type of H, and AVG, but that’s easily fixed). The glaring problem is that this is a Points league scoring system wearing rotisserie clothes.

    If you’re going beyond a 6×6 or maybe 7×7 (that’s pushing it), you NEED to use a points format rather than roto. The league is ruined otherwise.

  11. Brad Johnson said...

    Kyle/reader,

    In your 12×12 leagues are the overall winners of hitting and pitching categories those who accrued the most PA or IP?

    I ask because a 5×5 league already puts heavy emphasis on the team with the most playing time. I would guess that a 12×12 format would quadruple that influence (or more). Especially because so many counting stats were used.

  12. chuck said...

    why not r-hr and rbi-hr?  then, you remove the double dip of the hr.  also, total bases may be good to replace all of the hits catagories. 

    quality starts is weak.  i could go 6 innings but give up 10 runs because my bullppen is taxed and still get bonus cuz of my innings?  doesnt make sense.  fielding percentage or some kind of range stat might be interesting to include in the pitching stats since they correlate.

  13. Jason B said...

    Re: Chuck – “quality starts is weak.  i could go 6 innings but give up 10 runs because my bullppen is taxed and still get bonus cuz of my innings?”

    That’s not a quality start.  Any start w/ 6+ innings is not automatically a QS.

    (Not saying it’s a particularly good category either, just that your example is not a relevant one.)

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