Sunday, February 17, 2008 Round Table: Setting Up Your League

Welcome to the first of many round table discussions. A group of writers will contribute their thoughts on a fantasy relevant discussion. Each will give their opinions concerning the round table subject while commenting on all previous opinions. As with all content, please feel free to give your opinions and ask questions.

The subject for this round table is Fantasy Baseball Scoring Systems and Statistical Categories.

Joe Romano: I have always been a strong proponent of head to head scoring systems as opposed to points and rotisserie leagues. The biggest reason for this is that in most rotisserie and point leagues the winner, or a select few with a chance to win, is determined by the All-Star break. Where as with head to head a team with a strong second half push can really make up ground. Play offs are also a large factor in my approval of head to head leagues. Once play offs begin all bets are off, a 6th place team can still win it all.

As for stat categories, I am a fan of a regular 5X5 scoring system, but I also see its weaknesses. Power hitters are always too important compared to small ball players. I would like to see batting average replaced with on base percentage; making walks a valuable stat category. I would also like to see stealing 3rd base worth more than stealing 2nd base, this is infinitely more difficult and could further separate the real speed demons.

Kevin Fenstermacher: I also feel that head to head scoring is the best route to go. I think it brings an added level of competition. If you have a tight knit group of people, it is more entertaining to go heads up against one another. Joe also made a great point in how teams that finish 6th place have a shot to win it all once the playoffs come around.

I do like the regular 5X5 scoring system, but I feel it is better to personalize your league to enhance the entertainment value of the league. If you add to the regular 5X5 scoring system you have to keep it balanced. Keep away from overlapping categories that would reward the same stat too much, for example adding walks and OBP. If you keep the added categories balanced for both hitters and pitchers it will reward the top players more.

I disagree with stealing third base being worth more than second base. A steal is a steal no matter how you look at it. Just because it is rarer and more difficult to do, doesn’t mean it should have a higher reward. I would relate that to the idea that it is harder to hit a Home Run in Petco Park than Citizens Bank Park. You wouldn’t reward the HR in Petco Park more than the HR in Citizens Bank Park.

Marc Edelman: As is often the case, I dissent. I am not a fan of head-to-head. One week match-ups, as scheduled in most head-to-head games, do not provide an adequate sample size to determine winners and losers. There is just too much randomness.

Also, I hate playoffs. A team’s performance in one mid-September week should not outweigh results generated over an entire season. If a playoff system is built into a fantasy sports game, the skill-to-luck ratio declines. The game turns into something much like traditional gambling. That is a problem for me.

Mike Aversa: I also agree with the notion that head to head is the best scoring system for fantasy baseball. I feel that it allows for better competition throughout the season, as teams will always have a sense of competition. They are trying to beat the team they are playing against, as well as catch the teams that are ahead of them. With rotisserie scoring, I feel that there is too much of a chance of teams being completely out of the race by the All-Star break. This leads to owners not paying attention to their team anymore, which lowers the fun factor for everybody involved, because those teams just become wastelands where players and potential trades rot.

I believe that 5x5 leagues are also the best route, but it does not mean that it should be 5 categories each for pitching and hitting and that is it. You should customize your league to make sure that no one type of player is too valuable. I am actually a proponent for 8x8 or 10x10 leagues, because it makes the draft process much more in depth and also leads to an experience that is more engrossing. With this many statistical categories, owners need to decide their strategies early and stick to them, whether it be trying to dominate some categories or trying to draft a team that will work well in all categories. It leads to an overall experience that is more fun for everybody involved.

Brett Smiley: I don't know where to begin here, I feel like Horatio Sans at a buffet. With slight hesitation, I agree that a head-to-head league is the best system. I also agree with Marc that head-to-head introduces some "randomness", and may potentially crown the less talented team that gets hot at the right time. But such is sports, and that is what makes sports exciting. It's about building a team that puts itself in a position to win when it counts. That's why the Giants will get fitted for rings, and the statistically superior 18-1 Patriots will be sulking at the Pro-bowl. A one week head-to-head baseball playoff makes the winner no more arbitrary than a seven game series in the real baseball playoffs. It's enough. I also like having a "mini playoff" every Sunday of the baseball season.

As far as statistical categories go, each league needs to pick the right ingredients. A lot of leagues defer to the basic 5X5 because they don't want to experiment with some less traditional categories. The traditional categories (hitters - BA, HR, RBI, SB; pitchers - W, K, SV, ERA, WHIP) provide a good enough spread, but miss out on some of the finer parts of baseball, don't recognize the truly great players--or as much as they should be recognized--and don't encourage greater strategy like Mike suggests. For example, adding a category like K/BB ratio does a better job of respecting Greg Maddux's uncanny control. I think that the categories that come as close as possible to a player's true value to a real team are the categories worth using.

Joe Romano: I agree that in head to head’s downfall is the lucky play off win, but that is what sports are all about. It also makes for great strategy come championship week. I am amongst the millions who have added pitchers every day simply to dominate K’s and W’s because I knew otherwise I might not win any pitching categories. But as I said before, head to head ensures the most owners will be paying attention come August and September. The season’s length alone can turn many owners disinterested, knowing you’re out of it by the All-Star break guarantees that you will not be paying attention.

I like expanding stat categories to 7X7 or even 8X8, but beyond that I feel the categories over lap too much or become more of a nuisance than anything else. One category I really like using is ground into double play (GIDP), it makes a technician that much more valuable than some of the pure power pitchers. I would also like to experiment with fielding categories, perhaps using assists. This would help place outfielders and infielders on a more even playing field. The biggest problem would be with DH and catchers, but it would be interesting to try.

Kevin Fenstermacher: I have been the other guy in the championship round, in which my opponent was picking up new pitchers everyday. I am against doing that because I feel like by the end of it you aren’t even competing against the same team anymore. I feel like it is an unfair way to steal a championship. There should be a deadline for pickups to deter moves like that.

GIDP rewards the pitcher too much. It is almost like rewarding a pitcher because he allows base runners. You could reward technicians, like Maddux, in better ways. A category I like is quality starts. I feel like fielding categories are arbitrary and should be avoided at all costs. I have been in leagues with errors and it is completely random if you win or lose the week in that category.

Marc Edelman: I guess we all have our own preferences, but I’m with Kevin here. I really wouldn’t want to add GIDP. However, the idea of teams rotating pitchers in brings to mind a great way of combating that strategy—formula categories where you lose points for bad performance. Back in the late 1980s when fantasy sports were done through the mail, I was in a league hosting by a group on Long Island called J&J Fantasy Sports. What they did was had categories such as win efficiency (2*wins-losses), save efficiency (2*saves-blown saves), and stealing efficiency (2*stolen bases – caught stealing). This seems to be a great way of discouraging day-to-day moves. J&J Fantasy Sports also had fielding percentage as a category, which I continue to view as interesting.

Brett Smiley: It seems like we've touched on the issue of "streaming" (constantly rotating pitchers), which is a persistent debate. The unfortunate truth of the matter is, it's up to the league to deter or prevent streaming. This was a significant problem in one of my leagues last year. One league owner piled up well above 500 transactions over the course of the season, and eventually caused most every other competitive team to stream on a full-blown or limited basis around playoff time in order to match-up better. The league would have disbanded if not for some changes, and so we're trying to implement a maximum innings pitched to remedy the situation. Either that, or I'll be happy by replacing the strikeout category with strikeouts per nine innings pitched (K/9). Typically "streamed" pitchers are very mediocre and don't strike a lot of batters out, but the owners using the strategy accumulate a lot of Ks by sheer volume of innings pitched (adding and dropping a ton of pitchers).

So, you can level the playing field by doing K/9, and effectively controlling for innings pitched (Note: I recommend a minimum though, of about 20 innings pitched). However, there is nothing "wrong" or illegal about streaming--it may be extremely annoying (read: it is) and immoral--but it's not "illegal." The league should figure out how to deal with it in advance, not after the season has begun. That is, if the league desires to prevent it.

Mike Aversa: Well it seems like the only consistent topic this round has been the “streaming” of pitchers. As far as my feelings on it, I think it is a tactic that upsets many people, and that the commissioner of the league needs to do something to make sure it doesn’t happen. Whether the commissioner locks transactions in the playoffs, or whether there are a maximum number of transactions for the year for every team, the commissioner has to make sure that streaming doesn’t happen.

I also agree with Kevin and Marc on the topic of the GIDP category. I feel like it is rewarding pitchers for allowing base runners and that does not make sense to me. Quality starts would be a great category to have, since it rewards pitchers for doing what they are supposed to do, namely eat up innings and give their team a chance to win. Also, the categories that Marc played with back in the day (Fantasy sports by mail? I shudder just thinking about it) sound very interesting. It is unfortunate that some leagues do not support categories like that, because I would definitely use them in my leagues.

Thanks for reading the first Round Table. Two things are clear, streaming pitchers is shunned and, for the more experienced players, a league should expand on the traditional 5X5 scoring system. Head to head seem to find more favor than other scoring systems, but there is clearly an argument to be made for rotisserie systems. We hop you found the Round Table informative and entertaining, look forward to another in a couple weeks. Our next topic will be sleepers and players you want to try and draft. As always, please feel free to post comments or questions.

Related Posts by Subject


Dave said...

Well, it seems as though most of you really like head to head. When I started playing fantasy baseball in 1998, I played Grandstand Fantasy on AOL, which to this day has still been my favorite of online fantasy. Their format was Head to Head, 2 matches per week (M-R, F-Sun) and each matchup consisted of a possibility of 3 wins: hitting, pitching, and overall. It was also a points league, so that every category was worth a point value. In my opinion, if someone were to do H2H, this is the best way to do it. When it is based on categories, there are too many wins/losses per week and it brings a lot of luck into the equation. Baseball is not a week - week sport, it is more of a long run statistical game, and in a full week of head to head sometimes you only have your ace pitch once and sometimes twice, which also skew the stats.

In the past few years, I have become a huge proponent of ROTO, simply because in the end the best team does in fact win the league. There is very little luck involved, and the stats prove the winner in the end. Even if you have injuries, it is your job to make up those stats threw depth of the waiver wire.

Many feel that by the all-star break, the standings are already decided, but it has been my experience that the standings still change drastically by the end. The first half is worth exactly the same as the second half, so while you might be winning in HR, R, and SB's in the first half, in order to keep that status you need a similar second half, and rarely do players have the same first and second half (see Prince, Jose Reyes, Dan Haren, etc.)

If I am second in a category after the first 2 months, and 2nd to last in those same catrgories the next two months, I will be losing to someone who has been 4th in that category for all 4 months, which in my mind, makes sense. I shouldn't be ahead of that person, simply because the long run should win.

The bottom line here is that if you really want to see who had the best team and who managed the best, ROTO will decide that. The stats will not lie. H2H depends on how good your team is, but much more on your opponent each week and how streaky your team is v. how streaky your opponents are. The worst, of course, is having the best team then losing in the first round of the playoffs due to a late season injury or a hot streak by a sub-par team that barely made the playoffs. It actually rewards mediocrity.

Elliot said...

I must say I'm surprised by all the fans of head to head in baseball. I for one, prefer head to head in football (any given sunday) but absolutely not in baseball. I consider baseball to be "the fantasy players sport". Meaning that real fantasy players prefer roto baseball because skill is the main contributer to winning, not luck. With HTH, luck becomes the main factor in winning, which in football is OK because that's the nature of the sport. But baseball I would argue is not as random. You can be good for a few weeks or even a few months in baseball, but championships happen because of consistensy throughout the season. HTH adds too much luck to the league. Once the playoffs start, you're completely ignoring the previous 5 months. HTH tends to benefit the less skilled managers while punishing the better ones.

As far as the problem of being teams out by the All-Star break, I couldn't disagree more. First, have you guys ever heard of trades???. Second, I've seen people go from last to first after the All-Star break before. It's not unheard of at all. Third, in my experience the standings tend to tighten up after the all-star breaks as the law of averages kicks in and players performances are normalized. The notion that someone is out of contention by the All-Star break just shows a poor manager and attitude to me. Maybe you guys need to be playing with better players?

Elliot said...

It won't truly have success, I believe this way.