Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Selling Sabermetrics in Fantasy Baseball

Baseball is a stat-nerds dream come true. It is the only sport where a player of Gary Sheffield can be part of an "elite" club that Lou Gehrig can not be. If you're wondering what club that is, it is the 500 home-run club. Gary Sheffield has 509 and Lou Gehrig only has 493. As of the 21st century, there were statistic mavericks who were finding the statistical anomalies in the drivel that is MLB history. These mavericks are known as sabersticians. These new-school stat guys are revolutionizing the way that baseball teams look at players, and this is recently trickling down to fantasy baseball in a simplified fashion.

For example, when fantasy baseball people talk about a premium position, like 3b this year, that is an oversimplified sabermetric. Oakland A's GM Billy Beane was willing to trade away all of his elite starting pitching that he couldn't afford to sign to big-money contracts for talent at other positions they valued more highly, like 3b, and for draft picks where he could draft more financially feasible players. Sabermetrically, this is considered VORP (Value Over Replacement Player). In layman's terms, the difference between an elite 3b and second-tier 3b is significantly higher than the difference between an elite SP and second-tier SP. In fantasy football, the difference between an elite running back and a second-tier running back is significantly more than the difference between a top-tier and second-tier quarterback.

Delving further into sabermetrics are stats like OPS (On-Base Plus Slugging %), BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play), WARP (Wins Above Replacement for Pitchers), and many many more. For the sake of fantasy baseball purposes, OPS, BABIP, and DIPS can make a huge difference between players with a similar VORP. For example, Jose Bautsita leads MLB in OPS and has 3b eligibility. Where is the next 3b? Kevin Youkilis ranked at number 23. That is a H.U.G.E. VORP. To put that value into perspective, you will find a lower VORP between the top two catchers (Alex Avila #15 and Victor Martinez #28).

In a vacuum, that makes Jose Bautista look like someone who should have been the consensus #1 overall pick, but he wasn't, and more sabermetrics are the reason why. This is where BABIP comes into play. In 2009, Bautista's batting average was .235, but his BABIP was .275. What this meant was that Bautista struck out too much, but showed that when he put the ball in play (HR NOT included), he got hits. Someone on Toronto's coaching staff interpreted this and taught Bautista that he had the talent to hit closer to .300 if he used more patience at the plate. In 2010, Bautista blew up with 50+ HR. This caused his batting average and BABIP to flip-flop, which is expected considering that his 53 HR do not count towards his hit total in BABIP. In 2011, Bautista has an absurd of .324. This is a huge red flag, and should be used as an indicator that Bautista's .338 batting average WILL NOT LAST. If you own Bautista and have a good backup 3b, see if you can get an elite player like Ryan Braun, Albert Pujols, or Tim Lincecum. Sure you might lower your HR total, but you will raise every other category.

Confused yet? Now the pitching non-standardized WARP. There are a myriad of complex formulas to calculate this, but the concept is similar to VORP in that it determines individual value in a team sport. Pitchers with a high WARP are ALWAYS good. Would it surprise you to hear that Roy Halladay has the highest WARP? Probably not, but Josh Beckett is #2. What this means is that Beckett has a very high value and should not be traded lightly.

This is just scratching the surface of sabermetrics. Every aspect of baseball can be quantified with sabermetrics, which is why many sabersticians thought that it was a joke that Derek Jeter won the Gold Glove at shortstop last year. Sabersticians would argue (correctly) that Derek Jeter isn't the best shortstop on his own team (Alex Rodriguez). If you would like to learn more about sabermetrics, I recommend buying a few books and a calculator.

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