Unlike its on-field counterpart, fantasy baseball has no past—no scripted lore, no false piety, no unwritten rules.
Fantasy baseball is nameless, malleable and—this is the best part—utterly up to you.
Who makes the rules that govern fantasy baseball?
Well, maybe not you, but someone that looks, acts and thinks a lot like you. Because fantasy baseball is a fan's game, it's on us to mold it into something better than it was yesterday.
That in mind, I present here five lesser-discussed statistics that would add new dimensions of strategy and/or equity to the game's structure.
Fantasy baseball hates groundball pitchers.
Those whose success is a product of keeping the ball down hold less value than those whose success is a product of missing bats, because strikeouts constitute their own category.
End the injustice. Add a category for groundball percentage.
And, yes, the statistic is as simple as it sounds. Take the number of groundballs a pitcher induces and divide it over the number of balls put in play.
Groundball percentage also skewers pitchers who benefit disproportionately from ballpark effects, i.e. guys that surrender tons of flyballs and get away with it because they pitch in Tiananmen Square.
Who Would Benefit: Tim Hudson, Charlie Morton, Jhoulys Chacin, the entire Cleveland Indians rotation
Who Would Suffer: Ted Lilly, Jered Weaver, Jeremy Hellickson, Wade Davis
The theory behind ISO is easy.
If chicks dig the long ball, how much would chicks dig a given player?
We start with the basic formula for slugging percentage: total bases divided by at-bats. Now we take every type of hit and make it worth one less total base than it's worth in the actual game.
Home runs are worth three bases, triples are worth two, doubles are worth one and singles are treated no differently with outs.
Alternatively you could imagine ISO as slugging percentage minus batting average. Your call.
If you need a formula to get those synapses firing, here's your ISO equation:
ISO = (2B + 3B + (HR*3)) / AB
There's a lot to love about ISO. First, it rewards guys with power. We like power. It also punishes slap hitters. We hate slap hitters.
Most importantly, it double punishes slap hitters who'd just as well take a slap-hit single instead of walk. Walks don't count against your ISO. Singles do.
All the more reason to wait for your pitch and, as my legion ball coach used to say, duuuurrrrriiiiive that sucker.
Who Would Benefit: Mike Stanton, Mark Reynolds, Nelson Cruz
Who Would Suffer: Juan Pierre, Placido Polanco, Ichiro Suzuki
The pitcher cedes control over his fate once the ball enters play.
The little white devil could dance into someone's glove on a tight rope or dribble into left field on seven-thousand hops. The game rewards the pitcher for the former and punishes him for the latter.
There are only two outcomes the pitcher has final say in, the strikeout and the walk. One is good, and one is bad.
(OK, so there are inconsistencies in umpire's strike-zones and foul balls and whatnot, but nothing's perfect).
Strikeout-to-walk ratio takes that simple concept and asks an even simpler question: How often does the pitcher do the good thing compared to how often he does the bad thing?
Take the total number of strikeouts, divide by the total number of walks and...drumroll...out pops strikeout-to-walk ratio.
We can all agree that pitchers who strike out lots of hitters and walk few should have value in fantasy baseball. Let's make it happen, y'all.*
Who Would Benefit: Dan Haren, Brandon McCarthy, Zack Greinke
Who Would Suffer: Jason Hammel, Joe Saunders, John Lannan
*I know this contradicts what I said earlier about fantasy baseball jobbing groundball pitchers, but there has to be some balance. At least SO:BB ratio is more indicative of overall success than a simple strikeout tally. It also brings a wider profile of pitchers into the statistical fold by punishing wildness and rewarding control.
I'll start with an admission, I can't explain wOBA (weighted on-base average) to you in full detail.
Rather, I'll tell you what it tries to capture.
Let's start with the premise that slugging percentage sucks. It's a good idea and all, but it loses steam pretty fast. Is a triple really worth three times as much as a single? Not necessarily. Is a walk really neutral? Not at all.
The antidote is on-base percentage, which assigns equal value to all outcomes so long as the batter reaches base. We've now swung too far on the statistical pendulum. I mean, a home run is worth more than a single. Maybe not four times as much, but certainly more.
Enter the savior, wOBA.
Weighted on-base average takes every outcome of an at-bat and assigns it a value based on how many runs, on average, that outcome produces.
Sounds good, but how the heck do you solve that riddle?
Well, people smarter and more dedicated than I thumb through the annals of baseball history and make note of what has already transpired.
What happened after every walk? Every single? Every fielding error?
For example, we know a home run is worth more than one run on average because there can be players on base when the home run occurs. So we look through past game results to see how many home runs have been hit with zero, one, two and three men on base.
Using that data, and some fancy math, we calculate a home run's average value in a neutral context and turn it into a co-efficient. Basically we want a figure that expresses a home run's worth if we had no idea how many players were on base.
We can do the same thing with singles, walks, errors, etc.
Now take those new values and multiply them by the number of times a given batter produced each outcome. Add them all up, divide by the number of plate appearances and you, my friend, have yourself a wOBA.
Whew. I hope I explained that right.
If you're still dubious, check the list of last year's best hitters according to wOBA: Jose Bautista, Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp, Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez.
Sound like a list of the best hitters in baseball to you?
Since fantasy baseball's highest aspiration is to reward good performance, wOBA seems a good place to start.
Who Would Benefit: Jose Bautista, David Ortiz, Lance Berkman
Who Would Suffer: Alex Rios, Alex Gonzalez, Gordon Beckham
So I've abandoned the premise here, but bear with me.
Of course, innings pitched isn't a "lesser known" a stat. It's probably the most well-known stat, or at least one of the oldest and easiest to explain.
Nor is innings pitched the best indicator of pitching excellence (though it's surprisingly adept).
I'm thinking rather of what innings pitched could add to the strategic nuance of fantasy baseball.
If the proposed category were added, you'd have to weight the following before drafting a pitcher: his manager's tendencies, the strength of his bullpen, his health, his age, etc...
Even better, adding an innings pitched category would reward those who play close attention to their fantasy rosters. Maximizing starts would carry heightened importance. Shrewd waiver pickups would yield added benefits.
Finally, a way to punish the insolent sloths that sully your league with their sporadic participation!
Before I veer off into personal vendettas, let's summarize: innings pitched, more there than it would first appear.
Who Would Benefit: Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia, James Shields
Who Would Suffer: Matt Harrison, Brandon Morrow, Bud Norris