The statistical revolution rages on.
Rotisserie Baseball enters its 35th season in 2014, and while the original rulebook still drives many a league's settings, things in our game are nevertheless a-changin'. To wit: While the original league utilized 4x4 scoring, most "traditional" Rotisserie leagues now use 5x5 scoring, adding runs scored for hitters and strikeouts for pitchers. And as we've moved deep into the 21st century, many leagues are further advancing their systems, swapping out categories such as wins and batting average.
For a notable example, this year, noted analysts league Tout Wars is doing the latter, replacing batting average with on-base percentage after 16 seasons of using 5x5 scoring.
Longtime readers know I have championed change in the Rotisserie game, arguing that the sabermetric lessons of the past two decades reveal flaws in the original scoring. Notably, walks weren't rewarded -- something remedied this year in Tout Wars -- doubles carried equal weight to singles, and there was too much emphasis on the poor-judge-of-pitching-skill wins. Those shortcomings led to my proposal of a new Rotisserie scoring format: 6x6, in which batting average is replaced by both on-base percentage and slugging percentage, wins is replaced by quality starts, strikeouts moves from a counting to ratio (K's per nine) category and innings pitched is added.
This new scoring system, six categories apiece for hitters and pitchers -- first mentioned nearly four years ago -- therefore uses the following statistics. All of these are available on ESPN as custom league categories.
Now, I stress up front that the above Rotisserie 6x6 proposal isn't a perfect reflection of player skill; I pitch it merely as an improvement upon traditional Rotisserie 5x5. It is not the treaty that concludes the war; it is merely one significant battle in said revolution, or in "peaceful" fantasy terms, it's the creative change for those seeking to modernize their game. There might be -- and presumably is -- a more ideal scoring system in our future, and maybe this is step one toward it. Frankly, if baseball continues to more heavily weight sabermetric categories like wins above replacement (WAR) while shifting the focus from batting average and wins, a first step might eventually become mandatory to keep fantasy baseball up to date.
Let's examine the rationale behind each of the categorical changes. You might find some arguments more compelling than others; again returning to the Tout Wars example, that league felt only one change was necessary. That's a fine conclusion, and perhaps you'll feel a different one suits your league's needs. Maybe you won't agree with any!
On-base percentage: By adding this category, we finally reward players for walks, perhaps the most glaring omission in Rotisserie's history. Or, to put it another way, adopting on-base percentage over batting average does a greater job of rewarding hitters for not only their ability to reach base, but also their ability to avoid making outs. Using 2013 statistics to make a compelling argument for on-base percentage, Chris Johnson batted .321 in 514 at-bats to register the ninth most-valuable batting average as judged by our Player Rater, while Andre Ethier batted .272 in 482 at-bats to rank 117th. But Ethier reached base via a hit, walk or hit by pitch three more times than Johnson (199-196), had a higher on-base percentage (.360-.358) and, per Baseball-Reference.com, he committed five fewer outs (366-371) despite making an additional six trips to the plate (553-547). Is not the avoidance of outs, coupled with the greater number of times on base, more valuable?
Slugging percentage: This addition rewards players for another skill that had previously gone unrewarded, their ability to generate extra-base hits, specifically doubles and triples. Yes, it results in a dual reward for home runs, but as the most positive (and most valuable) of the "three true outcomes," aren't home runs the most deserving of any hitting category of additional weight? Ultimately, adding slugging percentage credits deserving players typically deemed "gap" hitters rather than true power sources; it actually provides Matt Carpenter a more appropriate reward for his outstanding 2013. Carpenter's No. 23 Player Rater finish among hitters might look good on the surface, but consider that he was the majors' sixth-best hitter in terms of Baseball-Reference.com offensive WAR (oWAR), thanks in large part to his major league-leading total of 55 doubles.
Quality starts: It's a category that often draws criticism, some of it warranted, but the large majority of it not. I've heard all the complaints: "It's not demanding enough of the pitcher; he should be required to work deeper into the game." In response, consider: In 2013, only 40 percent of all starts were of greater than six innings in length. "Six innings and three earned runs allowed, that's a 4.50 ERA. What's 'quality' about that?" Again in response: Remember that that's the minimum qualification for earning a quality start, and in 2013, there were 213 minimum-qualification quality starts. But to compare, in 2013 there were 211 starts in which a pitcher recorded a win despite posting a 4.50 ERA or higher for the game; and understand that, unlike with quality starts, some of those pitchers can post a worse ERA than that and still win. Sure enough, 88 times last season a starting pitcher recorded a win despite posting a 6.00 ERA or higher. By the way, 257 times last season a starter logged at least seven innings allowing one earned run or fewer without earning a win; but every one of was a quality start!
Simply put, the rationale behind replacing wins with quality starts is neutralization of team factors influencing an individual pitcher's statistics. Though injured right now, Cole Hamels tied a major league record last season with 17 starts of at least six innings pitched with three or fewer earned runs allowed in which he failed to record a win. He won just eight times all year. Does that feel like a just representation of his skill?
Innings pitched: This one has a firm, simple explanation, and it's that pitchers are tasked with the simple duty of recording outs, and recording outs as efficiently as possible. Remember, innings pitched are effectively outs; three times the innings total equals the number of outs the pitcher recorded. In my experience, I've received the most resistance to innings pitched being part of the formula out of any of the 12 categories; but we reward hitters for hits and home runs and (in this scoring system, at least) on-base percentage, yet we don't reward pitchers for their critical outs recorded?
To counter the argument that innings pitched tends to reward undeserving pitchers, consider that the 21st century game is a much more specialized one, efficiency of outs recorded increasingly important to managers as the years pass. A quarter-century ago, in 1989, 35 pitchers totaled 215 innings or more, and nine of them had WHIPs greater than 1.25. Last season, eight pitchers totaled at least 215 innings, and Justin Verlander was the only one with a WHIP higher than 1.25 (1.31).
Strikeouts per nine innings ratio: There are two rationales for changing strikeouts from a counting to a ratio category. First, it helps counterbalance the loss in value of relief pitchers as a whole due to the addition of a sixth category; keeping it a counting number means that starters reap all the benefits, as relief wins are no more, and starters tally a greater number of innings and K's. Second, it helps counter the streamer's strategy that becomes all the more valid with more starter-heavy categories. In addition, using K's per nine provides the bonus benefit of helping boost the value of underrated middle relievers, as 17 of the 35 pitchers to average at least 10 K's per nine innings last season (minimum 50 innings) were neither starters nor closers.
Granted, moving to K's per nine hurts low-strikeout relievers such as Jim Johnson (7.17 in 2013), Rafael Soriano (6.88) and Huston Street (7.31), but that'd have been true whether strikeouts were a counting or ratio category. In addition, high-K-rate closers like Aroldis Chapman (15.83 in 2013), Greg Holland (13.84), Craig Kimbrel (13.16) and Kenley Jansen (13.03) actually gain value in this new format. And since we're all about boosting the rewards for pitching skill, doesn't it follow that we'd want to grant additional rewards to the more strikeout-happy closers?
The next step?
A quick glance at these six hitting and six pitching categories reveals an imbalance of counting and ratio departments; there are two for hitters but three for pitchers. Some might judge this a flaw in the system, but after careful consideration, I have a proposal for those interested in even further fine-tuning.
We convert stolen bases into a net category, Net stolen bases.
No, that's not a ratio, but it does account for stolen-base success, which at least is a step in the right direction. After all, one of the fundamental sabermetric teachings is that players shouldn't risk needless outs on foolish stolen base attempts; to penalize players for their times caught stealing is a reasonable next step.
Deciding whether 5x5 or 6x6 is right for you
Again, the above Rotisserie 6x6 proposal isn't designed to be a perfect system. I've heard the arguments from 5x5 proponents who prefer the traditional approach, and many of their claims are valid: The majority of sources for fantasy advice are designed around Rotisserie 5x5; our own top 300 Rotisserie rankings are geared for a 5x5 league. To make a significant switch to a league is to potentially send owners scrambling for information that isn't readily available; in some ways, it'd be like taking us back to those early days of Rotisserie when there was no Internet and information was much more difficult to obtain. (That said, our Custom Dollar Generator does an excellent job of giving you instant rankings for any scoring system, so it's not entirely like trying to craft your own rankings back in the 1980s.)
In addition, some fantasy owners like the idea of having statistics that involve a bit of luck. Sometimes it's that one lucky bounce on the last day of the season that decides a league title -- I've often told the story of the tiebreaker game (that "Game 163") that resulted in the six strikeouts I needed in order to capture the half-point advantage I needed to take the title -- and some owners enjoy that experience. My advice would be to accept that as part of the experience, as I do, being that I will play in no fewer than three leagues this season that utilize Rotisserie 5x5 scoring, and I will garner no less enjoyment in those than in my Rotisserie 6x6 league, entering its third year.
As any fantasy owner -- and especially commissioner -- should, consider all your options and make the right decision for you.
I'm merely providing you a potential next step.
Rankings for Rotisserie 6x6 leagues
In order to help owners, both old and new, to Rotisserie 6x6 leagues, listed below are adjusted top 250 rankings for this column's proposed scoring system (using stolen bases rather than net stolen bases).
Tristan H. Cockcroft's Rotisserie 6x6 top 250 for 2014
Tristan's rankings are based upon a Rotisserie league with 6x6 scoring as outlined above. Position eligibility is determined based upon a minimum of 20 games, otherwise the position the player appeared at most in 2013. Players' listed ages are as of April 1, 2014.