Back in the day when fantasy baseball was in its infancy, the standard 5×5 categories many leagues still use today seemed like a good thing. Well times they are a changing. Stats have evolved over the years, especially with the introduction and advanced use of sabermetrics throughout our real and fake teams. So if things have come this far, then why are we still using the same archaic scoring methods that were instituted by our founding fathers?
That’s a reasonable question, right? If you ask an individual you can probably have reasonably civilized conversation. Pose this question to the masses though, and you’ll hear the outcries and irrational debates from the masses. Change just for the sake of change is not always good, but some changes are overdue and this is one of them. So are you one of those people staunchly against removing the batting average category from your league? Well then, let me see if I can convince you otherwise.
First of all, what is on base percentage? In the simplest terms, on base percentage (OBP) calculates how many times a batter reaches base excluding instances such as fielder’s choice and errors. This means, unlike with batting average, walks are calculated into the equation. Walks are an important part of baseball. The more walks you accumulate the more times you’re on base. This means added run scoring potential as well as stolen base opportunities, both of which are standard scoring categories in basic 5×5 leagues. In fantasy, we count those runs and stolen bases regardless of who that person reached base, so why should the batter get credit for how he got on base as well?
Batting average simply takes hits into account. If we’ve learned any one thing from Moneyball it’s that guys that get on base are important regardless of how they do it. Now I know I’m not going to convince you of anything without some numbers to back things up. Let’s compare players in the top 20 for batting average to the OBP leaders. I’ll exclude players like Andrew McCutchen, Jose Altuve and Miguel Cabrera who appear on both lists.
|Justin Morneau||.319||Jose Bautista||.403|
|Josh Harrison||.315||Giancarlo Stanton||.395|
|Buster Posey||.311||Anthony Rizzo||.386|
|Ben Revere||.306||Freddie Freeman||.386|
|Denard Span||.302||Mike Trout||.377|
|Lorenzo Cain||.301||Dexter Fowler||.375|
|Melky Cabrera||.301||Matt Carpenter||.375|
|Adam Eaton||.300||Matt Holliday||.370|
|Howie Kendrick||.293||Hanley Ramirez||.369|
First compare the names on the left to the ones on the right. Notice anything? With the exception of Buster Posey, did you draft any player from the left side before any player on the right? OK there is Dexter Fowler, but there are always a few exceptions with any example. The players on the right are the superior players, Matt Carpenter included. While he didn’t live up to expectations, Carpenter did score 99 runs. The only players to score more runs from either list all come from the right side, Bautista and Trout. Denard Span was 10th in the league in scoring runs (like I said, an exception to every rule) but the next highest player from the left side is Howie Kendrick down at #30. Everyone else on the left had 81 or fewer runs scored where everyone on the right scored more than 81 times except Hanley and Fowler (who both had under 450 at bats due to injuries).
So OBP=Runs, Billy Beane was right. That doesn’t mean that the players on the left are bad, but they are inferior to the players on the right when it comes to scoring runs (and several other categories). Justin Morneau had a fine season, but 17 home runs and 62 runs scored hardly make him the better fantasy player. Lorenzo Cain stole 28 bases, but with 53 RBIs and 55 runs scored that .301 average is kind of empty, don’t you think? So far OBP favors the better overall player.
We’ve looked at the players with the higher batting averages, now let’s look at some of those players with low averages who were cursed at and ignored in fantasy. We’ll start with last years whipping boy Carlos Santana and his .231 batting average. We all loved his power and RBI numbers, but he dragged our averages down like the Titanic. It might surprise you to know that Santana had a .365 OBP thanks in part to his 113 walks. As a catcher we can tolerate low averages if a player hits for power, but not from someone who plays first (or third). Using OBP though, Santana’s numbers were equal to Morneau in 3 categories and he had 10 more home runs.
Brian Dozier is another low average players the batting average purists love to hate. He hit .242, but the rest of his numbers were superior to most players at second. We complained about his average but nobody took into account that he walked 89 times and scored 112 runs. If you’re going to count all those extra runs he scored because of the walks you should count the walks as well, and that’s something batting average doesn’t do. While looking for a comparable player to Dozier, one interesting names came up. Look at these two batting lines.
Equal power and equal run scoring abilities, yet using batting average, Dozier is inferior. It doesn’t seem fair that two players of equal skills are ranked so far apart in fantasy, but player X had 31 more hits while Dozier had 31 more walks with the same results. If you’re a numbers guy you might have guess who player X is, but for those that haven’t figured it out, it’s Anthony Rendon. Rendon is shooting up draft boards while Dozier is left waiting until the mid-early rounds. If there was a poster boy for using OBP over BA, it’s Dozier.
Josh Donaldson hit .255 and scored 93 runs; think some of those 76 walks helped him out? Brandon Moss was the man to own in the first half even with a .268 BA, but was dropped like a rock in the second half where he hit .173. His OBP slipped from .349 down to .310, but at least he was still playable thanks in part to 14.8% walk rate. Adam Dun hit .219 in 2013 and while he hit 34, owners cursed him. Forget the 76 walks and .320 OBP though, it doesn’t count in fantasy. In 2012 Dunn hit 41 home runs and scored 87 times, but a .204 batting average had him on America’s most hated list. Using OBP you could have had .333 thanks in part to his 105 walks which batting average didn’t take into consideration. Dunn’s value in 2012 using OBP was slightly above Adam Jones and his 34 walks. Dunn had 71 more walks and Jones had 76 more hits, similar results but Jones is rewarded for being on base an equal amount of times.
You can make similar cases for mid-range average guys like Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward who had averages in the .270 but on base percentages in the .350’s because they could draw walks. I know, you could just add walks as a category but in doing so you would be penalizing players like Jones along with some of the players from the BA leaders above like Lorenzo Cain, Ben Revere and Josh Harrison. Now you’re still gonna have those high empty OBP guys just like you would empty BA guys; nothing you can do about that, no system is perfect. The difference is the right players are being rewarded. If your hits and walks are equal you are getting on base at an equal clip, right? Getting on base helps your team, just ask Billy Beane.
Some of the arguments I’ve seen for not switching are:
It makes power hitters more valuable.
Some of these can be dismissed while others can be countered. You can say power hitters are more valuable because they draw walks, but there are also non power hitters that draw walks that would benefit as well. A majority of those power hitters are early round picks so you’re really putting their value where it should be as opposed to increasing it. If anything, the non power hitters that draw high walks benefit more from this.
It waters down the importance of the category and waters down the bad play of many.
You are more willing to use players despite their weakness as a player.
It waters down bad play of many and you are more willing to use players despite their weakness as a player are one-sided arguments made to favor BA. Doesn’t batting average reward hits and dismiss players that walk. And since when is drawing walks considered bad play, it’s a basic fundamental taught throughout the minors and is a sign of a patient hitter. The weak hitters are the ones that can’t draw walks, and those players can be seen hacking away with a sub-par batting average when then get close to or in their 30’s.
A hit is more valuable than a walk.
With a hit you can drive in runs more frequently if men are on base.
A hit is more valuable than a walk? Why? Your team pays you to get on base. Granted they want players that can hit, but they also see the advantage of the guy that can draw walks. Sure the guy that gets a hit can drive in runs more frequently if men are on base, I can’t argue with that. In the same respect, we don’t put an asterisk next to the runs driven in because the guy in front of you walked. On the flip side, the guy who walks more has more opportunities to score runs, so you’re trading one category for the other.
Just because OBP is a better stat in real life does not mean it is a better stat in fantasy.
The final argument is correct in its sentiment, just because a category is better in real life does not mean it is better in fantasy. In this case though, OBP is the better category. BA isn’t the only thing that needs to be changed. I’ve made arguments for several other category changes in the past (which you can view below) and I’m sure there will be more arguments for change in the future. Remember this game originally started out as 4×4, runs and strikeout were not included and were added later. Someone realized the addition of these two categories would be beneficial, and it was a change that was easily made and accepted. If they could realize back then that the game needed something else, we should be able to do the same thing today. Granted it will never be a universal change due to the number of fantasy players today compared to 80’s and 90’s, but with so many sites allowing for customized scoring systems, it is something you can do for your league.
I’ve given you some things to think about, but even if you want to ignore everything I said there is one argument you should give a second thought to. Batting average basically equals hits. OBP equals hits and walks. You can add hits as another category but that would be redundant since you already have batting average. You could add walks as a sixth category but then you’re left with trying to find another category to add to the pitchers side to even things out which could cause more headaches. Changing BA to OBP just makes sense as it covers the two basic ways a player gets on base and shows the true value of that player. Hits are nice, but there is more to baseball than that.
Give it a try, even if it’s just for a year. You can switch back next year if everyone is unhappy. Remember, it’s just a game.….