- Rick Paulas
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Sabermetrics aren't just for geeks anymore.
In 2008, the folks over at Baseball Prospectus had themselves what the commentariat call a "crossover year," a phrase you should get used to once Steven Soderbergh releases his next film, The Girlfriend Experience, starring adult film actress Sasha Grey. But unlike that instance, where news organizations will mention the "crossover appeal of pornography" as an attempt to boost their ratings, much like I'm doing here, this BP crossover is for real.
Their glorious 2008 began when their stat machine spit out the harrowing prediction that the Tampa Bay Rays would no longer be the doormat of the AL East. The AL Champions ended up collecting 97 wins. That prediction was written by Nate Silver, who spent much of the year trading in his baseball duties to crunch election poll numbers for his blog FiveThirtyEight.com, a site that led Silver to be interviewed by every talk show outside of "Between Two Ferns". There was more, but we'll get to the good stuff.
But, as Ace Ventura would say, "I'm sure you already knew that." Anybody living in Fantasy World would be a fool not to know the BP world. But what a lot of residents still have trouble with is how to use these new-fangled sabermetric stats for fantasy purposes. Sure, you know what VORP means, but how will it help you choose between David Wright and Alex Rodriguez next year? Well, read up:
OPS+ is a new form of OPS, one of the most basic of these "new stats." OPS is a batter's on base percentage added to their slugging percentage. Quick and painless. OPS+, on the other hand, uses a bunch of tomfoolery to adjust that stat in order to account for other factors, such as where they play and the league average.
Fantasy Properties: Almost meaningless. It's good for arguments regarding Hall of Famers and who deserves the MVP, but in the Fantasy World you're not drafting Chris Iannetta because he "theoretically" does well outside of Coors; you're drafting him because he plays half of his games there. Unless a player has changed locales over the offseason—in which case this is a stat definitely worth checking out—just use regular old fashioned OPS instead. ERA+, which adjusts a pitcher's ERA for park factors and what-not, should also be summarily dismissed.
K/100P is a new one I was tipped off about that incorporates how many strikeouts a pitcher gets for every 100 pitches he throws.
Fantasy Properties: Pretty worthwhile, but also pretty obvious. If you look at the top of the list, you see plenty of familiar faces (Tim Lincecum, Josh Beckett, C.C. Sabathia) and if you look at the bottom you'll see plenty of the infamous (Carlos Silva, Sidney Ponson, Livan Hernandez), but you're not really learning anything new. In essence, if a pitcher throws a lot of strikeouts, he's good. If he doesn't, you don't want him on your team.
BK/P is a new stat I made up, showing how many birds a pitcher accidentally kills per pitches thrown. Currently, Randy Johnson leads the world in this category, with .000018. I rounded up.
Fantasy Properties: Good in judging a pitcher's capacity as a stone-throwing fighter in caveman times, in case you ever find yourself on the wrong end of a time traveling experiment. Not good for anything else.
GB% is simple. It's the percentage of batted balls a pitcher throws that are ground balls. This doesn't distinguish between outs or hits—mostly because of BABIP, which we'll get to in a moment—just where the ball ends up when it immediately leaves the bat.
Fantasy Properties: This all depends. Throwing more ground balls leads to less home runs (so far, not one ground ball in the history of the game has left the park), but, in a lot of cases, pitchers near the top of this category are known as "finesse pitchers" for a reason. Case in point: Jon Garland had a higher GB% than Cliff Lee last year. Garland was, in no way, better.
BABIP is, for my money, the most fascinating of the bunch. It is the percentage of batted balls that fall in safely for a hit, not counting home runs. Essentially, it's the measure of luck a player has. (Or skill, whatever.)
Fantasy Properties: This is, easily, the most useful of these "new stats." For some insane statistical reason—I won't even begin to explain it, but I do recommend reading up on it here if you have a BP subscription, which you should anyway, even in this time of economic struggle—the BABIP average a pitcher should expect against him is around .290. This means that if a pitcher is way over that, he's had an unlucky year and should be expected to bounce back as long as he isn't emotionally scarred from the experience. If he's way below it—like Justin Duchscherer's .238 last year—then you might want to let someone else pick him.
FS/FB is the amount of seasons where a player is considered a "fantasy sleeper" divided by how many years a player is considered a "fantasy bust." Oddly enough, there is no official MLB-sanctioned list of sleepers or busts that is released per year, so the category remains a mystery to how it's actually calculated.
Fantasy Properties: Can't really say, other than it's best to ignore any "sleeper" or "bust" correlation in general.
VORP, or Value Over Replacement Player, is BP's big daddy. It's designed to tell exactly what kind of worth a player has in direct comparison to a made-up "replacement player," a stand-in who plays the same position who would be readily available for a minimum salary. If a player is negative in this regard, some GM should be fired.
Fantasy Properties: This is a pretty good starting point for anyone flipping through the annual BP guide. It summarizes pretty much all of their work into one easy-to-digest number. If a player is high (Cliff Lee led all pitchers last year while Albert Pujols led all hitters) then he's good.
HBP/PT is the work of this column I once heard of called Fantasy World. It's how many Hit By Pitches a player receives divided by how many punches he's thrown that year. So far, there is no differentiation between punches thrown against opponents and punching their own teammates. This is probably for the best, since either case should be seen as negative.
Fantasy Properties: Ideally, you'll want this stat to hover somewhere around infinity. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what you call a math joke!
Player On My Team of the Week: Since my football players are currently on sabbatical, it's time to get back to baseball. Therefore, this spot will go to Zack Greinke, a possible keeper in my mixed league, who celebrated his best season to date by signing a lucrative deal with the Royals that will pay him $38 million over the next four years. That's some nice scratch for a guy who was a psychiatrist's misstep away from being out of baseball a few years back.
How to Heckle One of My Players of the Week: "Hey J.J. Putz, it's great you're pitching for a contender now, but how does it feel to be one of the also-rans in Fantasy World now that you're just another hideous set-up guy?"
The Best Excuse for Becoming a Lesbian this Week: This photo by the Daily Mail, which is supposed to represent the ideal British man by taking the "best" attributes of the most famous British celebrities. Apparently, the ideal British man is Ben Stiller.
Buy High: American capitalism triumphing over good taste, after the Chicago White Sox revealed plans to release a special Barack Obama-themed hat. The only way this Sox fan approves is if they use the extra income to sign a decent starting pitcher.
Sell Low: Another sign of the apocalypse, after it "rained" about 5,000 dead birds on central New Jersey last week. Unfortunately, it wasn't an official Biblical prophecy. It was a "culling" by the government, an instance where they used pesticides to purposefully kill the starlings, who have been plaguing local farmland by eating feed meant for cattle and chickens. That, or it's just a cover story for the birds committing suicide after realizing they lived in Jersey. Ba-dum-bum.
You need to learn the new stats to compete in fantasy baseball.