By Senior Corresponding Writer Rudy Gamble
In a previous article, I set forth the basic rules and strategy behind Razzball – a fantasy baseball game where the aim is to compile the worst roster of MLB players. Here we will explore the game further by analyzing the results of our Razzball Player Rater. (For our standard FLB 5x5 Player Rater as well – download here).
Quick note: One challenge I had in the first article was coming up with adjectives that properly reflected the paradoxical nature of a player’s negative performance being a positive in Razzball. I’ve since hit upon the perfect word for it – invaluable – as it sounds like a negative but really is a positive. (The German word schadenfreude – taking joy in others’ misfortune – might be more appropriate, but I think the only German words that have a place in baseball are bratwurst, sauerkraut, and lager.)
So what makes a player truly invaluable in Razzball? All it takes are two simple things – opportunity and poor performance. The challenge is finding those magical players who both underperform vs. their baseball brethren and keep their role for a significant percent of the season.
The Razzball 6x6 format aims to reflect this opportunity/underperformance balance. Common hitting stats R/HR/RBI/AVG where (like golf) your goal is to score lower than your opponents are complemented by ABs (an opportunity measure) and K’s (a measure that credits both opportunity and underperformance). To ensure incompetence is rewarded instead of inactivity, teams with less than 5200 team ABs (400 per roster spot) receive All-Star prorated stats for those missing ABs.
Common pitching stats K/ERA/WHIP reward pitchers who can’t miss bats and are complemented by Losses (the inversion of Wins), Innings Pitched (a measure of opportunity) and HRs allowed (like the hitter’s K, the ultimate measure of a failed AB). Gone for the purposes of the game are the niche stats – SBs and SVs – as it’s too easy not to compile them and their inversions (CS and Blown SV) do not happen frequently enough.
Here is a brief explanation behind our Razzball Player Rater methodology. If you have any questions, please post on the board:
We carried over our regular Player Rater methodology which credits players for their performance vs. the Best Available Option (BAO) – i.e., the best option on the free agent wire in a 10 team, MLB league. Points are awarded based on the difference between the player’s stats and that of the BAO for each category. These increments for Razzball were created using some fancy math and some less fancy trial and error. Definitions for each category are in the attached player rater.
Half a player’s stats are based on the BAO for their position and half for the BAO hitter/pitcher. This factors in position scarcity without overvaluing as, at the end of the day, a HR is a HR no matter who hit it on your team.
The hitter BAO stats for Razzball are remarkably similar to those we had for regular FLB. It’s as if the BAO serves as the top of a bell curve and Razzball and FLB draft on either side of it (with the exception of no-hit/good speed guys like Juan Pierre who are equally valuable in both formats albeit for different reasons). Note the Razzball BAOs factor in that slightly weaker hitting positions like C, 2B, and SS will dominate the UTIL category where 1B/OF usually do in FLB.
The pitcher BAO stats for Razzball are higher in ERA/WHIP but, otherwise, not that far off from FLB BAOs.
A last note is that if a player’s stats exceed the BAO’s in a category, the player receives negative points. Some Player Raters, like ESPN, have a floor of zero. Not in ours. So a guy like Mike Cameron will gain points in average and K’s but will give back those points in HRs and RBIs.
So without further ado, let’s look at the top 20 most invaluable Razzballers of 2007:
1. Nick Punto – 3B/SS – Minn
2. Scott Olsen – SP – Fla
3. Livan Hernandez – SP – Ariz
4. Woody Williams – SP – Hou
5. Casey Fossum – SP – TB
6. Adam Eaton – SP – Phi
7. Nook Logan – OF – Was
8. Mike Maroth – SP – Stl
9. Dontrelle Willis – SP – Fla
10. Jerry Owens – OF – CWS
11. Felipe Lopez – 2B/SS – Was
12. Jose Contreras – SP – CWS
13. Daniel Cabrera – SP – Bal
14. Marcus Giles – 2B – SD
15. Trot Nixon – OF – Cle
16. Jeff Weaver – SP – Sea
17. Alfredo Amezaga – OF/SS – Fla
18. Kyle Davies – SP – KC
19. Dave Roberts – OF – SF
20. Nelson Cruz – OF – Tex
Similar to our standard 5x5 Player Rater, pitchers dominate at the top. Seven of the first 10 and 11 of the top 20 are pitchers. The reason behind this is also similar to our regular Player Rater – when pitchers are good or bad, they tend to be good or bad across the board. Scott Olsen’s 5.81 ERA and 1.77 WHIP over 176.2 poorly pitched IP couldn’t have happened without a higher HR rate (29), a healthy number of losses (15) and a strikeout rate that’s only a hair above average (133 Ks). Only Ron Shandler’s $19 folly Nick Punto was able to put together a hitting season that consistently invaluable.
Let’s analyze pitchers and hitters separately to better understand invaluable performance:
Like in the best books/movies, the pitchers who resonate in Razzball are rarely one-dimensional villains. They aren’t purely bad – there’s always something about them that holds out promise of rehabilitation. Is it that they are young and have good arms (Scott Olsen, Adam Eaton, Daniel Cabrera, Kyle Davies)? Is it that they were once all star caliber pitchers (Livan Hernandez, Dontrelle Willis, Jose Contreras, Jeff Weaver)? Maybe they seem solidly mediocre like Mike Maroth? Whatever that promise may be, it serves the purpose of instilling faith in their manager to keep handing them the ball every 5 days.
The most common aspect across these pitchers is a tragic inability to keep baserunners off the base paths and touching home plate. The average ERA and WHIP among these 11 pitchers is a 5.82 ERA and a 1.61 ERA over about 160 IP.
Losses are an interesting stat to analyze. While 36 pitchers had 14+ wins in 2007, only 17 had 14+ losses. These top 11 Razzball pitchers represent 7 of them but they also have some pitchers with downright mediocre Loss totals. Let’s look at two factors that seem to play a role on a pitcher’s loss totals:
1) Their Team – The better their team, the more they get bailed out.
2) Their Home Park – The more hitter-friendly the park, the more likely they get bailed out (and the less egregious their pitching truly is)
Adam Eaton and Livan Hernandez are examples of good team / good hitting park. These two somehow managed to sport .500 records (10-10 and 11-11, respectively) with WHIPs at 1.60 or better. Eaton owes Rollins/Utley/Howard some cheese steaks. Livan’s 2007 season puts the defect in defector.
Mike Maroth had a good team (Tigers) / average park for most of his 20 starts and 7 relief appearances which could explain how he went 5-7 while sporting a ghastly 6.89 ERA/1.88 WHIP. The Cardinal trifecta of Mike Maroth, Kip Wells (17 Losses, 5.70/1.63) and Anthony Reyes (2-14, 6.04 ERA) proved once and for all that if there’s an honorary Razzball manager, it’s Tony Larussa (also see the 721 total ABs gifted to Aaron Miles and So Taguchi which netted 5 HRs).
Dontrelle Willis and Scott Olsen had bad teams / bad hitting parks and managed identical 10-15 records in 35 and 33 starts, respectively, showing racial equality exists when it comes to left-handed Marlin pitchers.
Woody Williams, Jose Contreras, and Daniel Cabrera had bad teams / good hitting parks and stacked up some awful W-L records: 8-15, 10-17, 9-18.
Based on this sample, I’d say finding a bad pitcher on a bad team is the most important thing for Losses. Home park might play a role for their ERA and WHIP but probably not a big factor for Losses.
HRs allowed, on the other hand, definitely skews on home park. Of this cheap baker’s dozen, the trio that topped 30 HRs allowed all played in the hitter parks (W. Williams, L. Hernandez, A. Eaton). Jose Contreras’s 21 HRs was the exception – a gift to the small-ball loving Ozzie Guillen.
Strikeouts and IP don’t have much in terms of interesting stories. Daniel Cabrera is probably the only plus-K guy in the group and he more than makes up for it by walking so many hitters. Throwing 175+ IP isn’t the only way to near the top of the Razzball Player Rater for a pitcher but it helps. Tampa Bay’s Casey Fossum – the one-time Red Sox ‘prospect’ – had a bucket list kind of year, cramming all sorts of experiences within his 76 innings that led to an eye-popping 7.70 ERA and 1.79 ERA.
Stepping away from the top 20, the lessons we see in the Player Rater when it comes to pitchers are going to sound like bizarro FLB advice:
1) Look for starters with bad WHIP, average to bad K rates, and, preferably, bad teams.
2) Look for some positive story that assures them some role security – whether it be they once were good, they have ‘potential’, they are ‘workhorses’, they are the best a team has, etc. No use picking a stinker who gets demoted after 3 bad starts.
3) For relievers, you really want to stick to pitchers on bad teams. This provides a boon to both Losses and, potentially, innings pitched. Amazing that the 6 most invaluable relievers pitched for either Tampa Bay or Baltimore. Generally avoid closers – even the bad ones – as they don’t pitch as many innings.
The net-net on pitchers – predicting a bad pitcher is even harder than predicting a good pitcher. Draft conservatively and keep an eye on the FA wire for the next worst thing.
What makes a good Razzball hitter? If you had to boil it down to one thing it would be this: little power. Besides minimizing HRs, low power guys are kept out of the meat of the lineup which reduces R and RBI opportunities (leadoff hitters would be less Run challenged) Of the 7 hitters to make the top 20, only Felipe Lopez made an honest run at double digit HRs (9).
The value of low power guys’ minimal R/HR/RBI per AB goes beyond their stats alone. With a team minimum of 5200 AB, the more AB you receive from low power guys, the less you need to invest in guys with medium/high power. Despite hitting for a measly .245, Felipe Lopez’s greatest value was his 603 AB that could allow you to carry a platooning 300 AB 1B and OF and still average 400 AB per hitter.
But a team can’t be built on little power guys alone as they tend to hit for higher averages, are less likely to strike out, and may be AB-challenged b/c of benching or platooning. In fact, only 9 players were able to hit the pick-six – being worse than the BAO in all six hitting categories (first number is their total player rater rank):
1. Nick Punto – 3B/SS – Min
14. Marcus Giles – 2B – SD
21. Tony F. Pena – SS – KC
24. Josh Barfield – 2B – Cle
30. Craig Biggio – 2B – Hou
44. Bill Hall – OF/SS – Mil
48. Lyle Overbay – 1B – Tor
51. Gerald Laird – C – Tex
66. Tadahito Iguchi – Phi
Strikeouts are a particularly vexing category as the top K guys often have a lot of power. Brandon Inge was the only player in the top 10 in K’s who didn’t have 20 HRs. Outfielders like Jason Bay, Chris B. Young, Mike Cameron, and Jack Cust are invaluable Razzball players as their power is compensated by high K’s, generally low average, and above average ABs.
An interesting twist to Razzball is that multi-position players are more invaluable for their more offensive-minded position. Nick Punto on the hot corner beats Nick Punto at MI. Guys like Rich Aurilia warrant a look at 1B. Alfredo Amezaga is a find at OF (forget the SS eligibility). Darin Erstad is an embarrassment of riches with 1B and OF eligibility (luckily, Erstad’s valuable team spirit and punting skills don’t factor into Razzball.)
So here are some Razzball lessons we see in the Player Rater:
1) Invaluable Razzball hitters are more predictable than pitchers. Concentrate on hitters during the early parts of the draft.
2) Find high AB, low power guys – no matter what the position.
3) Avoid starters at key power positions like 1B, 3B, or 5th OF in favor of platoon players or multi-position eligibility players.
4) Consider job security/opportunity. Nook Logan is a Razzball god but how many ABs will he get?
5) Try to find positive K guys with somewhat minimized power potential – i.e., a power hitter in San Diego. At the very least, hopefully they contribute low AVG and ABs. It may pay to draft a R/HR/RBI killer like Adam Dunn or Dan Uggla and save them for bad pitching matchups or bad hitter parks – say when they go on an NL West road trip to SF, LAD, and SD.
6) Gamble on the young ones – top rookies in 2007 include Alex Gordon, Tony Pena, and Stephen Drew. Look at minor league K rate as Gordon and Drew were particularly invaluable in this category. Figure their average will be hurt because of their greenness. Even partial successes like Delmon Young are worth it – his 65/13/93/.288 earned him a #67 on the player rater because of the 127 Ks and 645 ABs.
If you’re interested in joining the inaugural Razzball league, please send an e-mail to info[at]razzball.com. Special preference to fellow bloggers.
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