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Bill James 101 
revised 11/'06

You can have every stat at your mouse click, but if you don’t know how much significance they carry, they just bog you down. Let me simply. The most significant commonly available statistics to consider: 1) expected On-Base Avg.; 2) expected Slugging Avg.; 3) Scoresheet defensive rating all in the context of playing time and position scarcity. In a perpetual league where it is possible the player might be protected, you take all of this in the additional context of expected improvements or declines. Expected fielding percentage and stolen base contributions (SB - 2xCS) are additional, but usually minute considerations as well.


Baseball Prospectus and various other stat houses want you to appreciate their most comprehensive be-all stats for rating a player’s value – and they do have convincing logic and studies behind their statistical tools. Ultimately, however, if you properly weigh a player’s Scoresheet range ratings, accurately guess his playing time, and know his On-Base Average plus Slugging Average – and how a platoon role, a change in stadiums, or another year of experience will likely affect him, you don’t need to know these other more esoteric statistics. I don’t think there is a huge difference between them. You are better off knowing how a player’s age, injuries, attitude, and aptitude will affect his future play than hair splitting between statistics which don’t significantly differ from each other.


Excuse me, but stubbornly my shorthand for On Base Average plus Slugging Average (a.k.a. On Base Percentage plus Slugging Percentage) is O+S. Unwisely, the standard became OPS, It took me years to see that and not have to stop and make sure I am not confusing it with OBP, which is the ill chosen standard shorthand version of On Base Percentage. It is not a “Percentage”, because it is not expressed per hundreds or with a %, but as a decimal taken to the thousandths - just like Batting Average. Hence, OBP should be OBA. OPS should be O+S because it is more clearly visible as the adding of two things, not a single average or percentage. Also, using my shorthand eliminates all those confusing “P”s following “O”s.


The stat minded star baseball GM Billy Beane as well as most serious sabrmaticians put more emphasis on the On-Base part of O+S. However, Scoresheet is unlike real baseball in a few regards. For one, tiring a pitcher by working up his pitch count doesn’t happen in Scoresheet. Pitchers in our fantasy game tire out when they approach their appearance and inning totals for the week. In real life they allegedly tire when they approach their pitch count capacity. Hence, a batter who can tire a pitcher by letting the balls out of the strike zone go by without trying to put them in play and foul off the close pitches has an additional real life value above his value of just getting on base and doing so with fewer outs.


OBA becomes even further important than SlgA if your line-up is lopsided towards sluggers. With fewer runners on base, there will be fewer runners to slug in. The opposite is not true. A team lopsided with runners on base will be helped almost equally by more batters getting on-base (thereby extending those rallies logarithmically) or by sluggers slugging those base-runners in.


For the first 13 years of my Scoresheet playing days, STATS Major League Handbook gave projections of almost every hitting statistic (including OBA and SlgA) for almost every player expected to start the season in the majors. These projections were based on a formula worked out by Bill James. Sadly, STATS was “bought out” by Sporting News, and these projections were no longer available to the public until a year or two later when James published them in his own handbook. There are now many player projections made each winter, and many of them are apparently more accurate than James’, if you don’t mind spending a few dollars for a good one. My article on draft preparation describes the ones I use now.


As far as I know they are all based on the statistics a player has produced in the past, then adjusted according to his age, in some instances physique, and in all cases his skill sets as demonstrated by well selected statistics.


It is fun to make your own projections, if you can afford the time. First, I adjust O+S numbers by a player’s Hit Rate or Batting Average on Balls in Play. This is some indication of how much luck the batter had with balls dropping in for hits instead of outs. Obviously, a speedy batter who hits line drives would be expected to have a higher BA/BIP than a slower batter who hits more ground balls or fly balls. However, it is a matter of subjectivity as to what is a line drive and what is a fly ball. Studies show most Major Leagues typically have a BA/BIP around .300 (Hits / (AB-SO-HR)). Catchers will more typically have a BA/BIP around 28%, while a young centerfielder might be expected to have a 33% Hit Rate. If a player has a career year and a 38% Hit Rate, I am confident, he will not sustain it. If a player with a similar rise in production does so without a rise in his BA/BIP, then I would bet it is a genuine rise in ability. Hardball Times were the first to provide free BA/BIP info, but now it is available on FanGraphs.


Of course, I not only look at his stats from the previous season, but I look at several previous years to see 1) what his established BA/BIP is, 2) what his potential best season might be 3) if he is generally improving or getting worse 4) what a typical season would be counting each season about twice as important as the season before it.


More importantly, I look at his age. If a player is younger than 27, his O+S is apt to improve. The younger he is, the more likely it will increase and the larger the increase it will likely be. James showed that decade after decade players on the average declined after 27. However, with improved training, medicine, and surgery techniques over the past 15 years (not to mention “supplements”), I sense that average has finally moved, perhaps, into the early 30s. If the ban on steroids is effective, the average peak age may have moved back somewhat towards 27.


Age isn’t everything. Young players with higher walk totals and higher walk-to-strikeout totals tend to develop more than equally accomplished young players with low walk totals, because Major League pitchers will be less apt to find a holes their swings.


Players who can run well often maintain their level of excellence longer than players who rely just on their quick swing. Think how Ricky Henderson went on and on. Maury Wills and Lou Brock both plateau-ed later in age than most. Julio Franco was a good basestealler in his younger years. Since he came back to the majors in his 40s he has been 19-5 in SB-CS. Those big slow moving quick swingers can lose that quickness and disappear. Where are Phil Plantier or Ben Grieve now?


Also, remember zero times any number is still zero. In other words as players get older and stronger up towards their early 30s, they will get more power, but if they have very few home runs and not very many extra base hits to begin with, then you can’t count on them ever improving much.


There is generally a greater difference between some fielder’s ability to get to balls hit and make a successful play on them, then there is a difference in making an error on ball hit right to him. Therefore, a fielder’s range factor is a better indicator of his defensive ability than his fielding percentage. (Zone factor by STATS is in my opinion a far better indication than range factor. Those stats are now available on ESPN: Since, Scoresheet uses Zone factors as part of their Defensive Ratings as well as a balance of other defensive rating systems, their ratings are probably as good as they can get. Statistically, a Scoresheet defensive rating point (indicated as a 100th) is equal to about 6 O+S points (which are the addition of two 1000ths). That is still fairly small if you compare the differences in O+S to the differences in the ratings at the same position. If you are comparing a fielder who is +0.05 above average in range factor to a guy who is -0.05, the weaker fielder need only hit 60 or 65 points higher in O+S to make up for it. In other words an .860 O+S player who is .05 below average is just as good as an .800 who is .05 above average at the same position.


Of course, range factors are fixed for the year in Scoresheet, while errors happen based on the percentage of errors a player makes each week. Hence, range factor is completely predictable – while you can only guess what a player’s fielding average will be.


Given a choice of two players whose overall expected impact is precisely the same, I would go for the better fielder. It seems more players improve their hitting as they get older than their fielding. Further, a major league manager is going to give a good fielder more of a chance to stick with the team, so there’s less chance he’ll be benched or sent down – which is not good for your Scoresheet team. Finally, he is less apt to get switched to another position creating a hole in your line-up.


A centerfielder’s defensive rating is 1.4 times more important in Scoresheet than any other player’s, so a centerfield with a 2.12 range must hit .884 to be the equivalent of an .800 hitting centerfielder with a 2.22 range. This is why I like having two starting centerfielders on my team, because it is easier to find a couple of platooning corner outfielders hitting .800, then it is to find a combination of centerfielders for your bench that can hit .716. There is a Scoresheet bias towards centerfield scarcity, because rookies never have typical CF ranges.


Those are things you can see with statistics. Some injuries are nearly impossible to fully recover from. I check through Rotoworld’s latest news items as one source for a player’s most recent injury history. Even better would be to augment that with Will Carroll’s “Under the Knife” reports in Baseball Prospectus. During spring training Carroll has a player by player assessment for each team’s regulars which indicates their likelihood of injury. The Bill James Handbook also has an injury risk rating with their projections. In general, it helps to read about which players are the most dedicated to success and take the best care of their bodies.


Try to decide how a player’s health affected his past statistics as well as his future ones. If the player played hurt the previous year, but showed consistent superior stats in previous years, the superior stats are the ones more applicable - unless a full recovery is in doubt. Conversely, if a player is often hurt, but happened to have a healthy career year, then you should be very cautious.


If a player changes teams, don’t forget to consider how the change in stadiums will affect his stats. If a player platoons in real life, you can’t expect him to perform as well in Scoresheet if you play him against both right-handers and lefties. You would be hurting yourself as well as by running out of his at bats for the week.


When a player is coming up from the minors, obviously, there is a league factor. The jump to the Major Leagues is probably as big as jumping from a high A league (California, Carolina, or Florida Leagues) to AAA. Most of the Pacific Coast teams are easier to hit in than the International League, so you have to discount those hitters a bit more. Those high altitude cities such as Albuquerque and Calgary have as huge a boost for hitters as Colorado.


I believe the faster a player successfully shoots up through the minors – especially at the upper levels, the faster he will develop in the majors.


When projecting stats or looking at a projection, the more data you have, the more accurate your projection is going to be. A player with 1000 Major League At Bats is going to give you a much better idea of what he can hit than a player with 100 MLB At Bats. It would be much better to include his previous 1000 Minor League At Bats, although, Major League At Bats are to some degree more reliable than Minor League stats – especially at the lower levels - even after adjustments are made for league differences.


Once you have enough solid data to make a good projection, keep it in mind all season long. It is very tricky weighing your projection with what a player does in spring training and April. Consider a hitter’s O+S is more likely to end up closer to your pre-season projections than what he hits early on - unless you have a very good reason to believe they are a changed player. Some examples of what those changes could be: injuries, a better training regimen, a player with star potential suddenly “getting it”, a player not able to adjust to a major league salary. With such improved training techniques, it is getting harder to know if a player has had a lucky month or a lucky year, or has genuinely raised the level of his game.


How much a player plays and where a player plays are just as important as his O+S. A hitter’s total hitting contribution is his O+S times the number of plate appearances you will be using him, minus the typical O+S of the players who you would have to use instead (be they AAA subs or players from your bench) times the same number of plate appearances. This is why a shortstop with 500 expected At Bats of an O+S of .800 is worth far more than an typical outfielder with 500 At Bats and an .800 O+S, because it is much difficult to find another shortstop hitting .800 than an outfielder.


There are a few other stats that have a small effect on a player’s overall contribution. I use the formula SB - (2 x CS) as an indication of a player’s base stealing contributions. Anything less than 0, would be someone you wouldn’t want attempting a stolen base in Scoresheet – unless you are using that option to manipulate his place in the batting order.


RBIs and Runs do help a hitter move a runner an extra base or allow a runner to take and extra base. I don’t bother looking at this stat, but I suppose it is about as important as base stealing is in Scoresheet.


As with RBIs and Runs, “clutch hitting” stats for an individual are of dubious validity in real life. In Scoresheet they are used only towards giving runners extra bases on hits. (Bill James has demonstrated that clutch hitters are practically non-existent. Almost all players with many years of experience have some years where their clutch hitting exceeds their typical hitting and some years where the opposite is true.


What I’ve described up untill now is a way of evaluating what a player has done and deciding how much value he will bring in the coming season. Most of us play in continuing leagues. So often a longer view is required. A position player’s chances of improving are related to his:


▪ good scouting reports

▪ young age for his league

▪ signs of power to grow

▪ no significant injury history

▪ good attitude & dedication

▪ good running speed

▪ a high ratio of walks to strikeouts


That is roughly the order of significance. It is difficult to rank these, because there are no stats to quantify many of them. Some reports have attempted to and are flawed. (For example, here is my report on the running speed issue.) Also, even if you read reports about a player’s bad behavior, it is not necessarily a behavior bad for improving one’s skills. Think of Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield, and Jeff Kent.


Scouting reports can give you a good idea of a player’s potential. That is not to be ignored – especially for a pitcher. Some players never reach their potential, but some players just take a little longer than others, but eventually do. Some outstanding prospects do not bloom until they connect with a coach in a different organization. Sometimes it seems to be as simple as being asked to play a position they  can handle. After coming up with Houston, toiling in Detroit, then a year in Anaheim, no. 1 overall pick Phil Nevin finally exploded into an impact hitter at age 28 with the Padres.


Catchers are notoriously late bloomers, but it isn’t necessarily the more highly touted ones who suddenly become excellent hitters late in their career – such as Mickey Tettleton and Jason Varitek. Carlos Delgado and Mike Sweeney bloomed after they were moved away from catching.


Keep in mind you can only protect 13 players who have lost their rookie eligibility. Players with lots of potential are still worthless at the end of the season, if they aren’t worth the risk of pushing a much better player off a protection list. Many managers forget that most of the highly touted prospects struggle when they first reach the Majors. They are then dropped. Only years later, some of them develop into stars. It is often easier and certainly more efficient to pick up a struggling young major leaguer just before he turns into a star, then to find a prospect who immediately becomes a star as soon as he breaks his rookie eligibility.


Which players improve isn’t everything. You need to know which players will sustain their value and which will drop. Here injuries and conditioning are probably the most important issues. You need to know if an injury is career debilitating. All the other things you look for (speed, BB:K, etc.) apply to some degree even in older players.


In my leagues, older players are more often underrated. It is not glamorous to draft veterans who we are sure will not improve into high impact players. Yet, injuries and disappointments abound. Those reliable old veterans end up getting valuable at bats.


Just as you need to know if what a batter does in March and April is significant, you need to know how significant a surprisingly good or bad season is. Unfortunately, most players do not have a smooth career achievement curve. They often have spikes and valleys. The founder of Scoresheet Canada George Watson, who is also one of that country’s top managers of all-time, once professed his primary criteria for  selecting players was simply asking himself, “how good is this guy?” Leading projectionist Ken Warren recently (Nov. 21, ’06) noted in scoresheet-talk, “there seems to be tendency among many Scoresheet players to write guys off too early.” Not every young player improves no matter how promising his supporting stats look. If they do improve, it often is only incremental. In the meantime they are hard to draft, because all the other savvy Scoresheet managers see him coming. Then you have to use up a roster spot until he develops into the star you hoped he would become. However, many times big stars have off years due to injuries - some of which we never hear about. Other years they just have bad luck or can’t adjust to playing in a new venue or under a new manager. While most Scoresheet managers mistakenly write them off as being over-the-hill, they can be snatched up on the cheap and suddenly you he’s a star again. Hence, being able to differentiate between peaks and sustainable improvement as well as between valleys and a career sinking down forever might be more important than knowing which young players will improve the most. However, I think this is much more difficult to do and is why there is still so much to learn and why this game is so challenging for everyone who plays it.


Finally, for a more thorough use of statistics for projections, I’ll pass this state-of-the-art long discussion from distinguished experts courtesy of Hardball Times:

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