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December 19, 2013
Going Beyond 5x5
Most fantasy players who ask me questions play in a “standard” 5x5 category league. This is why most of my pricing as well as subsequent discussions about what a player is worth tend to revolve around the idea of five hitting categories (typically home runs, runs batted in, stolen bases, runs, and batting average) and five pitching categories (wins, saves, ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts).
However, there are more than a few fantasy gamers out there who play with more than 10 categories. While there are some fanatics who play in 9x9 or 10x10 leagues, most of the Rotisserie-style leagues that play with extra categories don’t dive that far into the pool and play 6x6, or maybe 7x7. But because these leagues aren’t “standard,” it is often the case that they get little if any attention.
Without fail, I get at least one question a year asking how to value players for a 6x6 league. It isn’t necessarily “difficult” to do this, but there are two typical pitfalls that lead to incorrect assumptions or ideas surrounding 6x6 valuation:
The second mistake is easy enough to fix. However you decide to allocate your dollars, just make sure that the money adds up to $3,120 for a 12-team league with a $260 per team budget.
What the hitters and pitchers are “worth”, though, depends a lot on which categories your league has added. Here is an example of two 6x6 leagues I have received questions about in the past.
And here is how the valuation “should” play out:
To understand why the values play out this way, it is important to take a step back and understand why pitchers are worth less than hitters (in theory, at least).
Since hitters and pitchers each contribute to the same number of categories, it would seem logical to assume that hitters and pitchers should each get paid 50% of the budgetary pie (or $130 for hitting/$130 for pitching). However, where teams derive permanent benefit from the quantitative categories, the benefit they derive from the qualitative categories can be fleeting. A win is yours to keep forever, whereas an eight-inning, four-hit shutout can be undone by a four-inning, eight-earned-run nightmare the very next day. While generally speaking the best pitchers are nearly as reliable as the best hitters, the auction market doesn’t treat them this way, which is how the pricing discrepancy came to be in the first place.
Using the same theoretical baseline, adding holds and doubles to the mix in League 1 adds more value to pitchers. Even though one quantitative category is being added on both sides of the game, pitchers see a higher increase in the percentage of quantitative categories - from three out of five (60%) to four out of six (67%)—than the hitters do (4/5, 80%; 5/6, 83%). The difference in the hitting/pitching split is slight—only three dollars per team—but there is a difference.
League 2 sees the hitters lose ground in the quantitative categories. Instead of contributing in four out of five quantitative categories, now the hitters are “only” contributing in four out of six. This is why pitcher prices jump in this scenario, from $85 per team to $102 per team. Theoretically, the average team in a 6x6 league using slugging percentage and holds as the extra categories should spend far more on pitching than the average league.
To see how this would look, I pulled data from the PFM for a standard 5x5 league, a 6x6 league with doubles and holds, and a 6x6 league with doubles and slugging percentage.
Table 1: 5x5 vs. 6x6 Valuation Comparisons: Hitters
In order to provide this list with a little more flavor, I pulled the top 10 hitters from all three potential formats. For the most part, the lists stay pretty static but it is interesting to see how each category contributes. Adding slugging seems to lend to some fairly predictable results. Miguel Cabrera was valuable to begin with; adding slugging to the mix and he’s even more of a stud in the depressed offensive valuation context of 6x6 with slugging. On the other hand, adding a sixth quantitative category does seem to be the great equalizer. Not only is Cabrera not as good as he was in 5x5, but his “paltry” doubles total only ranks him as the fourth best hitter overall in 6x6 with doubles.
Still, most of the takeaway from this chart is that A comes far closer to equaling A than you might expect. Yes, Matt Carpenter is an outlier, but his valuation spike in 6x6 with doubles takes a whopping 55 doubles to accomplish, and even this huge jump in doubles only gains Carpenter seven dollars in overall earnings.
Table 2: 5x5 vs. 6x6 Valuation Comparisons: Pitchers
There is even less variability among the 10 best pitchers, both in terms of how many arms slip past the Top 10 but also in terms of how the rankings move (or, rather, don’t move). The biggest news in the top 10 is that Uehara and Jansen—both middle relievers at the beginning of the season—jump up a great deal because of their combination of saves and holds. Beyond the holds bump, the jump for most other pitchers has more to do with format. Pitchers are “worth” more in 6x6 that uses hitter doubles and “worth” even more in 6x6 leagues with hitter slugging percentage. An ace is worth is weight in gold in a 5x5 league, but is an even more significant impact player in 6x6.
Or, at least, this is the instruction valuation theory offers.
The problem with all of this is that if your league continues to spend $175 per team for hitters and $85 for pitchers, this is immaterial. In reality, if your league is anything like Tout Wars or LABR or some of the other expert leagues out there it probably spends $180 or slightly more per team for hitters.
If your league does spend $85 per team for pitchers in a 6x6 holds league, the values would look very different:
Table 3: 5x5 vs. 6x6 Valuation Comparisons: Pitchers (adjusted)
I would argue that 6x6 should flatten all of the pitching categories and that even a titan like Kershaw should be worth less in 6x6, not more. However, for most of the pitchers here the differences between 5x5 and 6x6 are negligible. This is fine. Since 6x6 isn’t a standard format, I suspect most 6x6 owners are spending the same amounts on hitters and pitchers across the board that their 5x5 counterparts are.
If I were putting together a list of practical, no nonsense bid limits for a 6x6 league, I would mostly leave my standard list of 5x5 bid limits intact. The more categories there are, the more the values across the board should get flattened out. The elite hitters are worth a little less; the boring guys who get 600 plate appearances and do a little bit of everything are worth a little bit more. You want hitters who will produce something in every game, and if you can put together a team with 14 of these hitters, all the better.
On the pitching side, bump set up men up a little bit. Instead of paying $1 for a set up, push these guys up to somewhere between $3-5, even in an only league. I wouldn’t go too crazy. While holds aren’t quite ubiquitous, there were 91 major-league relievers in 2013 with 10 holds or more. Only 37 relievers saved 10 games or more. Even more than with saves, you can find holds in the free agent pool during the season.