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May 31, 2009

Prospectus Idol Entry

Value Over Fantasy Player

by Brian Oakchunas

If you had the first pick of your draft this year and you took Jose Reyes over Hanley Ramirez, you probably (definitely) aren't very happy right now. But that doesn't mean it wasn't the right choice at the time. You made a choice to take a whole lot of speed with a nice splash of power thrown in over the more balanced power/speed combo. And even those descriptions, as difficult as they are to differentiate in terms of fantasy value, don't tell the whole story. We have to worry about runs, RBIs, and batting average (and those are just the typical roto stats-if your league uses sac flies as a category, you're really in trouble). While it is easy to look at two players' homerun totals and be able to tell who will provide you with more power, it is considerably more difficult to weigh five stats and know which player has more value.

Plenty of fantasy analysts have tried to solve the five stat problem by coming up with what we call a valuation-a single number that tells us how much value a player has. This is very similar to VORP, value over replacement player, except it is designed for the fantasy player. If you know that Hanley is worth $38 and Jose is worth $34 then you probably want Hanley because he has more value.

There are some problems with valuations, however. One is that as you can see from the Jose/Hanley example, values are often given in monetary amounts. This is because so many people play in auction leagues... just no one you know. I'm half-kidding. If you are deep into fantasy, you may be more familiar with auctions, but the vast majority of players are more invested in snake drafts than in auctions. Unfortunately, if you're not in an auction, these values look completely arbitrary. They tell you who is worth more but the actual number does not have any relevance to your fantasy league, the way VORP does to MLB. Ramirez isn't worth 38 extra points in your league or make you 38 times more likely to win. He's merely worth an arbitrary 38 dollars.

The other problem with valuations is that the people who create them don't necessarily know what a player's valuation should be any better than you do. I asked one person in the industry how his group determines the amounts they publish and he said, "We just choose what we think he is worth based on our experience." Some of the better websites have a system for creating valuations but their information is proprietary and you have to rely on your own experience with their website to determine whether you trust their numbers.

Fed up with trying to determine whether a steal or a homerun is more valuable a few years ago (yes, a dinger is worth much more in real baseball, but in fantasy, maybe not so much), I set out to create a better system for evaluating fantasy players, which I like to call VOFP or value over fantasy player.

One problem with finding fantasy value is a lack of data (couldn't help the pun). Some of you out there might be in 40 leagues but my four aren't cutting it in terms of sample size. Fortunately, though, I play in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC), which currently has 390 owners in its "main event". Using the NFBC data, it is much easier to see how much specific numbers help you and therefore what players are worth.

VOFP can be used in the NFBC or in a regular Yahoo league, but to understand how VOFP is derived, you must first understand how the NFBC works. It is split up into 15 team leagues that are organized just like your regular roto league. The leagues have 14 hitters and nine pitchers with the usual ten stat categories. The difference is that along with your league competition you are also in an overall competition with all 390 teams that works the same way. If you have the most homeruns, you get 390 points. If you have the least, you get one. My goal every year is to finish in first place and win the $100,000. In order to do that I need to average around 40th place in each category or score 350 of the 390 possible points (yeah, I know, but it's harder than it sounds).

The idea is that you need a certain amount in each statistical category in order to reach 40th place (or 350 points). Let's take homeruns, for example. You'd need about 294 homers to land 40th place most years. That means you typically need to get 21 jacks from each of your position players. Some might give you 31 and some might give you 11, but the players need to average 21.

With this in mind, you can assign a point value to the number of long balls you get from each guy on your team. While there is a larger discrepancy at the extremes of the standings (the #1 guy had 19 more homeruns than the #2 guy last year), once you get to 40th place, point values stay more consistent. Testing this, I found that each homer usually moves you up and down the rankings by about four places.

Let's take a look at how many points each stat is worth. Ideal is how many each player in your lineup has to average to ensure you of a highly successful season:

Category   Ideal   Points

Run          84     1.69
Homerun      21     4.08
RBI          81     1.66
Average    .286     1.3
Steal        13     4.13

If you had 14 players who put up the "ideal" line at the end of the season in the NFBC (and you had pitchers who were equally good), you'd not only have a great chance of winning your league, you'd have a great chance of winning the $100,000. For smaller leagues, you'd have to get more out of each player, but you'd have to get proportionally more in each category. In other words, these values are applicable to most leagues (though not Hacking Mass!). For the purpose of finding values of players we'll consider this our baseline. Players with this exact line have a VOFP of 0. So, really, rather than replacement players, we're talking about ideal players because that is what you want your fantasy team to have. The metric would more appropriately be named VOIFP but that is more than a mouthful.

The points are how much a player's VOFP moves up and down depending on his stats. For example, if you have a player with the ideal line exactly except that he had 22 homers, his VOFP would be 4.08 and he'd be worth four points more in the competition than an ideal player. On the other hand, if your guy only had 20 dingers, his VOFP would be -4.08.

Let's use VOFP to explore this year's PECOTA projections. We'll look at players from a typical 2009 first round in the NFBC:

Pick  Player           PECOTA   VOFP To Date
#                      VOFP     (prorated)

 1    Hanley Ramirez   273      156
 2    Jose Reyes       309      -30
 3    Albert Pujols    250      382
 4    David Wright     205      248
 5    Miguel Cabrera    83      264
 6    Grady Sizemore   146       21
 7    Ryan Braun       170      149
 8    Jimmy Rollins    100      -91
 9    Ian Kinsler       74      305
10    Ryan Howard       75      146
11    Josh Hamilton     28      -80
12    Chase Utley       86      191
13    Mark Teixeira     25      173
14    Carlos Beltran   121      273
15    BJ Upton          35     -109

The 'VOFP to date' is for entertainment purposes only. The sample is too small for us to draw any firm conclusions, except to give a big woot, woot to Pujols for being so consistently great. Looking at the PECOTA values, however, can be very informative. For one, we have an answer to our initial question: it seems like if we put our faith in PECOTA, Reyes was actually more valuable than Ramirez. Both were good bets, but Hanley seemed like the bigger health risk at the time, so the line of thought that said Hanley was too valuable to pass up for Reyes was probably borne of the theory that homeruns are far more valuable than stolen bases, which we now know is incorrect, based on the first table.

We also see that Cabrera, Hamilton, and Teixeira were likely overvalued, while you'd be better off with Beltran-or Soriano, who didn't even make the list but had a VOFP of 127. Trading for these guys over someone higher on the list right now-like Cabrera who won't hit .377 all year-is probably a good idea.

While we are on the topic of Cabrera, let's see why he had such a low VOFP. PECOTA had him with 94 runs, 32 homeruns, and 111 RBIs, good for 112 VOFP just from those three stats. A .294 batting average, weighted for the number of at bats, gains him another 12 points. So how does a guy with 124 VOFP end up with 83? Simple. He doesn't steal bases. With only two projected bags, he loses 41 points. It is easy to think we can draft speed elsewhere, but why avoid it now when you can get similar numbers from Beltran along with the steals at a later draft position? It helps your team a lot more in the coming rounds if those swipes are already in the bank.

There is an almost unlimited amount of information we can look at with VOFP. In the future, I'd like to discuss VOFP for pitchers, VOFP and injuries, VOFP alterations for different size leagues, VOFP and positional scarcity, VOFP vs. Godzilla. For now, it will have to be enough to learn that VOFP tells us steals are worth a whole lot in fantasy, Ramirez and Reyes aren't much different, first round draft picks don't always progressively lose value, and Pujols is the only player who is consistently a god.

45 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Brian Oakchunas

With regards to batting average, I do weight it according to at bats. That 1.3 is a soft number but the numbers you see for the players in the example are weighted by the number of at bats PECOTA projects. As I said in my comment about Cabrera: "A .294 batting average, weighted for the number of at bats, gains him another 12 points." He gains those 12 points because PECOTA has him at .294 in 571 at bats. I add a percentage to the weight of those points based on the understanding that a typical fantasy player on a good roster would accrue 535 at bats. While accounting for the extra 36 at bats only adds up to less than a point of difference in this case, I am accounting for it. This is the kind of thing that can help catchers because though they tend to have poor batting averages, they also get them in less at bats.

Zero is just the floor for an ideal player. Guys who get 21 homers score zero, but guys who get bigger numbers score well over that. Again, using Cabrera, he was projected at 32 homeruns, so those 11 extra dingers translate into 45 VOFP points.

The system is based on real success of fantasy players over the last four years of the NFBC. I'd love to do another article showing how well you'd do in previous years of the NFBC if you got specific numbers at the end of the year and how your point values dictate in which place you'd finish. I've done it in the past and it works out very accurately. Of course, an individual player's projected VOFP will only be as good as the projections it's based off of, but PECOTA is a good way to go, I think.

May 31, 2009 11:34 AM
rating: 1

Very cool new take on fantasy valuation but doesn't PFM do the same thing better?

May 31, 2009 12:16 PM
rating: 2
Matthew Avery

I guess this is what confuses me, too. It's an interesting new take on the notion of fantasy valuation, but I don't see that this is necessarily better than any of the other methods for assigning a single number for fantasy value.

I guess you compare this to traditional dollar valuations, rejecting the latter on the grounds that they seem arbitrary to most fantasy players. But what about the ones who do play auction leagues? Does VOFP work better in auction formats (using some transformation)?

May 31, 2009 21:13 PM
rating: 0

Christina nailed it. This article is too limited in its value without further analysis.

May 31, 2009 12:51 PM
rating: 0
Sky Kalkman

Maybe I'm reading it wrong, but the article implies VOFP is a breakthrough of sorts, while the concept of replacement level has been a part of fantasy valuation for a long time. I just don't see much new material here. If it was written as more of a primer I think I'd like it better.

May 31, 2009 12:52 PM
rating: 1
Brian Oakchunas

We're comparing players to the ideal player you'd need to help you win here. It's a single number just like VORP but has little to do with replacement level.

May 31, 2009 13:30 PM
rating: 0
Sky Kalkman

But isn't the point of getting the stats from each category translated into the same currency so that you can compare the value of one player to another? Once you introduce issues of scarcity, like positions, you need a way to handle that. Replacement level is the logical choice.

What am I missing?

Additionally, don't you miss the idea that each category has a barrier to start scoring points? For example, with saves, last place will have just ten and most pitchers get your zero. With runs, last place might have 800, but getting to 600 might take zero effort at all. Once you decide to compete in a certain category it's going to take varying amounts of VOFP just to compete. Then each stat BEYOND that barrier number helps you.

May 31, 2009 16:20 PM
rating: 0
Brian Oakchunas

Replacement level can help me to manage the ideal level if I were to adjust for positional scarcity, but that doesn't change the nature of the stat. I prefer to not adjust for positional scarcity, however. It can be better handled by comparing players at an equal footing. It requires a whole other article as I hinted in the last paragraph. But, to give you an idea, the difference between 3rd and 10th round catchers is not relatively large but the drop to replacement level is enormous. On the other hand, there is a huge difference between 3rd and 10th round first baseman but not so big between 10th and replacement level. Adjusting for positional scarcity, the third round catcher and first baseman will tend to look the same but it's a trick that you can see better by comparing actual VOFPs. During your draft you can also know exactly where your team stands because you can simply add up your VOFPs and if they are near zero by the end, you are in good shape. If they are adjusted artificially, you won't get the same accuracy.

Yes, there are thresholds for what you want from each category. The goal is to use VOFPs to build a balanced team that is at or above zero in every category. But you should never be far above zero in one category while far below in another because you can only go so high before there are no more points to earn while there is plenty of room to fall. Part of the purpose of the stat is to see if you are misallocating resources.

May 31, 2009 17:17 PM
rating: 0
Richard Bergstrom

Um, ok silly question... do any catchers have a positive VOFP? If so, how many and to what degree? I'm asking about 2008's numbers, not 2009's projections.

That's kind of why positional scarcity can be important.

May 31, 2009 17:30 PM
rating: 0
Sky Kalkman

That, and the relative value of hitters and pitchers. That's the largest scarcity issue.

Jun 01, 2009 08:22 AM
rating: 0
Brian Oakchunas

I don't have the numbers with me at the moment, but there were few to none as you guess. The key is to pair up your catcher with who you can get in another round and see whether it makes sense from a total value level to take him earlier or later.

Jun 01, 2009 09:45 AM
rating: 0

I'm also a little confused as to what this is adding. Isn't this SGP by another name?

May 31, 2009 13:10 PM
rating: 0

I have to say I'm turned off my the amatuerish writing style. The parenthetical notes like "couldn't resist the pun", the "woot woot" for Pujols and so forth. Maybe I'm in a minority here, but one reason I like BP is that the articles are well-written.

However, the basic idea of trying to figure out what fantasy stats contribute the most to victory is very interesting, and so the article overall is a plus for me.

May 31, 2009 13:23 PM
rating: 0

I completely agree. No more wooting.

Jun 02, 2009 09:06 AM
rating: 0
G. Guest

I like the idea behind this article, but I've read it three times now and can't really find a useful takeaway.

Oddly, I think that this article would have benefited from more tables to explain some of the examples like Cabrera.

Overall I find this to be rather difficult to follow. I think that it's a valuable article, but the writing needs some work. Undecided on if I'll give it a vote or not.

May 31, 2009 13:39 PM
rating: 0

While at least half the BP Idol pieces merit the title "Reinventing the Whee", these articles require some acknowledgment of said wheel's progenitors (other than an offhand slam at the fantasy industry in general).

The idea behind VOFP intrigued many fantasy players when Alex Patton first introduced the idea more than two decades ago with "Standings Gain Points", which measured the number of projected standings points that a team should gain by rostering a particular player.

In 1997, Art McGee further refined the concept with Marginal SGPs, which incorporated superior auction pricing into the calculation. McGee's How to Value Players for Rotisserie Baseball nicely outlines the required method to derive values for a particular league.

Gene McCaffrey and Justin Eleff of "Wise Guy Baseball" then applied the SGP idea to the Diamond Challenge game offered by Fanball.com (ne CDM) in 2000, demonstrating how to develop a system for ranking players over multiple categories for a national contest. At best, VOFP merely translates these principles to NFBC.

The utility of VOFP/SGP also decreases in direct proportion to league size. You can estimate baseline stats with some certainty due to the large number of participants in Diamond Challenge and the NFBC. Unfortunately, attempting such a calculation makes little sense in highly volatile online leagues with significant owner turnover and virtually none at all in keeper leagues, where rebuilding teams drastically skew category minimums.

As a previous comment noted, BP's Player Forecast Manager already thoroughly trod this territory through the application of general replacement level theory to fantasy value projections (a field largely pioneered by John Benson in 1993's Rotisserie Baseball: Playing for Blood).

Rather than rehashing a decades-old idea, Oakchunas could have provided more useful advice for the vast majority of fantasy owners by simply copying "Know your league's rules!" four hundred times in an assortment of fun fonts and formats for the whole family to enjoy.

May 31, 2009 13:58 PM
rating: 2
Richard Bergstrom

I liked the idea behind what this article tried to do. I've often had problems with fantasy analysts who recommend a player who, most likely, would perform league-average for their position, fantasy-wise.. the Melky Cabreras and Yunel Escobars of the world.

I guess part of my problem is the list of players in a typical 2009 draft. I was surprised there was no Alex Rodriguez in there (since news of his injury came late in the typical fantasy draft season), and no Ichiro or Carl Crawford-types past Jose Reyes. I feel this article would've been great if it had discussed how much Ichiro's batting average helps a fantasy team more because he walks so rarely that his batting average carries additional weight. I also wondered a bit about how useful a VOFP system would be in a 390 team league when the difference of a home run here or an RBI there could mean the difference between 40th and 60th place. It seems that a system like VOFP would need to be more precise in such a large league, and not less precise. I also thought some kind of statement should've been made that a home run also leads to a run scored and an RBI generated, so should garner some additional weight/consideration/calculation.

I did like the writing style overall and I thought this article was much better than some of the other submissions... but I also felt a bit more could've been done. Still, it'll get my thumbs up.

May 31, 2009 15:00 PM
rating: -1

You lost me at "to understand how VOFP is derived, you must first understand how the NFBC works".... It was hard enough to follow until that point (very wordy); why would I want to keep reading after you introduce variables to which 99% of readers can't relate?

May 31, 2009 15:23 PM
rating: 1

A good topic that still hit a bit of a dead spot. This is similar to what I do myself in preparing for a league. A good effort that could have been better. I am holding off a thumb until I read the rest of the competition.

By the way, am I the only one that prefers my acronyms pronounceable. I can say "vorp" and "pecota". I can't say "vofp".

May 31, 2009 15:32 PM
rating: 0
Richard Bergstrom

"Think in Russian" - Firefox

May 31, 2009 15:41 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Derek Jacques
BP staff

I liked the writing and I liked the fact that Brian tailored his analysis to a specific real-world fantasy league, the NFBC, instead of just giving general fantasy advice. Still, I almost didn't vote for this one because it felt like there was a step missing. "Testing this, I found that each homer usually moves you up and down the rankings by about four places." How did you test it? How did you come to the realization that you had to average 40th place in each category to have a shot at winning the league?

Without those details, the article was a bit like when they use swap-ins in a cooking show: here are all your ingredients, this is a general description of what we're cooking...then boom! the finished fantasy ranking system comes out of the oven, pre-made. I would've liked to see Brian cook.

May 31, 2009 16:20 PM
Brian Oakchunas

Thanks for the comments, Derek. The overall winner in the NFBC usually has around 3,300 points after you adjust the number of contestants to 390 per year. That means that 330 points or 60th place should get you in the conversation for the grand prize. 40th would ensure it, and it is not so far toward the top that gaps start to appear between the numbers of stats each person has.

As for the calculation, I look at how many homers there are between 40th and 350th place each year and do some simple division to see how much it moves you. When you graph the data, you see a steady progression, except at the ends. In other words there isn't a larger number of homeruns between 50th and 100th place than between 200 and 250th place so a hard number, like 4.08 is relevant here.

May 31, 2009 18:34 PM
rating: 0

An interesting idea, but seems to me it's been done better through the various stats that have been mentioned above.

However, as someone who started doing auction league this season, there's no going back. I'm not sure how this would apply to that style and the strategies used there, where as PFM does that specifically for me with that program.

Well written, but the the topic pulls it down to a no vote.

May 31, 2009 18:54 PM
rating: 0
Morris Greenberg

Very interesting article. I think Matt is kind of like Adam Lambert of this competition, and you may be like Kris Allen. Consistently good, not usually the best out of everyone, but very enjoyable.

May 31, 2009 19:00 PM
rating: -2
Richard Bergstrom

No personal offense intended, since you're not the only one, but can we stop describing contestants as Kris and Adam? It isn't really useful or insightful.

May 31, 2009 20:02 PM
rating: 6
Dr. Dave

"Home run" is still two words. Before this contest, I hadn't realized that was esoteric knowledge.

May 31, 2009 20:02 PM
rating: 1
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff

Oh, believe me, you'd be surprised how many people think it's one word.

Jun 01, 2009 08:10 AM

Perhaps this is a better way to rank than traditional methods, but it still can't get around the biggest downfall of most player rankings. If you draft based on VOFP rankings, how does this ensure balance? you could end up with all homer, runs, and rbi guys and end up with far too few sbs and a low avg. Unless I'm misunderstanding the concept...?

May 31, 2009 20:28 PM
rating: 1
Brian Oakchunas

Good question. The idea is that the VOFP numbers work as a single digit but they can easily be drawn out to show how much VOFP a player is getting from each category. During a draft, I actively drop players into a spreadsheet as I draft them. Here again, the zero value comes in handy. I know that if I am in the tenth round and my team VOFP for home runs :) is at +150 while my VOFP for stolen bases is at 0, then I better focus more on speed as the draft progresses because the players at the end are going to all have negative values and while I have power to lose, I can't say the same for speed.

VOFP and drafting strategy is a whole other article or series of articles. I was more interested in just introducing the conceppt, given my limited space here.

Jun 01, 2009 08:23 AM
rating: 0

I'm not convinced this works.
But he tried to do something fairly unique and analytical and in line with the week's topic.

May 31, 2009 22:06 PM
rating: 0

Remember, it's a total vote count as a go-forward. I vote thumbs up for my six best so that what I consider to be the 9th best artcle has a lesser chance of sneaking past the fourth... Decent read, thumbs up for BO this week...

Jun 01, 2009 00:22 AM
rating: 0

I strategized my vote the same way this week. Top 7 vs. Bottom 2. I'd be disappointed if any of my Top 7 get voted off this week.

Jun 01, 2009 07:44 AM
rating: -1

The beginning of the article had great flow with the writing. The idea of VOFP is a good one; I need to go back and read this again so that I can digest all of it!

Jun 01, 2009 08:19 AM
rating: 0

The question was asked above, but I'll ask again. Isn't 'VOFP' the same thing, and I mean EXACTLY THE SAME THING as SGP, which has been around forever? If you're going to publicize something you've invented, it really behooves you to make sure that it really is something new.

Jun 01, 2009 09:24 AM
rating: 1
Shaun P.

Maybe I'm just out of the loop, but before I read these comments, I had never heard of SGP (and its relations) - and I've been playing some form of rotisserie or fantasy baseball for 18 years! (And yet I've never bought a book or a magazine that was solely on the topic of fantasy - which may explain why I didn't know about SGP.)

For me at least, what Brian did is "new", and I thought it was both well-done, and well-written.

Jun 01, 2009 10:38 AM
rating: -1
Brian Oakchunas

SGP’s are directions to look at the differences between categories. SGP's aren't publicly available and not based on such a broad sample of fantasy play for a 10x10 league. Sources like the PFM convert SGP's to dollar values but don't tell you how much more or less than ideal a player is worth. It is this idea, that you know whether you are winning or losing a category during the draft that most makes VOFP valuable.

Jun 01, 2009 10:49 AM
rating: 0
John Carter

This article certainly addressed fantasy baseball more directly than all the articles I've read so far except Tim and Tyler's. (I have only Matt Swartz to go.) This was very comparable to Tim’s in that they both provided a tool for evaluating players in a Rotisserie type of fantasy game.

Brian’s method is easier to use than Tim's, but Kevin, Sky, and others have found some major holes. Brian admits he needs to make spreadsheet adjustments during the draft.

I didn't mind the "woot, woot", but overall in the head to head fantasy tool department, Tim's article was more fun to read.

Jun 01, 2009 10:14 AM
rating: -1
Peter Benedict

Possibly my favorite article of the bunch, and I read it last (which is my least favorite article most of the time). It was easy to comprehend, helpful, and worked along lines I've used less formally in my own leagues. Thanks.

Jun 01, 2009 14:59 PM
rating: 0

The parenthesis (yeah, I know) have to go. That's something that doesn't make it into college papers after freshman year, let alone professional writing.

I agree that auction dollars are fairly worthless when it comes to snake drafts, however.

I agree with the judges that Ichiro!s of the world deserve a slight boost for the obscene number of ABs that they contribute to BA. (Basketball fantasy already accounts for this in stats like FG and FT percentages by looking at FTA/game or FGA/game.)

This goes on the maybe pile.

Jun 02, 2009 05:20 AM
rating: 0
Brian Oakchunas

Just FYI, I account for number of at bats and discussed that in my comment just after the judges' comments.

Jun 02, 2009 08:12 AM
rating: 0

Since it's in the article, albeit a bit hidden, but there, okay. But if it's not in the article, I'm not going to be taking author's extra comments into account. It's the article that's primary.

Jun 02, 2009 11:09 AM
rating: 0
Brian Oakchunas

You mean for voting? I'd love to get your vote but I'm not arguing for it in my comments. I'm just trying to answer questions about the article and clarifying ideas as well as I can.

Jun 02, 2009 11:19 AM
rating: 0
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