MASTER NOTES: Roto Scoring for MLB

A long time ago, when I was BaseballHQ.com’s the Roto Gaming columnist, I wrote an analysis about the best roto categories to use to mirror or parallel “real baseball.” That is, could we change the categories from the traditional four (it was all 4x4 in those days) to different stats so the NL or AL standings in the real game would closely resemble the standings if the teams were scored roto-style.

The revised categories did significantly improve the correlation between roto scoring and real won-loss standings. Unfortunately, like most of my brilliant ideas about improving the game, this one was roundly ignored and we all moved on. So I don’t remember what the best four cats ended up being. I do remember that stolen bases and saves were really unconnected to success, that all the new categories were counting stats and not ratios, and that Total Bases was a category for both the hitters and the pitchers.

I don’t remember what made any of this pop into my mind, except possibly that I am bummed that my Tout Wars team is languishing, in part because of a SB total that makes the 2016 Orioles look like the 1985 Cardinals. Either that or I was trying desperately not to think about Mrs. Masternotes’ latest request that I clean up the area around my desk.

Whatever the case, I did think about it, and I thought I’d re-run the first part of the test—to see how well the standings align if we compare the real standings to the roto-scored standings, not to tilt again at the windmill of category change, but to see if there are some teams that are way over- or underperforming their roto stats.

 

First I gathered up all the MLB team stats and player stats through June 7. I stack-ranked all the teams by league by winning percentage, ignoring the divisions. That was the easy part.

The hard part came in manufacturing representative roto squads for the individual teams. I had resolved to make each team a standard squad, with 14 hitters, following the position requirement rules for hitters, and nine pitchers. That turned out to be somewhere between difficult and impossible.

First, most MLB teams carry only 12 hitters, so getting 14 hitters per team was very tough. It meant including DL guys, temporary replacement callups, and the occasional clubhouse attendant. Making them fit the positional rules was even harder. For HOU, I had to assign Josh Reddick to a CI spot, even though he doesn’t show as eligible in the BHQ stats I am using. MIN didn’t have enough hitters, period.

At the same time, it was hard to figure out which nine pitchers to use per team, since most of them have had twice that number or more pitch for them this year. I tried a minimum number of starters, a mandatory closer, every combo was just another headache to fill out the team. The Dodgers, in particular, seemed to have an endless parade of SPs, the result of their overt shenaniganizing with the 10-day DL.

You have doubtless endured a duffel bag full of me ranting about the hitter pitch split, if you’re a regular reader of Master Notes, or a regular listener to the column on the BaseballHQ Radio podcast (I have actually received an e-mail from a guy who reads it and listens to it, presumably when he’s not whipping his own back).

I’ve also had enough of me ranting on this topic (don’t get me started on drivers turning right too slowly), so I decided just to use the entire stat base for all the teams. So let’s move on to the results.

 

First of all, there weren’t as many gaps between real standings and the roto standings as I remembered from my first kick at this particular can. Nine teams exactly matched their standings spots, and seven more teams were within one spot. The biggest gap was MIN’s -7—the Twins are fifth in the AL standings but 12th in roto.

In the NL, five teams matched their standings spots, including the leader. WAS had a huge 133 points. The Nats led hitting by a wide margin, with 72 points easily outgunning ARI’s 59.5. WAS also notched 61 pitching points, third in pitching and just four points back of the D’Backs. ARI was second overall (NL-3), COL third (NL-2). The team furthest from its NL slot was PIT, ninth on the field but 12th in roto.

Down at the bottom, the 13th through 15th roto teams were also the 13th-15th NL teams: SF, SD, and PHI. The Phillies were the football fan who gets shanghaied into the baseball draft 15 minutes before it starts: 27.5 points, including just 7.5 (!) in hitting.  Both SD and SF came in under 50 points.

The top three AL teams (HOU, NYY, BOS) were a perfect match, and the high-flying Astros were by far the highest-scoring roto team with 143.5 points. The ’Stros led eight of the 10 categories, with a tie-sixth in SB and a second in WHIP the only blemishes. The bottom three teams were pretty close to matching: the AL’s 13-14-15 clubs went 15-14-13.

In contrast to the fidelity at the top and bottom, the middle was more of a muddle. From fourth through 12th, the teams closest to a match were CLE (6-AL, 8-roto) and TEX (12-AL, 10-roto). The Twins, as mentioned, were seven spots off, while two teams were five out and two more were four out. TAM is ninth in the AL but fourth in roto scoring, thanks to their potent HR offense. BAL is TAM’s reverse—fourth in the AL but ninth in roto thanks to 15th-place finishes in SB (no surprise) and WHIP, and a 13th in Ks. Both the Angels and Blue Jays were +4, the Angels in roto-6th (AL-10) and the Jays in seventh (AL-11).

 

So what does it all mean? Probably not that much. SB and Saves don’t matter that much, as noted earlier, so scoring well in those categories might artificially inflate a team’s perception through its roto placement. Similarly, low points in those cats could make teams look worse than they really are.

Of the bunch, the most interesting upsides to me are ARI in the NL and TOR in the AL. ARI’s roto scoring is consistently solid across the board, making their Cinderella season so far seem a little more real. And watch out for TOR, who languish near the bottom of the overall AL standings but are close in their division. Their roto score shows decent balance and power, and discounting SB and Saves vaults them to fifth in roto. And they’re just now getting back some of their key guys, including former MVP Josh Donaldson.

On the downside, if roto scores are any kind of hint, I think we have to be a little concerned that already struggling PIT could fare even worse as the season grinds along, and the Twins look like their surprisingly strong 2017 could be due for a big correction.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d better get busy straightening up around my desk.


Click here to subscribe

  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.