The Change: Punt These Stats

It’s a tale as old as fantasy sports: pay attention to nine of the ten categories on draft day and you can dominate those categories and win. There are some accepted tenets to this strategy, called ‘punting,’ but as it is with all these things we hold for granted, it’s useful to look at what the numbers think of our Conventional Wisdom.

For one, which stats to punt?

Punt homers and surely your RBI will suffer. Punt steals and your runs should suffer. Punt batting average and everything will suffer.

We’ve settled on saves and steals, perhaps, but let’s see if that was the right thing to do. By correlating the regular 5×5 stats against each other, we can find out which stats are linked to each other. The stat with the lowest correlations to the other stats stands alone on an island and is the most puntable.

Hitting stats first. Shown are the r-squared numbers. All p values were less than .00001.

HR 1 0.451 0.725 0.048 0.118
R 0.451 1 0.701 0.140 0.296
RBI 0.725 0.701 1 0.0002 0.242
SB 0.048 0.140 0.0002 1 0.065
BA 0.118 0.296 0.242 0.065 1
  0.468 0.518 0.534 0.251 0.344

Looks like we were right. Steals are indeed the least comingled, correlated stat in the regular 5×5 toolbox. They aren’t at all correlated to RBI, they barely have anything to do with homers or even batting average. It’s worth noting that you’ll have to keep an eye on your runs stat if you punt batting average, but once you keep that in mind, you’re ready to punt the stat and collect your glory. Batting average comes in second, but there’s still a fairly strong link to runs and RBI that should make you shy away from the strategy.

The pitchers!

  K ERA WHIP Wins Saves
K (K/9) 1 0.133 0.145 0.002 0.128
ERA 0.133 1 0.613 0.033 0.058
WHIP 0.145 0.613 1 0.052 0.077
Wins 0.002 0.033 0.052 1 0.160
Saves 0.128 0.058 0.077 0.160 1
  0.282 0.367 0.377 0.249 0.285

Here’s an observation before we get into anything more detailed: all of these correlations are weaker. Makes you wonder if you shouldn’t just punt two pitching stats if you’re thinking about punting two stats.

And it also looks like maybe our Conventional Wisdom was off a bit. Wins are actually terribly correlated with other pitching stats. Strikeout rate, ERA, Whip — these things do not predict wins. Saves are negatively correlated with wins, so that’s not even a helpful .160 there. Generally, wins suck. Just don’t even think about them. Saves suck, too, but wins suck more.

Unless you change the minimums (from 30 IP to 100 IP) so that you’re looking only at starters. Then your r-squared on ERA and Whip changes to .283, and saves become the most puntable stat. This makes sense — if you’re going to punt saves, you’re not really going to look at relievers, and so then you can limit the pool to starters and get wins by finding ERA and Whip. So conventional wisdom was actually right on saves and steals.

The other punting truism we can sort of test is the idea that it’s really only an H2H strategy. I’ve said this often, because I think it’s really hard to win if you aren’t doing well in one category in roto scoring.

To look at this, let’s look at the average number of points it takes to win a 12-team mixed league with 5×5 categories. Thanks to Rudy Gamble at Razzball, we have that number: 101.5. Here is an example of how well you need to do in the other categories if you’re punting one category.

Points from Punted Category Points Needed Finishes Needed
0 101.5 3 1sts, 6 2nds
1 100.5 2 1sts, 7 2nds
2 99.5 1 1st, 8 2nds
3 98.5 9 2nds
4 97.5 8 2nds, 1 3rd

In deeper leagues, with more points on the table, but more points needed to win, the calculus changes a bit. It’s still a terrible idea. In my 20-team league, 176.5 has been the average winning score over the last five years.

Points from Punted Category Points Needed Finishes Needed
0 176.5 6 1sts, 3 2nds
2 174.5 4 1sts, 5 2nds
4 172.5 2 1sts, 7 2nds
6 170.5 9 2nds
8 168.5 7 2nds, 2 3rds

In head-to-head leagues, you can fight to win nine categories and give yourself and advantage by punting a category. Particularly if you get reliever-eligible starting pitchers, or put non-closers with elite rates in your reliever slots and put together a wicked lineup and staff, you can create an advantage for yourself by punting saves or steals.

But in roto leagues, you’ll have to do *really* well in the other categories to overcome a true punt. If you get fewer than four points in one category, you basically have to finish first or second in the other nine categories. That’s tough to do.

Score multiple times for Conventional Wisdom in fantasy baseball today. It’s still nice to see what the numbers have to say about these things.

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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Punting can be useful in a rebuilding roto year (Only league). You can get 2nd or 3rd place in roto by punting saves. Pick up a couple of set up men as potential closers the following year for $1-$3. Go Stars and Scrubs where the scrubs are guys without current jobs. If things fall your way with the scrubs, you’re contending. Otherwise you can sell the stars for future value.