By Dirk Knemeyer
The first edition of this article went onto the OOSL web site two years or so ago, let's say 1997, just to put a year on it. I was pleased to receive feedback from people, both OOSL members and not, about how informative it proved to be, in terms of player valuation.
Since that article was written, the OOSL "universe" has expanded to 32 teams, with the institution of a sister league, the American Association, that shares our talent pool. More, there have been rule changes that directly impact player value in the OOSL. As such, so that an informative player valuation guide can exist as pertains to our little universe, I am updating this article to be valid in the existing paradigm. I hope that you enjoy it and find the insights as incisive as the original.
Position Players: A Trip Around the Diamond
The First Pitch - Player Usage
In terms of plate appearances, little has changed in the OOSL. What was valuable before remains valuable today. The major difference lies in the fact that, with more teams and no influx of new players, good 600 AB or 600 PA players are even less common. They must thus carry a larger premium in trade talks than ever before.
|Bad Barry Bonds||Hammerin' Hank Aaron|
600 AB - The most valuable. These players have no usage limitations and are free to play as much as they want. They also cannot be injured for more than three games at a time.
600+ PA - Also very valuable. These players will, typically, have to sit out a few games to make their usage through the season, but they also cannot be injured for more than three games at a time. As such, they are consistent playoff performers and very reliable. The value difference between these players and 600 AB is relatively minimal.
288 AB-599 PA - Anyone who is not 600+ PA is instantly marginalized, in terms of trade value. The specter of a 15 game injury always looms, a crucial consideration in terms of the post-season, in particular. The value of these players grows in relation to their plate appearances: the more usage they have, the more they can perform on the diamond and help their team. There is obviously a wide range here, as 599 PA guys can essentially play all year while 288 AB guys are half-timers only. Notably, 288 is the low end for this level because it represents the lowest numbers of AB's that a player can have and still enjoy the benefits of being 600 PA during their overusage year.
224 AB-256 AB - The lowest value point. Barring the freak anomalous exception, these players would need two usage designations spent on them to be 600 PA or AB. In non-overusage years, these players can start less than half of their team's games. They are strictly part-timers.
The Second Pitch - Player Value by OPS and Defense
OPS is a "hot" statistic right now. While, in reality, it is not as accurate of a statistic as analysts would have you believe, it is very convenient to work with as it is easy to calculate and far more probing than "traditional" statistics, such as batting average or home runs. For our purposes, it is also a good way to sort OOSL talent, in terms of their offensive abilities.
The other consideration is defense. I am lumping defense in with OPS for the simple reason that they operate dynamically in the OOSL universe: one is necessarily related to the other. The following will be a position-by-position breakdown that considers the relationship and value point of OPS and defense in the OOSL and the AA.
There is an implicit assumption that the players being discussed have 600+ PA's. That is to say, if you are dealing with a "part-time" or "platoon" player, the value point does change in some cases. Keep that in mind as you are absorbing the information.
There are some general realities that are "cross positional," if you will, to keep in mind as an accompaniment to the below breakdowns.
In terms of OPS, here is a rough sketch of the impact that players at various levels have in the league:
.930 OPS or better - These are the superstars. They bat in the heart of the lineup and have the capacity to lift a team to victory. Rare and valuable, these are highly sought after individuals. There is a wide variance from .930 to 1.150, the high end, but they are all OOSL legends. Obviously, the higher the OPS, the better the contribution.
.900-.930 - Star players. These guys cannot carry a team on their own but are crucial components to winning lineups. Ideal in the heart of the order and, for the few teams wealthy enough to afford to, absolute menaces in the 1, 2, or 6 holes.
.860-900 - Borderline star players. Fine for the heart of the order. A team can get away with their best hitter being in this category, but these are players who, while productive, cannot individually shoulder the load for a team.
.840-.860 - Productive offensive contributors. A little soft for the 3-4-5, but dandy in the 1, 2, or 6, let alone the 7 or 8. Typically are decent all-around players or specialize in either slugging or on-base, never excelling in both.
.800-.840 - Productive offensive contributors, junior. In the heart of the order this tier will prove sorely overmatched. But, like the level above, are superlative in other important roles, depending on their particular skill sets.
.775-800 - Decent offensive contributors. These players should never be in the heart of the order and, except for the rare exception, operate best in the 2, 6, 7, or 8 hole. Some of these players have higher on base but limited slugging and thus can be effective at the top of the order.
.740-.775 - Marginal offensive contributors. With some luck, they can be an asset. Absence of the same and they will drag a lineup down.
Below .740 - Negligible-to-negative offensive contributors. A few guys in the low 700's can contribute offensively at a role-playing level. Most can't. Under .700 OPS and forget it. They'd better flash a mean glove or they are particularly poor.
Here is a position-by-position synthesis of defense rating and OPS, with the relative importance to each position around the base ball diamond considered:
Catchers have undergone a real metamorphosis over the course of OOSL history. As the talent base has thinned out with the move to 32 teams, clubs are sacrificing defense at the position for offense.
The most important consideration at the catcher position is arm strength. OOSL catchers rate anywhere from -4 to +2 in this regard. +1 and +2 armed catchers should be limited to teams with a majority of left handed starting pitchers, to "hide" the balloon throwing arms. Catchers with arm ratings from -4 to 0 play for all sorts of OOSL teams. Those are "acceptable" arm ratings, with -4 being the most valuable and 0 the least.
Catchers with -2 or better arms can exist in a starting capacity all the way down to a .650 OPS. -1 armed catchers start in the OOSL down to about .700 OPS, at the low end. For zero armed catchers, .750 is probably the low water mark. Catchers with +1 or +2 arms had better be above .800 OPS to meet up to league minimums.
As with all positions, the listed OPS corresponding with the defense rating is the lowest acceptable number. You should try to aim higher than that, not lower.
The best catchers have a -3 or better arm and are in the .800-.850 range. In fact, any catcher with a zero or better arm who is around or above .800 OPS has real value in this league. But the ideal, not surprisingly, is the combination of arm strength and offense.
-2 or better armed catchers down to about .720 are valuable, as well. There is a priority on defense at the catcher position, so these players who do not hurt the team offensively while excelling defensively are esteemed.
As in "real life," first base is a position defined more by the offense and less by the defense. Numerous "d4" starters litter the league, and their owners do not seem too concerned about it. With the caveat that defense always matters at some level, I am going to focus primarily on ordering by OPS for this position.
The top level first basemen have an OPS of .920 or greater. Those are the superstars, and there are a handful of them around the league. The very best approach and eclipse a 1.000 OPS, but anyone at this level can reasonably score 100+ runs while driving in 100+, as well.
The next level at first base falls between .880 and .920 OPS. These are top run producers, guys who will be strong in the heart of someone's batting order. However, they will likely be somewhat specialized, insofar as they will not have a huge OB and SLG. But they are top shelf, nonetheless.
The third level, .840-.880 OPS, is where you begin to worry about defense. Only a high run producing d4 should be starting who falls in this window. These players are decent offensively and acceptable in terms of being "OOSL level" but are incapable of carrying a top offense, which first basemen oftentimes do in our league. They definitely contribute offensively, but in a complimentary capacity.
The last level is .775-.840. At this level, no one worse than a d3 rating should be employed. At .800 or below, only d1 ratings need apply. This level presents fair offensive contributors, but you are beginning to fall dangerously far behind the top half of first basemen in the league, hitting-wise. Up around the .840 level you can find some gems who do help an offense to click.
Second base and shortstop take a decided turn away from first base: here, defense rules. A d4 has never started in the OOSL, and never should. D3's have turned up periodically and are borderline acceptable, but strongly frowned upon. The preponderance of players in the OOSL are rated d1 or d2. I will break them down by OPS with the implicit understanding that a player with a d1 is always worth more than a d2, to the tune of, roughly, 75 points of OPS. To drop down to a d3 is another 75 points of OPS.
The stars at these positions have .800 OPS and above. They are able to contribute something offensively, definitely an anomaly for the middle infield.
.750-.800 OPS represent the next level. These are solid OOSL performers. Players with a d3 rating should not be under .750, else fall below the minimum expected ability level for an OOSL/AA player.
.700-.750 is the next benchmark. These players don't bring much to the table offensively, but are not complete disasters. D2's should not venture below .700 OPS.
.600-.700 level is for d1's only. A glove man who can't hit a lick can survive in the middle infield, if nowhere else.
The best middle infielders are d1 or d2 and have an OPS above .800. While defense is paramount, a d2 at this level is much preferred to a d1 at a lower level of offensive contribution. At the middle infield positions, it is crucial to get someone who helps your offense, making your entire lineup deeper. That is not always possible, of course!
As in real life, third base is something of a "tweener" position. While it is not as important defensively as the middle infield, it cannot be haphazardly ignored for offensive gains, as with first base. The result is a wide range of value, tied closely to both OPS and defense.
For starters, d4's should not be used at the position, except in the most extreme of circumstances. This might include limitations to or unusual construction of one's roster, or perhaps having a player with a .900+ OPS that is poor defensively elsewhere and could open up a spot at his initial position by shifting around the diamond. In any event, d4 at third base in the OOSL is almost unheard of, and rightfully so.
The highest level of value at the position is .840 OPS and above. The better the defense the better the player, but anything d3 and below in this range retains top value.
The second level is .775-.840 OPS. Again, up to a d3 is OK but the inferior glove men begin to lose their value toward the bottom of this range. These players are adequate offensively, to varying degrees, and will not hurt an offensive attack. Used properly and, particularly in the better cases, some can really help a lineup.
The third level is .725-775. These players will not hurt a lineup but will not bring anything special to contribute to a winning formula. If you are down in this level, no lower than a d2 is acceptable.
The last level is .675-.725. These poor offensive performers are decidedly below average, but can make up the fringe of the league. D1's only need apply.
|Babe Ruth||Duke Snider|
Center field joins the middle infield and, to a lesser degree, catcher as a position where defense ranks ahead of offense in order of importance. To the best of my recollection, no OOSL team has ever entered a season with a starting center fielder any worse than d2. In fact, as Strat-O-Matic has made a number of former d1 center fielders d2's, today we find a preponderance of the league fielding d2's as opposed to d1's, and a real premium being attached to the former. The following OPS levels assume either a d1 or d2 rating with the former clearly more valuable than the latter.
.900 OPS and above represent the cream of the crop. You can count d1's at this level on one hand. Good-to-great batters, these players bring a total package of offense and defense to their team.
.840-.900 OPS is the second level. These are good offensive performers who also bring top defense. They are valuable by any measure.
.800-.840 OPS are the next group, made up of performers who help an offense out while also solidifying a defense. Particularly at the high end, these are very fine players.
.750-800 OPS is about as low as a team should go with a d2 center fielder. D1's in this range are solid OOSL performers.
.700-.750 OPS is for d1's only. Failing all else, throw a glove man here and enjoy the benefits to your pitching staff.
Left and Right Field are similar to first base in importance, but more important because outfield throwing arms are also factored into defensive value (explained below). Given the large number of hard hitting outfielders who are rated a d4, a lot of 4's show up in the corner outfield positions. While never the ideal, a pounding batter to clean things up in the middle of an order is often crucial for a team's chemistry and more than warrants being played.
.920+ OPS are the superstars. They carry teams and win pennants. The higher the better, but all of these guys are special.
The next tier falls in the .880-.920 range. These are star players who contribute to a winning program, even though it is rare for these types to carry a team on their own.
.840-.880 is where you start to worry about defense. D4 is not unheard of here, but this would be about the low end for that caliber of defensive player. On the other side of the spectrum, d1's in this class are truly valuable performers.
.800-.820. These are competent offensive performers. D3's begin to become tenuous, while d2's are league standard and d1's commodities.
.750-.800. D1 or d2 only. This class of player will not do much to elevate an offense, but won't hurt one, either. Good glove work makes up for a lack of offensive production, but .750 is probably as low as a corner outfielder should go.
|Willie Mays||Turkey Stearnes|
Outfield throwing arms also fit into the equation, but are admittedly more intangible than range factor and error rating, since Strat-O-Matic does not keep any sort of statistic that pertains to throwing arms. Here is a basic indicator of how throwing arms rate:
The final factor to consider is Error Rating. Below I have included a range of acceptable error ratings, from best in the deck to borderline OOSL acceptable. Anything worse than the high number should be considered to bring the player's range rating down approximately one level. As you might imagine, in every case, the lower, the better.
For catchers, "T" and "P" ratings are more important than error ratings. T4 P1 is the best possible combo, while T9 P4 is about as low as one would ideally want to go.
The Third Pitch - Singular Talents
No bigger mistake can be made by an OOSL owner than trading away a Singular Talent and not getting back full value - or more. Some players are incomparable, irreplacable, and capable of paving the way for an entire league. Here is who they are and why they are considered such. If you have 'em, please don't move them without considering numerous offers and securing at least their full value.
Those are the "Super Eight." Notice that all eight played, for the most part, between the end of the dead ball era and the demise of the color line, thanks to Strat-O-Matic's inaccurate method of normalization. But, regardless of the reason, these guys are mega-stars and command super premiums, in terms of trade value. Significantly, all are 600 PA and above guys, too. Foxx is probably the "worst" and Ruth likely the "best." Rating the "in between" would be largely idiosyncratic: they are all outstanding.
There is one other group of players that, while certainly not comparable to the "Super Eight," do deserve special mention as talents worth more than their apparent abilities.
A popular theory today is that on base percentage is the best indicator of team/player success. I do not agree as vociferously as modern commentators, but there is no question that high OB/leadoff-type players are of premium value in Strat-O-Matic. There are not many of them, yet an effective leadoff hitter is vital to league success.
Players who fall under this umbrella are those with an OB above .400 who are decent to excellent baserunners (Steal - B, Run - 15, at worst). There are other acceptable lead-off hitters in the league, but these top select few are the premier talents. They are worth more than their OPS and other abilities may suggest. The few that combine 600 PA's and/or good defense are exponentially more valuable, as you might imagine.
The Fourth Pitch - Value by Comparison
Simply put, there is no better way to compare how much one guy is worth than by comparing him to another. As such, I am grouping together players who I think have approximately the same value, yet are very different in a number of ways. By looking at them carefully, this may help you to get a handle on value in the OOSL universe. While this is admittedly subjective, I bring my six years of experience running my own team as well as six years running a litany of computer teams with me. Don't worry: I am not trying to misdirect you and make a sweet trade parlay as a result! Also - keep in mind this assumes strict OOSL rules: 100% usage and potential overusage, as well.
Again, this is not to say that these players should be traded for each other, or even that, a year from now, I will think these are great matches. But, over the past six years, I am of the opinion that this is a good way to compare a smattering of different types of players, mixing good defense with bad and different positions with one another.
The Fifth Pitch - Miscellaneous
Obviously, home ballpark plays a definite role in how valuable a player is. Harmon Killebrew should never play in a Forbes field or a Griffith Stadium; by the same token, Killebrew would be better than, say, Roger Connor at Hilltop Park, because his hefty home runs would be enhanced.
While you certainly do not want to take less value in trade than a player is worth, often times you can plug in a "worse" player who fits your park better and get a superior result. The key is knowing your park and playing to its advantages.
Steal/running/bunting/hit and run abilities certainly have some impact on how a player rates or what his value is. But these abilities are situational. It is irrelevant how Ted Williams bunts or hit-and-runs, because no owner of Teddy Ballgame would ever employ those strategies with him. However, when a Bid McPhee has a bunt rating of "C" it hurts his value a little bit: his hitting card is awful and you might want to be moving runners over with him - hard to do if he is a poor bunter.
So, the short answer is that the value of those abilities are context sensitive. Similarly, if playing in Wrigley Field, I would not be too concerned about the running/stealing ratings of my players because it might be wiser to give my hitters every possible chance to dink out a little home run. But, in Braves Field, stealing/running ratings are vital as it is almost impossible to score on a single from first base. Absent the power hitting game, the "inside," running style need be present.
For everyday players, you should look for a Balance rating of "Even." Left handed hitters who hit right handers better are alright, but right handed hitters who hit lefties better are definitely marginalized for it. There are simply less left handed hurlers in the deck. However, in the case of bench players/pinch hitters, the crazily unbalanced performers are often the best. It is all a matter of filling a role.
Pitchers: The Delicate Art of Calculating the Unexpected
The First Pitch - A Discussion of Methods
Thanks to Strat-O-Matic's peculiarities in concocting this set, evaluating pitchers is not as simple as evaluating batters. With batters, we can glance at their usage, defense rating, and OPS and have a reasonable idea what they might be worth. A three second glance at a player can reveal whether he is a superstar, an everyday player, or discard pile fodder. This is, in large part, because Strat-O-Matic created the player cards to effectively reproduce the statistics a player advertises. Not so for hurlers.
|Three Finger Brown||Warren Spahn|
Go ahead and sort pitchers by ERA. Half of the top 100 pitchers in such a sort would be below average in an OOSL/AA sense, even though over 400 pitchers are employed between the two leagues. Why? Inconsistent card making.
We know the reason for this: SOM, for whatever reason, has allowed era biases to manifest on the actual card images to a far greater degree than the batter cards. Plus, since the card making process is driven more by "Baserunners Allowed Per 9 Innings" as opposed to ERA, guys who seem like garbage on the surface are sometimes pretty fair. This works the other way, too, as some hurlers with really high BR/9 but low ERA's are surprisingly good. Problem is, there is precious little consistency in either case.
The answer to this problem is that, instead of being able to look at a pitcher's set-up ERA or BR/9, we must double-click on the player's name and glance at the actual percentage of carded numbers that SOM has given him. As we will see in a bit, this incorporates three primary aspects of the card, each carrying significant importance.
The Second Pitch - Usage and the Pitcher
Thankfully, as far as usage is concerned, pitchers are even more simple than batters to decipher: all we need to look at is the amount of innings pitched they are rated for.
270-300 IP - are the most valuable group. They can: 1) Start on only three days rest; 2) Be overused to the overusage maximum of 400 IP while only expending a single usage slot; 3) For all intents and purposes, start every fourth day all year, without missing a start, thanks to having enough innings. This is the stud group, innings-wise.
200-270 IP - are the next most valuable group. They enjoy the first two advantages of the 270-300 guys, with the caveat that they will need to skip some starts in order to avoid going beyond league usage limits. As you might imagine, the more innings, the better, to the tune of, roughly, every seven innings allowing a hurler an extra start per year.
154-199 IP - These pitchers can only start every fifth day and are limited on innings. Some owners use top pitchers in this usage level as "super relievers," gobbling up 150+ innings out of the bullpen. As starters, they cannot be counted on to anchor a staff but can be an important component of an excellent staff. Overused, these hurlers can pitch every fourth day on the low end, with highest end guys being eligible for almost the full 400 innings. The 154 cut-off was chosen because only these pitchers are eligible for an ERA title in a "normal" year.
100-153 IP - Here you are looking at a spot starter (15 to 20 starts), a swing man, or a bullpen ace. These pitchers are valuable in that they can be overused up to 400 innings with double overusage, and give a team owner flexibility, especially in cases of highly talented pitchers. However, these remain part-time guys.
Under 100 IP -The more innings, the better, but these guys, without overusage, are almost by definition relegated to being relief pitchers.
The Third Pitch - Deconstructing Pitcher's Cards
A fearsome task it is: figuring out who is actually good and who actually stinks. The "formula" is fairly simple. I am going to break the three "important" card components down into various levels of quality, or lack thereof. Keep in mind that you need to finally synthesize all three components, not only one or two, to accurately analyze a pitcher.
The first, and probably most important component of the card.
|"Old Peat" Alexander||Babe Adams|
Don't be seduced into only looking at On Base. Ignoring this component will leave you wishing - most assuredly - that you hadn't.
Admittedly the least important, this nonetheless has an extremely significant impact on pitcher value.
Putting the factors together, the average OOSL starter will roughly have 23.0% On Base, 5.0% Extra Base, and one Ballpark Diamond. Any pitcher with about a 21.5% On Base, 4.5% Extra Base, and one Ballpark Diamond is a borderline ace OOSL pitcher. A poor OOSL pitcher would have about a 24.0% On Base, 5.5% Extra Base, and two Ballpark Diamonds. At the opposite end, a Walter Johnson flashes 16.0% On Base, 3.0% Extra Base, and one Ballpark Diamond. The degrees of difference are modest, indeed. You must keep on your toes, else be taken straight to the cleaners!
It gets more complicated when you are evaluating pitchers with wildly disparate numbers - say a 20.0% OB and 6.0% XB. If all else fails, use your best judgement based on league track record, reputation, and interest others have in said player.
The Fourth Pitch - Singular Talents
As with the batters, some of these guys are simply irreplaceable. Here is a list of the "Super Seven," from best to worst, including validation:
Walter Johnson has the best card in the game. And he has 244 innings pitched. He is the perfect pitching machine, a synthesis of ability and durability.
Smokey Joe Williams' card is clearly inferior to Johnson's and is really not comparable. However, he does have almost 30 more innings, which translates into four solid starts.
Pete Alexander has Smokey Joe Williams' talent and Walter Johnson's durability. That wonderful combination is good for third best in the whole set. Total stud.
Ed Walsh is the only pitcher in the deck whose card quality rivals Walter Johnson's. He only has 144 IP on his card, but the quality is so high that he belongs in this unique galaxy.
Roger Clemens' real-life career isn't over yet, so he might not hold up in this class. But, for the time being, he is almost as good as Pete Alexander, with a few less innings. Awesome.
Addie Joss is "Ed Walsh-lite": 30 less innings with a card not quite as good. But it is one of the best few cards in the deck, far, far better than what many teams consider their "ace caliber" guys.
Christy Mathewson is not quite as good as Roger Clemens, plus has a few less (207) innings pitched. Tremendous? Yep. A far cry from Walter Johnson, he strongly remains one of the "Super Seven."
In the case of Johnson, Williams, and Alexander, just don't trade them. The others have little nicks in their armor and are not beyond shipping out of town, but make absolute sure that you are getting what they are worth. Selling Ed Walsh short will mean a long uphill climb for you and a quick road to a World's Series title for someone else.
The Fifth Pitch - Value By Comparison
While this should be easier than with the batters, the lines are simply so fine between one guy and another that comparing these hurlers is a daunting task. Be that as it may, here is my best effort:
Again, I would not necessarily advocating trading one guy for another on the same list. But comparing these guys and their disparate strengths and weaknesses, you should begin to get a handle on the delicate balance between innings pitched and ability.
The Final Pitch - Miscellaneous
There are other factors that should be considered. On Base is not a blanket statistic. A pitcher with 24 On Base but 12 of that being walks is better than an identical pitcher with only 4 of his On Base coming from walks. Be aware of the amount of walks a pitcher has when considering his On Base. For instance, a Babe Adams is far softer than he appears because all of his On Base comes from hits. To the contrary, Nolan Ryan is far better than he appears because his On Base is primarily made up of walks.
Endurance rating is important. A starter like Cy Young with a starting endurance of 9 is worth more than an identical pitcher with a starting endurance of 8, 7, or 6. Likewise, as great as a reliever like Tom Henke is, his 1 relief endurance rating significantly marginalizes his value. Most pitchers have a relief endurance of 4; the lower it goes, the less usable a hurler is.
Hold ratings also have an impact. 99% of all left handed pitchers have a -2 hold; 99% of all right handed pitchers have a +1 hold. That makes a left handed starter more valuable than his identical right handed counterpart. Similarly, watch out for the "Dazzy Vance factor" - any starter with a hold higher than +2 - and there are only one or two of them - are far less valuable than their card would otherwise suggest. Bases will be stolen on them with impunity.
Hitting and fielding are more complementary things - a bonus if good and a disappointment if bad. While they matter, it should certainly not be enough to quash an otherwise good deal.
The other thing to watch out for is the "Balance" rating. True even is always best, with the farther unbalanced a pitcher gets, the more apt they are to being only effective in specialty relief. Pitchers who are not even do lose something in trade evaluations, especially the left handers.
Teams: How To Build A Winner
|Putting a Team Together|
There is more than one way to build a winning team. However, a look back at the history of the OOSL reveals common features of the best teams:
So the best teams feature a high level of star power in both the lineup and rotation, plus have a lineup that is extremely deep. Another feature consistent across Championship teams is above average - or better - defense.
That is not to say teams must have those levels of talent in order to win; however, it is a signifier that a balanced team with a healthy number of top players will undoubtedly fare well.
Regardless of the talent - or lack thereof - that your particular team has, there are some guidelines that can help you get the most out of the hand you have been dealt:
I hope that this proves beneficial for all of us, rookies and veterans alike. See you on the diamond!
Back to OOSL Central.