As the 2009 season kicks-off in full today, the most important change to occur in baseball over the past three seasons is the shift from a Three True Outcome philosophy, most easily associated with Billy Beane and Moneyball, to one focused on defense and run prevention. The question is how permanent this shift is and what will its effects be for fantasy baseball.
Fantasy baseball is inherently reliant on counting stats - homeruns, RBIs, SBs, Runs, Strikeouts, Saves, Wins - and mainly focused on the dependability of the hitting ones. A shift towards run prevention turns that operating philosophy on its head. There are no defensive categories. How exactly do you roster Adam Everett or appreciate Cesar Izturis the same way the major league clubs do when neither are great, sorry I meant good, on-base machines nor do they produce anything in the way of HRs and RBIs?
With TTO, or OPS, one needs only a spreadsheet with the basic baseball card stats to foresee who was going to get the chance to produce. One can argue this is exactly what Moneyball made mainstream, and it played perfectly into the type of analysis fantasy gamers needed to determine the next line of productive players.
Around this TTO philosophy has grown the universal view that pitching is the 50% of the fantasy baseball game that can be ignored. With TTO, the focus of pitching evaluation was finding those hurlers who kept the hitters on the strikeout outcome. Anything else put a pitcher's ratio at risk of the inevitable extra base hit.
Now, the challenge for the fantasy gamer is aligning his or her player valuations along the same lines as the major leagues clubs in order to foresee which players will be valuable in the future. But how do you measure something that isn't a simple spreadsheet plug? Defensive ability is not readily translatable to spreadsheet analysis by anyone with the ability to write simple formulas in Excel? As a matter of fact, its use is highly dependent on the visual - not that the Spreadsheet Smarties won't try to use their one tool and try to pound defense like a nail.
The biggest question for fantasy baseball enthusiasts is "Will this focus on run prevention continue?" and, if affirmatively answered, how is that information applied to the fantasy game.