Thursday, July 24, 2008

(Almost) How the Elias Sports Bureau Rankings Work

The Elias Sports Bureau rankings are used every year to determine free agent compensation. The formula was agreed upon by the Owners and Players Association in the 1981 Collective Bargaining agreement and outlined in a document called “A Statistical System for the Ranking of Players.” This formula has never been released to the public, and people, as a result, are very perplexed when they see the rankings come out. How, for example, can Alex Rodriguez be the sixth best infielder of 2006-2007, behind the likes of Michael Young, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and Mike Lowell?

I hope to answer questions like that in this post, as I try to explain exactly how to calculate the formula.

The first thing done is to establish the pool of players. This is seemingly mundane, but people were probably surprised to see Tony Giarratano included in last year's ratings, since he hadn't played since 2005. It appears as if Tony G made the rankings because he finished the season on the disabled list. The rankings appear to rank every player who ends the season on the active roster or disabled list of a team. The American League rankings include every player finishing the season on an American League team and the same for the National League.

A position must then be assigned to the player. This is determined by finding the position where the player played the most games in the past two years. The players are then grouped into the following positions

C-1
1B-2 (Also Includes National League pinch hitters and designated hitters)
2B-3
3B-3
SS-3
OF-2
SP-4
RP-5
DH-2 (American League only; also includes players who pinch hit or pinch run in most of their games, eg. J.J. Furmaniak)

If you are following at home, you should have position sets for each of the two leagues right now, and you should also be wondering about that number after each of the positions.

That number will represent the statistical set on which players at that position will be judged. These statistical sets came from mlbtraderumors.com. This would have been impossible to figure out without those statistics available.

1. C: PA, BA, OBP, HR, RBI, FPCT*, Assists*
2. 1B, OF, DH: PA, BA, OBP, HR, RBI
3. 2B, 3B, SS: PA, BA, OBP, HR, RBI, FPCT*, Total Chances*
4. SP: Total Games (Games Started + 0.5*Games Relieved), IP, Wins, Winning Pct., ERA, K's
5. RP: Total Games (Games Relieved +2*Games Started), IP**, Wins+Saves, IP/H, K/BB, ERA

*Defensive statistics are only accumulated at the player's designated position.
**Innings Pitched are given just 75% of the weight of the other relief categories.

Players are then ranked in each of those statistics within their position, based on their totals over the last two years. The leader of each category gets N-1 points, while the last place finisher gets 0 points, where N is the amount of players in the category. As an example, I am going to assign Elias Rankings to Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, and Babe Ruth based on their career numbers. Here is how they rank, relative to eachother:


PA BA OBP HR RBI
Babe Ruth 4 2 2 3 2
Willie Mays 3 4 4 4 4
Barry Bonds 2 5 3 1 3
Ted Williams 5 1 1 5 5
Hank Aaron 1 3 5 2 1

Now, here are the points they accumulated in each statistic:


PA BA OBP HR RBI
Babe Ruth 1 3 3 2 3
Willie Mays 2 1 1 1 1
Barry Bonds 3 0 2 4 2
Ted Williams 0 4 4 0 0
Hank Aaron 4 2 0 3 4

Out of a possible 20 points, Ruth earned 12, Mays earned 6, Bonds earned 11, Williams netted 8, while Aaron ended up with 13. This means their Elias Rankings would be:

Hank Aaron: 65.000
Babe Ruth: 60.000
Barry Bonds: 55.000
Ted Williams: 40.000
Willie Mays: 30.000

There are a couple of things to notice. First, your Elias Rating is dependent on the people you are being ranked against. Bobby Kielty had a score of 31.646 last year, but he was in no way better than Willie Mays. This is because Mays has been compared to the all time greats, while Kielty was compared to outfielders, designated hitters, and first basemen who finished last season on an American League team. While that is an extreme example, it illustrates the point that a player can have an inflated Elias Ranking when players at his position in his league are particularly weak in a given season. Second, there is no boost for blowing out a category. I've already alluded to Alex Rodriguez last season, but he led all thirdbasemen in home runs over the 2006-2007 stretch. Even if he had hit 20 less home runs, his ranking wouldn't have changed. He still gets just one more point than the second place finisher. This is probably the biggest flaw of the system, with the use of fielding percentage being in close contention.

So the players at each position in each league are ranked in those categories. That is seemingly, simple, but there are plenty of questions to be asked. Looking at rate stats such as batting average and on base percentage, these are typically rounded when presented. I have learned that no stats are rounded in these rankings. While on TV, .3001 and .2999 both come out to .300 hitters, the .3001 hitter will finish above the .2999 hitter in the statistic. When players tie, they share the points in a category.

Back to the process, once each player gets a score, they are grouped together with the other positions in their group. For example, the shortstops, thirdbasemen, and secondbasemen are grouped together. The top 20% of players in each group are Type A free agents, while the next 20% are Type B free agents.

That brings us to the one thing I am stuck on. Players get an adjustment in their counting stats for time missed on the disabled list. I have thus far been unable to figure out how this is accounted for. If anybody wants to take a shot at that, please let me know and I'll send you the numbers I have. As soon as the disabled list adjustment is quantified, we should be able to figure out this formula.

I wanted to give thanks to Tim Dierkes of mlbtradrumors.com, Bill Ferris of detroittigersweblog.com, and Murray Chass of murraychass.com who each helped me to crack this mystery.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's not based on career numbers. It's the last 3 years of stats, but I'm not sure how each one is weighted.

Kurt said...

Murray Chass helped a blogger? I'm shocked. I always liked his writing and found it interesting until he started going crazy against bloggers.

Nicely done, Eddie! I always wondered how they came up with their rankings.

Eddie B said...

Anonymous,

It's the past two seasons.

I was using the career numbers of those five guys to illustrate how the rankings are calculated.

Zach said...

You got linked on MLB Trade Rumors. Nice job, Eddie.

hive17 said...

There is another flaw in the system that is currently stealing a 1st round draft pick from the Brewers in favor of the Angels. The winning percentage statistic for CC Sabathia is giving an unfair hit to Milwaukee because of the trade. Milwaukee didn't lose the games that CC played with Cleveland, but those 8 losses counted against CC in the ranking of his winning %, hence a slightly lower ranking, hence a slightly lower F.A. ranking, hence the Brewers getting robbed of a pick. Bottom line: Tex is NOT better than CC; only in the skewed Elias rankings.

Jeff said...

Uh, what? The Brewers didn't lose those games, but CC Sabathia's team of record did. Why on earth shouldn't those losses count in his ranking? He pitched them, his team lost them. I'm not advocating WP% as a measurement of evaluating a pitcher's past performance *or* true talent level, but if you accept that, which you seem to do, your argument makes zero sense. For that matter, if you're trying to make some zany "Only his value with the Brewers should count, because they're the ones losing him and hence compensation" argument, none of his counting stats from CLE should be on the board either. So great, he jumps well up in WP% and ERA, the rate stats. Weighted against the IP loss, that's a net negative and he'd be ranked even lower. There's ungodly amounts of things to fix here, but you have not pointed out one of them.

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