MLB statistics that will change the way you build your DFS lineup
Statistics: A Primer to Making Better Decisions with your Fantasy Rosters
There is a beauty to baseball that lies in the convergence of sports and statistics. There are multiple layers of MLB statistics. Surface level statistics provide someone with an idea of how a player performed last year. These surface statistics are usually used directly or indirectly for scoring in fantasy leagues. Runs (R); Runs Batted In (RBI), Homeruns (HR), Stolen Bases (SB) and Batting Average (BA) provide performance numbers for hitters. Strikeouts (K), Walks (BB), Earned Run Average (ERA), Walks + Hits per Inning Pitched (WHIP), and Wins (W) illustrate how successful of a season a pitcher had. Everyone who follows baseball knows and understands those MLB statistics. Few people realize how little those numbers mean about how a player will do over the rest of the season.
Getting to the next level
You could say there are 2 levels of using predictive statistics. Either providing validation for surface stats or a basis for exposing them as fluky. I am going to focus on the statistics that do not require a CPA license, or a degree in finance or statistics to understand. Using these statistics to make your player evaluations will take your DFS and season long fantasy baseball game to the next level. You will learn to validate performances or determine which players’ output is more likely the result of luck than skill.
Just keep one thing in context here: The predictive ability of a MLB statistic is based on our ability to get a large amount of sample data. That means that these statistics become more realistic and more reliable with each additional plate appearance a batter sees. Early in the season, few to no stats are essentially random numbers with little meaning. As the season progresses, each statistic will stabilize. When a statistic stabilizes, it means that there is enough data so that this statistic can be used to set or adjust expectations for that player as the season continues.
MLB statistics that will you need to know
MLB Statistics for Hitters
K% is strikeout percentage. It is simply the amount of times a hitter gets struck out per plate appearance. 20% is league average. Hitters with K% less than 20% have shown that an ability to put the ball in play that is better than league average. More balls put in play means more chances for hits. This is a good thing. Hitters with K% above 20%, may have more power to compensate in production, or else they may just be bad hitters. The further away from that range, so you should pay more attention when a players K% is greater than 5% away from league average.
BB% (Walk percentage) can be analyzed similarly to K%. High BB% suggests good plate discipline. Better hitters show good plate discipline as they wait for a mistake or a good pitch to hit rather than swinging at anything they see. 8% is league average. Hitters with 3-4% BB% probably need to accompany that with a low K% to illustrate a contact skill or else that bad patience can become a problem for the hitter. These hitters can be very streaky and could just as easily crap a brick for you in a DFS contest as they could win it for you singlehandedly. Higher BB% (9% or better), leads to more week-to-week consistency as these hitters can at least take some walks while they are struggling and have higher OBPs, which means a higher floor in DFS
BABIP stands for Batting Average on Balls In Play. This number is the percentage of batted balls (i.e. excludes strikeouts and foul balls) that wind up as hits. League average is somewhere between .290 and .310, though it can definitely vary depending on the hitter. Some speedy contact hitters may have a BABIP of .330-.340, because they are able to beat out ground balls more than slower hitters, while some power hitters will have lower BABIPs because homeruns are not counted by this stat.
When you start looking at outliers they will usually regress towards league average and bring that players batting average with it. If you see a good hitter with an unusually low BABIP, there is often a hot streak coming, so keep tabs on that player, because they are probably priced at a value in DFS contests.
MLB Statistics for Pitchers
Contrary to hitters, higher Strikeout rates are good for pitchers. Less balls hit in play means less runs, means higher upside for that pitcher. Contact pitchers can still be good pitchers, but it’s the flamethrowers than can be special. There is a lot to unwrap in those last two sentences, but let’s focus on the numbers at hand.
K/9 is how many Batters a pitcher strikes out for every 9 innings they pitch. The “per nine” part is so we can accurately compare the strikeouts of a pitcher who threw 150 innings to those of a pitcher who threw 220. League average is 7.7 K/9, so it is fair to assume that someone with that K/9 falls somewhere around league average as an overall pitcher. Below that, there may be few pitchers even playable in a DFS lineup. However there is context to a pitcher.
A K/9 of around 9.0 implies that a pitcher has mad sex appeal and is the kind of pitcher you want to consider for your DFS lineup when he is going at a value. Nevertheless, K/9 is hardly the only number you should be looking at before making DFS decisions.
If you are valuing a pitcher based on K/9, make sure you are also looking at BB/9. The same “per nine” stuff applies, but with a league average of 2.9 BB/9, if a pitcher is walking 4 hitters every 9 innings, he’d better have a K/9 of greater than 10, or else those walks will make him prone to tanking your DFS lineups. Conversely, someone with a BB/9 around 2.0 probably has solid command, which helps limit runs. If you find someone with a BB/9 at 2.5 or less and a K/9 up around 9, you probably have a high upside guy on your hands.
In general, ignoring pitchers with bad BB/9, will limit risk in your DFS lineups. Tournaments are the only DFS game I would consider using someone with a bad BB/9 and even then I’d be wary.
So now that we’ve given you K/9, BB/9, let’s talk about the stat that takes all that (and more) into account for you and tells you what the pitcher’s ERA SHOULD be, based on everything else they are doing. The difference between the two suggests how likely a pitcher’s ERA is his true skill or if there has been a lot good or bad luck involved in that pitcher’s performance so far. If you see someone with an FIP that is a full point or greater different from their ERA, that pitcher’s ERA over the rest of the year will likely be closer to their FIP than their ERA thus far. For example, If a pitcher has an ERA of 3.00 but a FIP of 4.20, decide if a 4.20 ERA pitcher would be good for you; if not, this is not the droid you are looking for.
If you see a guy with a 4.5 ERA, you should check his FIP before dismissing him. If his FIP is closer to 3.3, you may have a guy who is pitching well and just needs a few breaks to get hot, and those are the guys you want to add in fantasy baseball. While you will want to make more sophisticated decisions as you improve at DFS, a FIP/ERA split this dramatic can almost singlehandedly make that pitcher a solid value in DFS.
Always remember that context is relevant to numbers and we can’t always know what that context may be. We can, however, use statistics to make better decisions and be right more often. If I had to narrow these stats down for a beginner to prioritize, start with FIP for pitchers and both BB% and K% for hitters. Those stats will help you filter out a lot of mediocre talent and avoid playing them while they are coming back to earth or hop on their back early when they are ready to carry you to a winning streak.
Most numbers in this article were accessed using Fangraphs.com, a website devoted to analyzing and developing baseball statistics in an effort to encourage better baseball decisions.
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