MLB Rookie - Lesson 02 - Stats to Start: Batters

Jonathan Bales is the author of Fantasy Baseball for Smart People—a 197-page book created to help you win playing daily fantasy baseball on DraftKings.

Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m a stat nerd. I think numbers matter—a lot—and of all the daily fantasy baseball tips, I think they’re the most important in baseball. Although baseball is a volatile sport from day to day, there are so many games during a year that things even out over the long run and players are very likely to produce somewhere near their career mean over the course of a season.

Not all stats are created equally, though. Some stats explain past events very well. Batting average is one of those stats in MLB. In the NFL, rushing attempts are explanatory in their ability to explain past team success (teams that are winning run the ball).

For our purposes as daily fantasy players, however, we want stats to be predictive. We want them to help us make more accurate predictions, and if they can help us do that—regardless of how well they explain past events—then they’re useful.

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There are all kinds of different stats that are useful in different situations for daily fantasy baseball players. Below, I’ve listed three of my favorite basic stats when analyzing batters. I use all of them in conjunction with one another to help find value in a given day of daily fantasy baseball.

wOBA

wOBA, or Weighted On-Base Average, is a measure of a hitter’s overall value to his offense. It’s a catch-all statistic that has a lot of value in daily fantasy baseball when trying to assess overall offensive quality.

Basically, wOBA is an attempt to adjust batting average to account for the “worth” of different types of hits. Whereas batting average values a home run the same as a single, wOBA accounts for how much each type of hit helps a team. The league average wOBA is right around .315 or so. Anything above .365 is great, while anything below .295 is poor.

I like to use wOBA most in MLB cash games. The reason is that the stat accounts for overall offensive quality, which is more important to me in cash games since I’m (usually) trying to maximize points, or at least maximize my lineup’s floor. wOBA gives a broad picture of a hitter’s offensive ability that’s a good proxy for his fantasy production; when wOBA and salary don’t match up, that’s an opportunity to potentially exploit.

ISO

I listed ISO as second in my daily fantasy baseball tips. ISO stands for Isolated Power, and it’s extremely simple to calculate: Slugging Percentage Minus Batting Average. That’s it. Note that you can also simply take a player’s extra bases and divide that number by his at-bats, too.

The idea behind ISO is to quickly capture a hitter’s raw power. It isn’t as overarching of a statistic as wOBA—in fact, you can use the two together to help determine player value—but it does a really nice job of helping to determine a player’s upside. Home runs are king in daily fantasy baseball, and the bats with the highest ISO totals are unsurprisingly the ones who go yard the most frequently. The league average ISO is around .140. Anything above .170 is good, while anything below .100 is poor.

ISO is the primary statistic I consider when selecting hitters for GPPs. The reason is that, unless a player has the ability to steal bases, I want him to have consistent access to home runs and other extra-base hits. There’s no better stat for predicting power than ISO. It’s important in cash games, too, but has a lot more use when trying to maximize your lineup’s ceiling in tournaments.

BABIP

BABIP stands for Batting Average on Balls In Play, which is pretty self-explanatory. The idea behind BABIP is that, once a baseball is in play, whether or not it falls for a hit is due mostly to luck. We’d expect certain hitters to have slightly higher BABIP numbers than others—namely those who consistently hit the ball hard—but for the most part, BABIP is the result of randomness.

For most hitters, BABIP eventually regresses toward .300 or so. That is, most batters hit around .300 on the balls they put into play over the long run. The league’s top hitters can come close to a .340 BABIP over the long run, while the worst are around .260 or so.

When a batter’s recent BABIP deviates too much from .300 (or his career average for players who have been in the league for a few years), it’s a sign that he’s probably going to see either an improvement or decline in his future success at the plate. When a batter’s BABIP is very high—like .400—it means he’s been lucky with how his batted balls have fallen, and he’s likely to regress in the future. On the flip side, a hitter with a BABIP of .200, for example, has probably been really unlucky and will likely experience better luck in the future.

I like to use BABIP to assess recent play to see which hitters are actually struggling or thriving. If a batter has a high BABIP but otherwise mediocre or below-average fantasy production, that’s a really bad sign because it means his poor play probably isn’t due too much to poor luck. If a hitter has a low BABIP but has still performed well otherwise, on the other hand, that’s a really good sign that he could offer future value.

Splits

The final thing to keep in mind with these stats—and really any stat you consider when assessing batters in daily fantasy baseball—is that you should always analyze their splits, particularly versus lefties/righties. When assessing a player’s wOBA, for example, I don’t care about his overall numbers, but rather his wOBA versus lefties or righties—whichever handedness of pitcher he’s facing that day.

Analyzing lefty/righty splits is important because batters tend to struggle against pitchers of the same handedness. Here’s a look at OPS by handedness for the top 150 hitters since 2000:

opssplits

You can see that right-handed batters perform the best versus southpaws, while lefties perform best against right-handed pitching. Lefty batters against lefty pitchers are particularly poor overall. Actually, the larger deviation in left-handed batting splits makes them slightly more volatile hitters on a daily basis—even if they’re facing a right-handed starting pitcher, a left-handed reliever can kill their value—so right-handed batters and stacks are typically the safest since righties aren’t as pitcher-dependent as lefties.

Looking at splits—whether it’s wOBA splits or ISO splits—can help you find value on batters. Typically, DraftKings will price players according to their overall numbers. If a batter has a .315 wOBA against both lefties and righties, he’s probably going to be accurately priced on many occasions. A different batter might have the same .315 overall wOBA, but extreme splits—say, .350 versus righties and .250 versus lefties. In that case, the player would be more likely to offer value relative to his DraftKings salary when facing right-handed pitchers, but much less likely to offer value versus southpaws.

Ultimately, baseball is a numbers game and there are all kinds of stats that can help you succeed playing on DraftKings. The important thing to keep in mind is that we’re always searching for predictive ability. If a stat can help you project player performances, then it help you win playing daily fantasy baseball.


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Continue Reading MLB Training Camp

MLB Rookie – Lesson 01 – Welcome to Daily Fantasy Baseball
MLB Rookie – Lesson 02 – Stats to Start for Batters
NEXT LESSON MLB Rookie – Lesson 03 – Stats to Start for Pitchers
MLB Rookie – Lesson 04 – Scoring Tips and Tricks
MLB Rookie – Lesson 05 – Using Player Cards to Build Lineups

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