Over the course of a season, baseball stats are fairly consistent. We know that Clayton Kershaw is going to strike out at least X batters and that Mike Trout will hit a minimum of Y home runs. In a single night, though, predicting performance is much trickier.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider the long-term data, however. Actually, in any random or mostly random environment, we should be weighing long-term data more heavily than recent performance. Unlike in a sport like football in which small changes in scheme and personnel can significantly affect player value, thus lending more worth to studying recent trends, baseball is a much more standardized game in which we can place a lot of trust in large sample sizes of results (a large sample size isn’t always better in every sport…think about how useless it can be to study a wide receiver’s production in a prior season with a different quarterback, for example).
There are all sorts of advanced stats out there that can help you predict performance, but every one of them should be broken down by handedness. Looking at Aramis Ramirez’s ISO? Better consider it versus the handedness of pitcher he’s facing. Ramirez is an extreme splits player who excels versus left-handed pitching; when he faces a southpaw, he’s a dramatically different batter than when he’s going up against a right-handed arm.
By analyzing handedness, you can gain a major edge over the field. There’s so much variance in baseball that you can’t guarantee success, but you sure can maximize the probability of it by consistently putting yourself in +EV situations.
Find Value in Splits
There are different ways to assess batting splits by handedness to improve your projection in a given night. Every player is different, but for the most part, right-handed batters hit lefties better and lefty batters hit right-handed pitchers better. Here’s a look at the number of at-bats per home run for the top 150 home run hitters since 2000.
All batter and pitcher matchups are close to equal in terms of power except for lefty vs. lefty. For whatever reason, lefty batters tend to struggle in a huge way against southpaws. Again, every player is different and needs to be considered in isolation, but starting a lefty-dominant stack against a left-hander is generally going to be a no-no, whereas the opposite (righties versus a righty) isn’t as much of a problem.
One of the easiest ways to find value in daily fantasy baseball, then, is to target extreme splits players—those who struggle a whole lot against one type of pitcher while crushing the other. The idea is that a player’s salary is a reflection of his overall skill level, but his projection in any given game isn’t going to be a reflection of that price; an extreme splits left-handed batter who crushes righties will be underpriced against right-handed pitching and overpriced against southpaws.
I personally really like to target righties like Ramirez who can’t hit right-handed pitching but are great against southpaws. The reason is that lefty pitchers are less prevalent, so a player like Ramirez’s salary is mostly a reflection of how he performs against righties. When he does face a lefty, his projection is generally far more optimistic than what his salary would suggest.
There are more lefty batters who are extreme splits players (a higher percentage, anyway), but since they face the handedness of pitching against whom they excel (righties) more often, their salary is closer to their actual anticipated production when they’re in a good spot.
I like to look at historic pricing trends as a way to determine situations in which players might typically offer value, and those extreme splits guys are one such situation. However, it’s important to remember that pricing can and does change.
Actually, I think DraftKings is doing a better job of accounting for matchups this season—so things like ballpark, Vegas lines, splits, and so on aren’t necessarily leading to as much value as in the past. There’s still certainly some opportunities with this stuff that can be exploited, but it isn’t just a given that a specific angle will lead to value. If DraftKings were to overcompensate in a major way, for example, it could theoretically be the case that playing lefties versus lefties were actually a way to find value.
The point is that there is no always when it comes to finding trends in value, but that are specific angles you can and should examine until they change.
Don’t Forget About Pitchers
The last thing I want to mention regarding handedness is that the pitcher counts just as much as the batter. Not enough people examine batter handedness splits, but even fewer consider the pitcher he’s facing and his lefty/righty splits. If you can get a right-handed batter who crushes lefties facing a southpaw who struggles mightily against right-handed batters, that’s a huge win. Compare that to an even splits pitcher who can pitch equally well against both types of batters and you’re leaving a lot of potential value on the table by not considering pitchers in your handedness splits research.