On Monday, I began research for the next project on my agenda: a book on advanced daily fantasy baseball strategies and data. I previously wrote Fantasy Football (and Baseball) for Smart People, which contained a ton of amazing DraftKings data, but this will be my first baseball-only book.
As I research and write, I plan on posting some of my findings here. The idea will be to create a substantial archive of MLB data and strategy stuff so that, once the season begins, you’ll have a nice base of evergreen advice to help you transition to playing daily fantasy baseball.
Since I’ll be focusing solely on baseball in my new book, I’m going to be able to provide a lot more in-depth data. One of the things I’m going to examine a lot is the differences between left and right-handed batters/pitchers and when we should favor one over the other.
Home Run Rates and Handedness
I’m going to do a lot of future writing about which stats you should seek when playing daily fantasy baseball, but I actually think you should consistently search for home runs from your bats. Home runs are relatively low-frequency events, but they’re also extremely consistent over large samples; assuming there aren’t any artificial enhancements, players’ home run rates usually don’t change all that much from one year to the next.
Plus, I think home runs are a decent proxy for other stats, so it’s not like you’re looking for home runs in isolation; players who hit a lot of home runs usually have a lot of extra-base hits, RBIs, runs, and so on. And of course DraftKings rewards handsomely for home runs, so that’s always good.
Because of all this, I’m going to be doing a lot of research on how to maximize the probability of home runs from day to day, and lefty/righty splits are a huge part of that. Here’s a look at at-bats per home run splits for the top 150 hitters (in terms of OPS) since 2000.
In terms of raw power, left-handed batters don’t go deep as often as right-handed batters. That’s not really actionable information because we only need to be concerned about an individual hitter’s chances of going deep in any given game, and the overall rate for other batters of his handedness isn’t going to tell us much.
However, it’s definitely useful to know how lefties and righties generally perform in certain situations, because those effects tend to carry over from hitter to hitter; that is, the majority of lefties tend to struggle against left-handed pitching, for example.
Actually, the top-hitting lefties have taken southpaws deep once every 32.2 at-bats since 2000, which is way worse than every other batter/pitcher split. Right-handed bats are worse against right-handed pitching, but the effect isn’t nearly as great as lefty-on-lefty; actually, right-handed batters have been nearly equally likely to take a righty deep as they are to hit a home run against a left-handed pitcher.
The difference on the right side of the chart is what I care about most, as it shows that left-handed hitters are far more pitcher-dependent for their production (or at least their power) than right-handed bats. Overall, there’s no worse situation than to trot a left-handed hitter out there against a southpaw.
Individuals vs Stacks
If you’re analyzing an individual player in a single matchup, his career splits are going to be more valuable than overall numbers. Some lefty bats don’t struggle as much versus lefty arms as others. I think it makes sense to consider aggregate numbers when you don’t have a sufficient sample size of data (such as with a rookie or second-year player), but generally individual splits trump overall splits (although the two often resemble one another).
In tournaments, though, a popular daily fantasy baseball strategy is to stack players on the same team—the 2-3-4-5 hitters on a single offense, for example—in which case I think it makes sense to consider the overall rates. You’re not going to find an entire offense of left-handed hitters who collectively hit well against left-handed pitchers, for example.
If there’s one actionable item to take from this data, I think it’s that you can run primarily right-handed stacks out there against both lefty and righty pitchers, but you need to be more careful with lefty hitters, who can be in a really poor spot against not only lefty starters, but also lefty relief.
Of course, the flip side of that argument is that lefties are much better against right-handed pitching. If DraftKings players are typically priced according to their overall numbers (which is probably the case), then lefty bats against right-handed pitching will offer more value than righties versus lefty arms (because of the larger deviation in splits for lefty batters).
That means that rolling out a primarily left-handed stack against a right-handed pitcher might offer both value and upside, which is ideal in any tournament. Of course, it’s still a risk given that a left-handed stack will often face left-handed relief, which could result in 1) poor matchups for your hitters late in the game or 2) even worse, your hitters getting pinch-hit for with a righty bat.
Looking at this data and thinking about how managers work in the final few innings of baseball games, I think it’s safe to say that right-handed batters are far less volatile than lefties since their power isn’t so reliant on a specific handedness of pitcher. And since much of winning a tournament is about maximizing the overall probability of your bats realizing their upside, you could make an argument that righty-dominant stacks as a whole trump left-handed stacks.