I have now covered the importance of working the waiver wire, how to trade players and using Average Draft Position (ADP) as a tool in building your fantasy team. These are all important topics to master in Fantasy Baseball 101. Are you ready to move on to Fantasy Baseball 201?
If you play fantasy sports, you know how important statistics are. I learned about the bubblegum card numbers as batting average, home runs, wins and ERA before I was ten years old. I call them bubblegum card numbers because they were on the backs of baseball cards I collected.
I play in 5×5 rotisserie leagues. The 5×5 is used to denote the categories used. Most leagues use runs scored, home runs, runs batted in, stolen bases, average for the hitting categories and wins, saves, strikeouts, earned run average, and walks plus hits per inning pitched, or WHIP, for pitching.
When you’re building your team, you should know that home runs and RBI are closely correlated, with runs less closely correlated. Mets rookie Pete Alonso was the top home run hitter last year, with 53 dingers. It was no surprise he had 120 RBI – fourth in the majors.
On the pitching side, wins, earned run average and WHIP are closely correlated, with strikeouts less so. Trevor Bauer finished fifth overall in strikeouts, but you wouldn’t have wanted him on your fantasy team. His record was 11-13, his ERA was 4.48 and his WHIP was a pedestrian 1.25.
A student who graduated from Fantasy Baseball 101 would know a pitcher allowing fewer walks will perform better, not only producing a lower ERA but also a lower WHIP. It took me a little while to understand the importance of WHIP, but now I know this is a very important stat.
Fantasy Baseball 201 takes it to the next level, as we look at some advanced statistics that can prove helpful in determining a player’s value. Predicting the future performance of a player is an imperfect science, but these metrics help fantasy owners find sleepers and breakout players.
Statcast is an automated tool that analyzes players’ skills, using radar and camera systems that began being installed in major league stadiums over a decade ago and were fully installed in all ballparks beginning with the 2015 system. That means this data, in full, is only available for the past five seasons (2015-19).
Baseball has been changed forever by technology. Statcast, a state-of-the-art tracking system, now makes the collection and analysis of a massive amount of baseball data possible. My CreativeSports colleague, Crosby Spencer, is adept at interpreting and using Statcast data.
When radar and camera systems were fully installed in major league stadiums, beginning in 2015, fantasy baseball owners were forced to take their games to a new level to be competitive. The bubblegum card approach might have been enough in the past, but it won’t cut it in 2020.
I asked my mentor, Todd Zola, of CreativeSports and Mastersball, what he thinks are the most important stats. Known in our industry as Lord Zola, the veteran analyst just shook his head.
“Everything is in context. A player deficient in one skill is strong in another. Nothing happens in a vacuum. I prefer to consider players on an individual basis.”
Zola is a busy guy, and he is committed to delivering for his customers. But you probably don’t have the time or the skills to dig into all of the advanced metrics that Zola and Spencer look at on a regular basis. We’re discussing Fantasy Baseball 201, and they are teaching graduate courses.
Frankly, there are so many statistics to choose from now that even an advanced fantasy player might find him or herself confused. Even turning on a broadcast can be overwhelming for some, with such new statistical innovations as Exit Velocity, xwOBA or FIP casually tossed about.
So, where do we start? One of the popular statistics that the experts turn to in evaluating hitters is batting average on balls in play (BABIP). BABIP measures a player’s batting average only on balls hit into the field of play, removing outcomes not affected by opposing defenses he faces.
BABIP can be used to evaluate both pitchers and hitter. The league average BABIP is around .300. Batters establish their own baseline, while pitchers tend to cluster around the league average since they have less control over their BABIP statistic.
The takeaway is pitchers with a BABIP significantly above or below .300 one year are candidates for regression the next season. On the other hand, batters with a BABIP well above or below the norm need to be compared to their historical stats in order to gauge the chance of regression.
Another stat that the analysts look at with hitters is ground-ball rate, which measures the percentage of balls hit into the field of play that are characterized as ground balls. Each ball that is hit into the field of play is characterized as a line drive, a fly ball, a ground ball, or a pop-up.
Ground-ball rate can be used as a metric to evaluate both hitters and pitchers. Pitchers with high ground-ball rates have a tendency to allow fewer home runs but more base hits. Likewise, hitters with higher ground-ball rates hit fewer home runs but could post a higher batting average. It’s a helpful stat in evaluating both.
Another valuable statistic to consider is Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA. The wOBA stat is based on the premise that not all hits are equal. Batting average and on-base percentage assume they are. wOBA is a good proxy for overall fantasy production, though it doesn’t incorporate steals.
Expected Weighted On-base Average (xwOBA) takes it one step further. This advanced metric is formulated using exit velocity, launch angle and, on certain types of weakly-hit batted balls, a batter’s sprint speed. This is also a useful stat but doesn’t consider differences in ballparks.
In the same way that each batted ball is assigned an expected batting average, every batted ball is also given a single, double, triple and home run probability based on the results of comparable batted balls since Statcast was first implemented. Keep in mind, there is only four years of data.
In conclusion, an understanding of baseball statistics in critical to your success as a fantasy baseball owner. If you are able to master these stats – BABIP, ground ball rate and xwOBA – you will have a leg up on your competition if and when the 2020 season starts.