MLB DFS: Where Do Home Runs Come From?

Last Updated: Feb, 2019

This article was written three years ago, using stats from 2012-2014. Some trends in the game and stats we have available to analyze things have changed since then, but very little has changed in terms of the basic analysis of looking for home runs. It is still a simple, yet accurate thing to say that home runs come from balls hit hard and in the air. In 2014 we had high strikeout sluggers like Chris Carter, today we have Joey Gallo. In 2014, we had Miguel Cabrera at his peak, today we can look at Nolan Arenado with a similar stat line in terms of contact and power.

In today’s landscape, we can add statcast data to the mix, looking at launch angle and exit velocity alongside fly ball rate and hard hit rate. But the gist remains the same. You are not going to get a home run from a hard hit ground ball or a soft hit fly ball. And we can still find outliers and profit potential in DFS salary from players who have simply hit a short term slump stemming from plain old bad luck in HR/FB%. With power at a higher level than it was in 2014, it is even more crucial to have power in our lineups. What is power? It’s not a number of home runs, it’s a skill of hitting the ball hard and hitting the ball in the air.

These are the league average baselines for where these stats have trended over the past few seasons. You will see that strikeouts and home runs trended up steadily each season until 2017. In 2018, the strikeouts took another step up, while power went back to the 2016 level.

K% (strikeout rate):
2014 – 20.4%
2015 – 20.4%
2016 – 21.1%
2017 – 21.6%
2018 – 22.3%

BB% (walk rate):
2014 – 7.6%
2015 – 7.7%
2016 – 8.2%
2017 – 8.5%
2018 – 8.5%

ISO (isolated slugging):
2014 – .135
2015 – .150
2016 – .162
2017 – .171
2018 – .161

HR/FB% (Home Run/Fly Balls):
2014 – 9.5%
2015 – 11.4%
2016 – 12.8%
2017 – 13.7%
2018 – 12.7%

GB/LD/FB (Ground Balls/Line Drives/Fly Balls):
2014 – 45/21/34
2015 – 45/21/34
2016 – 45/21/34
2017 – 44/20/36
2018 – 43/22/35

ORIGINAL ARTICLE:

Outside of starting pitcher, the place to find the most points on a daily basis is home runs. You will almost never see a tournament winning team without several home runs, and more often than not, a multiple home run hitter. So, where do home runs come from? Simply put, home runs come from fly balls, and specifically, fly balls that are hit far. That’s great analysis right there! I’m going to break down some stat lines for a couple well known power hitters and show you what metrics I look at to understand their power potential. At the bottom of this article is a brief description of the stats I’m going to look at and what they mean.

You can break down power hitters into two different groups – good hitters who hit HR, and bad hitters who hit HR. Of course there’s a lot of gray area in those extremely simple groups, but essentially, good all-around hitters who hit for power are the players you want to target in every type of DFS contest you play on sites like FanDuel. A guy like Miguel Cabrera is a cash game play anytime he has a favorable matchup, and a tournament play even in a difficult matchup. On the flip side, a player like Chris Carter is never a play in a cash game, regardless of matchup, but is a tournament play in any matchup. With well-known players like Cabrera and Carter, everyone knows what type of hitters they are, but let’s take a look deeper into their stats to see what makes them who they are, and how we can use that data to find other players that may be less obvious. Here are the 3-year averages in some basic, yet crucial stats;

Miguel Cabrera last 3 seasons – 15.2% Strikeout Rate, 10.6% Walk Rate. .252 ISO, 20.8% HR/FB%. GB/LD/FB – 40/24/36, 15.8 AB/HR. AVG/OBP/SLG – .329/.400/.581

Chris Carter last 3 seasons – 33.7% Strikeout Rate, 11.7% Walk Rate. .249 ISO, 22.6% HR/FB%. GB/LD/FB – 30/21/49, 15.0 AB/HR. AVG/OBP/SLG – . 227/.320/.476

What you should notice from the above numbers between Cabrera and Carter is that they are essentially even in power, but Cabrera is light years ahead as an overall hitter. The power numbers; ISO, HR/FB% and AB/HR are very close, slightly in favor of Carter. The main difference between these two is their strikeout rate. Cabrera has an elite strikeout rate for a power hitter while Carter’s is close to as bad as you will see for a major league hitter. That huge gap in contact is what makes Cabrera’s average over 100 points higher and puts him in play every single day in DFS, as he has a lot of ways to help you. The other number that is a significant difference is the number of fly balls as opposed to ground balls. Fly balls are good for home runs, but when they don’t clear the fence, they most often end in an out. So, a player with more ground balls and line drives will have a higher batting average. But, what I really want you to see here is that if all you want is a home run, Chris Carter is better than Miguel Cabrera. (Don’t quote me on that!)

Many of you are probably already a step ahead of me that for DFS, all these numbers need to be broken down by handedness and opposing pitcher quality, then opposing pitcher GB/FB% and then adding in ballpark factors and weather. Yes, it is a never ending rabbit hole of stats, but you need to start somewhere. Let’s take the next step with Cabrera and Carter and look at their splits vs RHP and LHP.

Miguel Cabrera vs LHP last 3 seasons – 15.5% Strikeout Rate, 15.4% Walk Rate. .248 ISO, 19.4% HR/FB%. GB/LD/FB – 42/25/33, 19.3 AB/HR. AVG/OBP/SLG – .327/.431/.576

Miguel Cabrera vs RHP last 3 seasons – 15.1% Strikeout Rate, 8.9% Walk Rate. .262 ISO, 20.9% HR/FB%. GB/LD/FB – 39/23/38, 14.9 AB/HR. AVG/OBP/SLG – .331/.392/.594

This points out some interesting things on Cabrera. First of all, he is simply an elite hitter against everybody, but from this splits data, I would say he looks more like a cash game play against LHP and a tournament play against RHP. Do you see why I would say that? Against lefties, he walks an incredible amount (probably because they are, and should be afraid of him), and he hits more ground balls and line drives, giving him a higher on-base percentage. Against righties, he has a much better AB/HR ratio, due to hitting more fly balls. Cabrera does not have huge differences in his splits like some other batters, but it is always worth looking at splits and trying to find any advantage you can. Let’s see what Carter shows us;

Chris Carter vs LHP last 3 seasons – 32% Strikeout Rate, 16% Walk Rate. .255 ISO, 22.5% HR/FB%. GB/LD/FB – 34/20/46, 15.3 AB/HR. AVG/OBP/SLG – .239/.360/.487

Chris Carter vs RHP last 3 seasons – 35% Strikeout Rate, 10% Walk Rate. .258 ISO, 23% HR/FB%. GB/LD/FB – 29/22/49, 14.8 AB/HR. AVG/OBP/SLG – .223/.305/.478

Much like Cabrera, we do not see a wide difference in Carter’s splits. Simply put, he is just about equally likely to strike out against any pitcher, and if he’s lucky enough to touch the ball, it is going to go a long way. To make sure you see why we take the time to look at splits, let’s check out another well-known power hitter, Brandon Moss;

Brandon Moss vs LHP last 3 seasons – 33% Strikeout Rate, 8% Walk Rate. .162 ISO, 18.9% HR/FB%. GB/LD/FB – 40/23/37, 22.5 AB/HR. AVG/OBP/SLG – .252/.322/.414

Brandon Moss vs RHP last 3 seasons – 26% Strikeout Rate, 10.5% Walk Rate. .283 ISO, 20.3% HR/FB%. GB/LD/FB – 29/20/51, 14.9 AB/HR. AVG/OBP/SLG – .262/.348/.545

Now those are some splits! This is why we look at this stuff. I chose Moss because he well known as a start against right-handed pitchers and a sit against lefties. But, hopefully you can see why from these numbers and start to figure out how to spot targets with these stats. The ISO alone would be enough to tell you to target Moss against RHP, but what is most interesting to me is why? It’s the fly ball rate that jumps off the page, and going back to my original, simplistic statement – home runs come from fly balls. His HR/FB% is not too far off between RHP and LHP, but they can’t become homers until they go in the air.

Let’s look at the difference between Moss and Carter and how we can use that in DFS. As we discussed earlier, Carter is clearly never going to be a cash game play, he just doesn’t hit the ball enough. But, he hits home runs against both RHP and LHP at an elite level. He is a threat to go deep every time he steps up to the plate, making him a great GPP option if you’re looking for that all or nothing multi-homer threat. Moss on the other hand is not a terrible against RHP, but he’s completely untouchable against LHP. On certain days, depending on salary and matchup, he could be a cash game play against RHP, and he is always a potential tournament play against any RHP.

If you want to have some more fun with power hitter splits, go look at these players; Adam Lind, Wilin Rosario, Ike Davis.

As we get further into the season and begin to get a larger sample size of at bats, the first thing I am going to be looking for to target power hitters for DFS is a discrepancy in their HR/FB%. HR/FB% is the most luck-based stat in this list. What I mean by luck based, is if a hitter is making a similar amount of contact and similar GB/LD/FB to their historical numbers, their HR/FB% is likely to end up near their career norm, but it doesn’t always happen in a linear manner. When a salary starts to drop for a proven power hitter because they are not hitting home runs, if it is simply a matter of an artificially low HR/FB%, then you have a situation to take advantage of.

Explanation of stats used:

Strikeout Rate – Percentage of times a batter strikes out, the less the better. Power hitters have higher strikeout rates than other players, and league average strikeout rate is around 20%.

Walk Rate – Percentage of time a batter walks, this shows good control of the strike zone. League average is around 8%. Important to note; walks give you points in DFS.

ISO – Isolated Power. ISO measures the amount of extra base hits a batter has, giving no credit for singles. The formula is
Extra Bases / At Bats. ISO is better for looking at what a player has done; I do not use it as a predictive stat. League average is around .140, over .200 is great.

HR/FB% – The ratio of home runs per fly ball. This is very important to understand about HR/FB%. For pitchers, every major league pitcher regardless of talent will end up close to the league average 10% HR/FB over time. For hitters, there is not a standard baseline, power hitters have higher HR/FB% and set their own baselines over time. League average for hitters is around 10%, anything over 15% is good, and 20% is great.

GB/LD/FB – The percentage of time a player hits Ground Balls/Line Drives/Fly Balls.

AB/HR – At Bats per home run, the lower the better. A 15.0% AB/HR means a player averages 1 home run every 15 at bats.

AVG/OBP/SLG – The standard slash line: Batting Average/On Base Percentage/Slugging Percentage.

About the Author

  • Dave Potts (CheeseIsGood)

  • One of the preeminent baseball minds in all of fantasy, Dave Potts, aka CheeseIsGood, has won contests at the highest levels of both season-long and DFS. He is a two-time winner of a million dollar first place prize in DFS; having won the 2014 FanDuel baseball live final and following that up by taking down a DraftKings Millionare Maker Tournament in 2015. In addition, he’s won the Main Event championship in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship and the NFBC Platinum League, which is the highest buy-in entry league. His consistent success in the NFBC tournaments recently earned him a prestigious spot in their Hall of Fame. Dave can also strum a mean guitar while carrying a tune and if you’re lucky, you’ll see him do so on one of his GrindersLive appearances. Follow Dave on Twitter – @DavePotts2.

Comments

  • JMToWin

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    Excellent stuff, Dave!

  • FearinLoathin

    Definitely bookmarking this article. As someone who is fairly inexperienced with baseball (mostly because it is my least favorite sport, but that is very rapidly changing as I look at the amount of numbers involved), articles like this and Mr. JMToWin’s stuff are pure gold. Platinum.

    No, Einsteinium. That’s an accurate pairing. Thanks a million, gentlemen.

  • wess0944

    where is the best place to look up hitters stats such as …“33% Strikeout Rate, 8% Walk Rate. .162 ISO, 18.9% HR/FB%. GB/LD/FB – 40/23/37, 22.5 AB/HR. AVG/OBP/SLG – .252/.322/.414”… Great article

  • Bbondsmvp

    @wess0944 said...

    where is the best place to look up hitters stats such as …“33% Strikeout Rate, 8% Walk Rate. .162 ISO, 18.9% HR/FB%. GB/LD/FB – 40/23/37, 22.5 AB/HR. AVG/OBP/SLG – .252/.322/.414”… Great article

    Probably Fangraphs.com, under the splts tab, scroll down to the advanced and batted ball sections

    Here’s the link to Adam Lind’s splits for last season: www.fangraphs.com/statsplits.aspx?playerid=8027&position=1B/DH&season=2014

  • wess0944

    thank you sir, btw barry bonds was that dude

  • mski9

    Can’t tell you how bad I needed this article, Thank you.!

  • flavor

    I’ve always thought you were THE MAN having won the season long championship at NFBC as well as last year’s Milly. I don’t play season long anymore but respect the player who can dominate both. And thanks for the article. Great stuff!

  • Wakefield49

    “For pitchers, every major league pitcher regardless of talent will end up close to the league average 10% HR/FB over time.”

    Are there any notable exceptions? In any case, this is a truly awesome piece of information! So pitchers can only control HRs through their K rate and GB/FB ratio. I reckon it would also be useful as the season progresses to screen for pitchers that have an “unlucky” high HR/FB rate.

  • CheeseIsGood

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    Wakefield, there are a couple of well-known (and highly debated) exceptions to the pitchers and HR/FB. For years, Matt Cain and Jered Weaver posted unusually low HR/FB, therefore consistently having a large gap between their actual ERA and ERA estimators (FIP, xFIP, xERA, etc). There is now a little more debate about whether some pitchers, specifically in favorable ballparks, might have slightly more ability to control HR/FB than others. It’s very similar to the idea that all pitchers allow basically the same BABIP of around .300. General consensus now is that maybe there is a little bit of leeway in certain pitchers being able to control HR/FB and BABIP a little better than others, but there are very, very few exceptions that deviate far from the mean over an extended period of time.

  • reccab

    Is this a viable strategy for 50/50 leagues as well? Also I’m a big follower of fangraphs.com, but I don’t believe they have a 3 year splits option. Are you calculating these numbers manually or is there another place to find them?

  • scorer79

    Cheese, do you keep a spreadsheet of splits for all hitters/pitchers in the MLB, or do you simply look up stats as you build your daily lineup?

  • Chad_Daddy23

    Interesting piece, Dave. Thanks for the information.

    Does RotoGrinders have a place to compare power hitters using your statistical analysis? Or is this all on your own research?

  • CheeseIsGood

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    reccab, fangraphs doesn’t have the splits broken down by 3-year averages, some of them I did manually, some of the numbers are available as 3-year averages on other sites. But for DFS purposes, you don’t really need to have the 3-year average, once we get a meaningful sample size of at bats from the current season, it is easy to spot outliers from just glancing at the players history and comparing to this years stats.
    In 50/50 leagues, you should still be looking for HR, but you want to stay away from the guys with high strikeout %, like Chris Carter.

  • CheeseIsGood

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    scorer79, I am still a paper and pen guy for daily lineup building. I have a pretty deep knowledge of the player pool, and a lot of these splits I already know, but I still take the time to look at them all every day (more time consuming than having a spreadsheet). With every player that ends up in my lineup, even if I am very confident in what I think about the matchup, I always go back and look at the numbers for both the hitter and pitcher he’s facing and double check all the splits to make sure I’m right.

  • Tamagoshi

    Wow, this article is a real grand slam…. excellent. Keep going cheese.

  • nvalencia30

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    What’s considered a good or elite line drive %?

  • CheeseIsGood

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    nvalencia, the league average line drive % is around 21% and most hitters will end up pretty close to that. Anything over 25% is elite and should lead to a very solid batting average. One thing to note with LD% is that it takes a very large sample size to be relevant. Most batters ground balls and fly balls are pretty well set and consistent, you need to see an elevated line drive rate for an extended period to believe it’s real. To see the effect of line drives in action, go look at Joey Votto. He has an elite line drive rate year after year, and that is why his batting average is so dependable, despite just an average contact rate.

  • drhass

    @nvalencia30 said...

    What’s considered a good or elite line drive %?

    Not sure on elite or good, but average last year was 25%. It was 23% the year before that. 19% in 2012. It’s been steadily rising. In trying to determine what is good or elite, you have to account for the rest of the league. For example, in 2012, Goldschmidt had the highest LD% at 25%. That was merely average in 2014 (Freeman was tops in 2014 at 34%).

    For this year, the sample size is likely too small to be of any use, but the league average is presently 25%. There is a ridiculously wide variance, with the top guys being at or over 50% and Torii Hunter bringing up the rear at 0%. Too much statistical noise. If you had to put a number on it, though, I’d say that anything above 25% is going to be solid, and if it’s up over 30%, that will be good/elite.

  • CheeseIsGood

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    drhass, where did you see 25% as the average line drive rate? Fangraphs shows the last 3 seasons a 20.8, 21.2 and 20.9.

  • nvalencia30

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      2014 FAFC Finalist

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    Many thanks!

  • drhass

    @CheeseIsGood said...

    drhass, where did you see 25% as the average line drive rate? Fangraphs shows the last 3 seasons a 20.8, 21.2 and 20.9.

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/MLB/2014-ratio-batting.shtml

  • quiknificent1

    great article

  • CheeseIsGood

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    @drhass said...

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/MLB/2014-ratio-batting.shtml

    Thanks for the link, that is very interesting, that is different data than fangraphs and baseball hq, who have it at 21%. I am going to dig into that when I have some time and figure out why they are different.

  • Boardgame85

    I agree with all the stats flying around, but bottom line, from elite MLB hitter all the way down to little leauge….the hitter who can hit the bomb has a less chance of scoring points than the guy who grounds out and hits line drives and still can hit the bomb. RBI`s get points too don’t forget. If Miggy has a crappy game, I’m done for. Im a Tigers fan fyi. Just a thought.

  • Boardgame85

    No disrespect. Awsome article.

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