Lesson 5: Advanced Stats for Hitters
Okay. So let’s get real. I keep mentioning – over and over again – how unpredictable hitting is. That’s sort of required, in a course like this. It’s necessary to emphasize that hitting is not as predictable as an NBA player’s output, or as the score a good quarterback will put up in a good matchup. That’s absolutely true. But you know what else is true? Hitting is a lot more predictable than most people think.
All things being equal, you want guys who put the ball in play.
“All things being equal?”
Yeah. You see, I should mention: there are times when it makes sense to roster a guy who doesn’t put the ball in play a ton. If you can grab a hitter on a small slate who has huge home run upside, but most people never look to roster him because he also strikes out a lot, this is a good time to take a chance on a guy who has a harder time putting the ball in play. But the truth is, the situations in which it becomes necessary to roster “a super volatile, low-floor guy” come along less often than most people realize.
As we have said over (and over, and over) again, you want The Best Plays. And oftentimes, this doesn’t mean you need to shift to the guy no one wants to roster. Instead, it just means you need to shift to the guy everyone is failing to roster. You don’t want the bad play who could go off. You want the good play that everyone is overlooking.
One major way in which good plays among hitters go overlooked is from people looking through the wrong lens in their assessment of strikeout rate. Here’s what I mean:
Remember, in the pitching sections, how we talked about balancing a pitcher’s strikeout rate with the strikeout rate of the lineup he is facing? Well, we should be doing the exact same thing with hitters.
Hitter A has enormous power, but he also strikes out 28% of the time against right-handed pitchers. As such, his price stays low, and people almost never roster him. And sure, people miss out on a multi-HR game from time to time because they refuse to roster him – but they also miss out on a lot of duds. Conventional thinking says: It’s more profitable to always fade this guy than to take all the duds in search of his big games.
But today, he is facing Pitcher B – a right-handed pitcher who has only a 14% strikeout rate against batters of Hitter A’s handedness. As we discussed earlier in this course: if we set the league-average strikeout rate at 20%, we realize that Pitcher B strikes out the average hitter he faces at a rate 30% below the league average. Which also means that if Hitter A could face Pitcher B all the time, his own strikeout rate would drop by about 30%. To put that another (and more immediately actionable) way: Hitter A’s K% expectation for this matchup plummets all the way down to 19.6%(!). Or – again – to say it another way: if Hitter A faced Pitcher B all the time, he would strike out at a rate below the league average – now giving us a low-priced, low-owned guy with enormous power upside, and with a below-average strikeout rate…
And with that, we start to see just how freaking valuable it can be to properly balance a hitter’s strikeout rate with the matchup he has, and to arrive at a more accurate K% expectation.
Yes, we optimally want guys who are likely to put the ball in play. But when we pay attention to the matchups, we begin to find high-upside guys who have a solid “contact expectation” on the day – and who are going overlooked by the masses.
Hard / Soft
Know what you are hoping to get from a hitter.
Why are you rostering a particular guy?
If you’re just hoping a guy can get on base and swipe a couple bags, his hard-hit numbers don’t matter nearly as much. But oftentimes, you are looking for power – for the doubles and home runs that lead to big fantasy days. And you need guys who make hard contact in order to grab these outputs.
Again: balance this with the opposing pitcher! If a pitcher does a tremendous job limiting hard contact, realize that this is a very real skill, and adjust your expectations for hitters in that matchup accordingly.
Conversely, if a pitcher allows a 38% hard-hit rate to left-handed batters, remember: this means he allows a 38% hard-hit rate to the league-average left-handed batter he faces. Each left-handed batter facing him that day gets a huge bump – and you’ll give your roster a huge bump by trusting these numbers, while everyone else fails to pay attention.
Fly Ball / Ground Ball
Know what you are hoping to get from a hitter.
Why are you rostering a particular guy?
If you are looking for power, you need your batter to lift the ball off the ground!
Jose Abreu is a perfect example here. People roster Abreu in search of home runs on days when he is facing a “mediocre pitcher.” But people fail to dig in and realize: Abreu hits ground balls at an above-average rate. When a ground ball hitter faces a ground ball pitcher, the result is almost always a ground ball.
If you are looking for power, take fly ball hitters (against any type of pitcher), or roster ground ball hitters who have a high hard-hit rate and are facing a fly ball pitcher (ground ball hitters tend to lift the ball in the air a lot more when facing a fly ball pitcher).
I am constantly astonished at how often people load up their GPP roster with hitters who have a high ground ball expectation on the day.
Know what you are hoping to get from a hitter – and make roster decisions accordingly.
Who hits in front of a batter? Who hits behind him? Does this guy see good pitches, or do pitchers pitch around him? Does he run when he gets on base? Is he sometimes called on to sac bunt? Does he get intentionally walked a lot? Is he a platoon player who is regularly taken out of the game when the opponent changes the handedness of the pitcher? Is he sometimes taken out for defensive purposes at the end of games? Is he a National League player who is sometimes pinch-hit for as part of a double-switch?
Know the situations for your hitters.
As with everything else, I encourage you to not “cram” this information. Don’t sit down one day and look up a bunch of stuff and try to commit it to memory. Instead, keep your mind active as you read articles, as you do your own research, as you watch games, as you keep up with beat writers, as you seek out information, etc. Over time, you’ll pick up more and more (and more!) information that you will store in your mind without even realizing it, and you’ll pull out this information when you need it. Your rosters will keep improving. And you’ll keep raking in that money.
“What about wOBA? And wRC+? And ISO? Etc.?”
I look at all those things. But same as Vegas lines, and same as SIERA, looking at wOBA and wRC+ and ISO are no longer an opportunity to gain an edge. These are statistics that everyone now knows to look at, and that everyone understands.
If you are not familiar with those stats yourself, take ten minutes one day to search, for example, “wRC+ definition” on Google. Read whatever Fangraphs or Baseball Reference article pops up. Understand those stats.
But the edge, these days, is no longer found in glancing at those, or understanding those. The edge is found in taking the next steps laid out above – looking at numbers others are overlooking, and trusting the numbers you find.
Final Note on Hitters:
I rarely stack. I mean, seriously…I almost never do.
I’ll probably write a course about that someday. Maybe for the 2018 season. (If you are reading this in 2018, look for that course. Maybe it’s there.) In that course, I’ll detail how and why I use the non-stacking approach to great effect.
Even without insight into how and why I rarely stack, however, you already have all the tools you need above to “not stack” yourself. Take the best plays at each position – always realizing (as mentioned – what? – two dozen times already in these two courses?) that “the best play” does not necessarily mean the play with the highest projection, but instead means the highest-projected guy who also provides you with the clearest path to The Big Score. By approaching your assessment of hitters correctly, you’ll usually find that “the best play” according to your research (i.e., “according to the numbers”) is different from what everyone else is trying so hard to roster anyway.
If you want more thoughts on taking a non-stacking approach (and on crushing GPPs), I also encourage you to check out the video course on GPPs that I hosted with CheeseIsGood. We get into some cool thoughts there about our tendency to not stack. As always: there is no one in the world (literally) from whom you can learn more about MLB GPP success than you can from Cheese.
Though, again: you have all the tools you need already. All you have to do now is put them into action!