DFS Study Session #1: How to Read MLB Stats
February 26, 2015 | Spencer Limbach
Baseball is filled with numbers; some may argue too many numbers. A portion of them can be used to predict performance, while others are pretty much meaningless. This “DFS Study Session” is aimed at Daily Fantasy players who want to learn more about key statistics used to screen pitchers and hitters for their daily fantasy contests. The following is a introductory guide to what we at TheFakeBaseball believe are some of the most important stats/indicators to monitor for DFS MLB. Beginners should find this piece very useful, while more seasoned players can use this as a checklist to review their DFS repertoire. Either way, enjoy the stat-crunching journey into the wonderful world of Daily Fantasy MLB!
Rule #1: Pay attention to the Vegas odds. This should be your starting place every day. The Fake Baseball’s cheat sheet does a great job at listing not only all the Vegas odds, but the peripheral stats to go along with it (team wOBa vs R/L, strikeout rate, wOBA H/A/L14). This is the most comprehensive tool for DFS MLB research as it gives you an idea of which games are projected to foster more runs.
Dig a little deeper into the stats. When looking at the Vegas odds, you want to use the o/u as your guide to screening offenses in a good position. Any over/under 9 or above is considered high, and you should direct your attention to that game. Figure out why the over/under is set at that number. Examine both pitchers, and look at their weaknesses. For example, does one pitcher give up a high wOBA or HR/9IP to left-handed batters? If so, give a hard look to the power-hitting lefties in that lineup (more on this later).
Screening for pitchers. Conversely, you want to target pitchers who are slated in games with a low o/u, usually of 7.5 total runs or less. On top of this, you want to seek out pitchers who are in a good position to get the win. You can screen for this by looking at the pitchers who are favored by -140 to -150 or greater. The higher the odds (-), the better in this scenario. A “money-line” of over -200 is considered elite. Using these odds, paired with the peripheral stats listed in the matchup sheet should give you a great view of the daily pitching landscape.
- Take this example from July 13th, just before the All-Star break. Madison Bumgarner is in the best position to win (according to Vegas) with a -180 moneyline. He is followed by Gray -150 and Ryu at -148. The subsequent run total on these games are also telling. All of them are 7.5 or less, which suggests a lower scoring contest (anything below 8) with the advantage going to the pitchers. Cross-referencing these odds with DFS price points is one of the most basic tools in daily fantasy, and if you aren’t doing it, you are likely at a disadvantage.
- Going one step further. So now you have screened out the pitchers in a good position, but what about the strikeout/blowup potential. That’s where the stats loaded on the Cheat Sheet come in handy, as they list opponent team wOBA (vs R/L) and K%. They are color-coded in green/red to give you general indicators of which situations are favorable/detrimental to that respective pitcher. As a word of caution, make sure you understand certain pitchers and their tendencies before predicting their performance. For example, if a pitcher likes to induce groundballs instead of strikeouts, don’t expect him to have high strikeout upside just because he is facing one of the highest K% teams in the league.
Which stats should you use? One of the best indicators for hitters (and opposing pitchers) is the wOBA metric. FanGraphs does a good job of fully explaining this metric here, but essentially it takes batting average and on-base percentage and weighs them appropriately for extra-base hits. You can take this a step further by isolating how certain pitchers stack up (in terms of wOBA) vs left and right-handed hitters. The same goes for batters vs pitchers of each handedness.
- Another example from July 13th. This graphic (found in the Cheat Sheet) can be sorted to show the highest wOBA vs each pitcher. I like to cross-reference this “season-average” with the “three-year” compilation to look for consistency in the trend. If we do that (by sorting the wOBA column under 3-year), we see that Brad Hand vs RHB, Kendrick vs LHB, and Chen vs RHB near the top of that list as well. Definitely look to target hitters from these types of pitchers, and you can even stack against them if it is appropriate.
- Don’t fall into the trap of taking “just any” hitter vs these pitchers. Some people plug and play a mediocre/subpar hitter in a decent spot and expect the world out of them. Don’t be that person…well, maybe in a large tournament, but don’t do that for the bulk of your action unless you are prepared to truly “punt” or “throw away” that position. For example, don’t lock-in Lyle Overbay just because he’s a lefty going against Kyle Kendrick (in the previous example). Consider your options, and use the hitter-tools to see who hits R/L handed pitching at a respectable clip.
What other stats are important? When looking for power upside, you want to use the ISO statistic, defined by FanGraphs here. Overall, it is used to measure the “extra-base potential” of a given player, and anything higher than .180 is considered above average. Taking this, and referencing it with the wOBA rating and HR/9 statistics of the opposing pitcher (on top of the park factor) can yield to some high upside power hitters suitable for large tournament formats.