Fantasy owners proficient in advanced statistics have a substantial advantage over their league-mates, even though most leagues use traditional measures of value. A player’s underlying numbers can be useful indicators of how they will perform in the future, and identifying players whose value will soon spike or plummet is crucial as the fantasy season progresses. Below are three useful advanced statistics that could help alert owners find breakthrough performers before the rest of their league catches on. While no single statistic serves as a catch-all, each of these metrics, when used in conjunction with the rest of a Fantasy player’s profile, can be a valuable resource in finding potential waiver wire acquisitions or trade targets.
Fielding Independent Pitching
One of the most crucial ideas put forward by those using statistical analysis to evaluate baseball was the belief that traditional measures for evaluating pitchers (wins, saves, and, to some extent, ERA) were poor indicators of a player’s true talent level. FIP, using a weighted calculation of a pitcher’s walk, strikeout and home run totals per inning pitched, sought to identify pitchers whose true performance level was better or worse than traditional statistics would indicate; factors such as an abnormally good or poor team defense, hit sequencing, or simple batted-ball luck could explain a discrepancy between a pitcher’s true talent and their actual results.[the_ad id=”384″]Of course, most fantasy leagues still utilize the statistics that FIP was designed to deemphasize, making this a tricky one to use for fantasy owners. A good pitcher playing in front of a poor defense is likely to continue to have poor ball-in-play results even if his underlying talent indicates that he deserves better, making him less useful for a fantasy owner than for an actual MLB team. Other pitchers have a habit of continuously underperforming their FIP, potentially a flaw with the player himself rather than a continuing sequence of poor fortune. Those shortcomings notwithstanding, a pitcher’s future ERA can be better predicted by his current FIP than by his current ERA, and the two statistics do tend to come together over time. A pitcher with an FIP a half-run or more below his current ERA is likely worth exploring as a potential acquisition, especially early on in the season where a pitcher’s ERA may be wildly different from what he will produce the remainder of the season and his previous year’s performance remains crucial. Similarly, it is worth pondering whether a pitcher who has an ERA significantly lower than his FIP is truly worth paying a large acquisition price to acquire, or whether he has simply benefitted from good luck that is unlikely to last and will see his value fall in the coming weeks.
Ground Ball Percentage[the_ad id=”693″]GB% is a worthwhile measure for hitters and pitchers alike. In 2016, MLB hitters had a .246 batting average with a .267 slugging percentage when putting ground balls in play, compared with a .659/1.049 slash line on line drives and a .174/.539 line on fly balls. As one might expect, and as the slugging percentages bear out, a hitter can do more damage when hitting the ball in the air, thus making hitters with extremely high ground ball rates generally undesirable for accumulating extra-base hits and RBIs. On the other hand, if fantasy owners in roto leagues are looking to improve their team batting averages and stolen base totals, then high ground-ball targets may actually be desirable, since they tend to strike out less often and ground balls are more likely than fly balls to become hits, just those of a less impactful variety. A slow-footed player who hits a high amount of ground balls may have a difficult time making the MLB in the first place, so most ground-ball hitters also have above-average speed. If not targeting a specific niche player, however, fantasy owners should be wary of hitters with high ground ball tendencies, since they may lack the power potential of their peers who more consistently elevate the ball.
The same logic applies to pitchers, although in reverse. A pitcher who consistently generates ground balls could make for a useful, cheap flyer by limiting potential power damage. Although rarely overpowering, high ground-ball pitchers are generally consistent mid-rotation type pitchers, with players like Dallas Keuchel, Aaron Sanchez and Carlos Martinez demonstrating the upside potential if a ground-ball pitcher does see a dramatic uptick in strikeouts.
Average Exit Velocity
With Statcast data quantifying minute details of nearly every pitch, fantasy owners can identify potential targets based on a player’s most granular data. Exit velocity readings for hitters can help to find players making better or worse contact than would be expected from their actual results. Obviously, a player’s likelihood of success increases the harder he hits the ball, so players who consistently square the ball up are coveted by MLB teams and fantasy owners alike. A glance at the early average exit velocity leaderboards for this season portends big things for Miguel Sano, while also supporting the superb starts for Khris Davis and Freddie Freeman. Of course, if a player strikes out or hits ground balls at an extremely high rate, then the potential impact of a high exit velocity is diluted somewhat, but exit velocity can be a useful tool to find players to buy low or sell high on.