Pitching is primarily the life blood of daily fantasy rosters. Whether you're using a site that requires multiple starting pitchers to be rostered or on a site that requires only one pitcher, if you miss on your arm or arms, you've got a major uphill battle for making money. Utilizing Vegas, or more specifically, utilizing gambling lines and over/under totals are commonplace in daily fantasy analysis, and necessary. We've dedicated part of the Daily Academy to addressing as much, which speaks volumes about the importance. Daily gamers are also accustomed to looking up a pitcher's FIP, xFIP and other ERA estimators, simple info such as walk and strikeout rates and opposing team data when making a decision on who to use on daily rosters. What other tools and stats can be used to gaining an edge when identifying pitchers?
PITCHf/x data can be very telling when prognosticating future performance or validating recent performance. If a pitcher has a significant gain or loss in strikeout rate, a cursory glance at PITCHf/x data may illustrate the reason for the change. Perhaps a player has seen a significant increase in velocity, and that would help explain an uptick in punchouts. Scott Kazmir returning from his trek through Indy ball and Collin McHugh transforming from journeyman to excellent starter can be at least partially credited to an uptick in velocity. If you noticed this early during their surprisingly strong play, you almost certainly enjoyed value with depressed pricing while they validated their breakout.
McHugh illustrates another piece of data that can be gleaned from PITCHf/x. He significantly changed his pitch usage while adding velocity, quickly lending further credence to the legitimacy of his breakout in 2014. Those who simply assumed McHugh was pitching above his skis missed out on a golden opportunity to reap the rewards of a cheaply priced pitcher in the midst of a breakout. Gamers who took a closer look at what was happening were more likely to use him before he became a household name.
If you're at a site that scores strikeouts very favorably, accurately projecting who's in line for piling up strike threes is essential. Strikeout rate doesn't always tell the whole story, especially early in the season. One way to unearth a pitcher who is on the verge of increasing their strikeout rate is by combing through the FanGraphs leaderboard for swinging strike percentage. Pitchers who rank highly in swinging strike percentage but don't rank near the top of the strikeout rate leaderboard are strong candidates for a surge in strikeout percentage.
Another edge can be harnessed by meshing batted ball data with ballpark factors. Not all homer-friendly parks are run-enhancing environments, yet some gamers misguidedly avoid using pitchers at parks that boost homers. Sure, it makes sense to do so if the probable starter has a flyball profile. However, a groundball pitcher at a homer-friendly, yet run-suppressing, ballpark makes for a great target in daily games if the other variables are favorable. Digging a little deeper and looking under the hood of starting pitchers is a great way to get ahead of the masses and make more money playing daily baseball.
We provide the tools you need to find the strongest pitchers and hitters for the days slate. Start with the advanced stats and models in our MLB Projections. You can lock and exclude players you'd like in your lineups. Next, use our MLB Stack Generator to create valuable stacks for GPP lineups. Save your stacks and finally move on to our MLB Lineup Optimizer. You can import your saved stacks and build the most optimal lineup to give you the best chance at winning money.
Daily gamers and casual baseball fans alike know superstars such as Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Giancarlo Stanton. Other everyday regulars such as Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick and Michael Cuddyer aren't overlooked either. There's another group of player who simply don't get their due. Where's the love for platoon players? Billy Beane certainly loves him some platoon players, and he's utilized them with fervor. He's not alone in doing so, and platoon situations create great fantasy bargains if you understand where and how to take advantage of them.
Platoon players are a dicey choice for cash games. The reason is simple. If a late inning reliever of the opponent that throws with the hand the platoon player is weak against, the platoon player is likely to be removed for a pinch-hitter. An example best illustrates this. If Rickie Weeks is starting for the Mariners because they're facing a southpaw and the Mariners are trailing by a run in the seventh inning, with runners on the corner, two outs and a right-handed reliever is brought in to face him, then manager Lloyd McClendon will most certainly lift Weeks in favor of Dustin Ackley (Weeks' platoon partner who starts against right-handed pitchers). The extreme likelihood of a platoon player losing a plate appearance creates volatility and a lower floor than cash gamers typically seek, but this risk is much easier to assume in GPPs.
Lefty mashers such as Scott Van Slyke, Drew Stubbs and the aforementioned Weeks are godsends for GPP gamers. Volatility is embraced in GPPs if it is attached to high upside. In 2014, Van Slyke had 130 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers. In those plate appearances, he hit .315/.415/.630 with a .315 ISO, .447 wOBA and 193 wRC+. He's crushed them for the duration of his young major league career. That's superstar production, right? Yes, yes it is. Van Slyke, however, isn't priced like a superstar. The depressed price tags of platoon hitters result in some of the best bang for your buck when they either put up numbers in the three plate appearances they get before getting lifted for a pinch-hitter, or when they're able to get the full complement of plate appearances in a game. In addition to getting a positive return on a minimal investment, gamers also have more money to spend on the Trouts, Harpers and Stantons of the game.
The A's are a team that has supplied daily gamers with sneaky values in the recent years in the form of Jonny Gomes, John Jaso and Derek Norris. The trend continues this year with Mark Canha and Ike Davis. They aren't alone, though, look around the league and identify platoons. At their best, they don't just provide daily gamers talented hitters on the cheap. They produce talented players hitting in favorable lineup spots with above average hitting skills on the cheap!
Everyone loves a shiny new toy. Whether we're talking about a new car, boat or exciting new baseball prospect, newness generates excitement. Not all new cars warrant the same level of excitement, and the same extends to prospects. With little or no big league data, how should daily gamers approach using rookies in contests? The answer isn't simple, and that's part of the fun.
As rookies gain games played, they'll slowly build up a useful sample size. Unfortunately, that takes time. However, with pitchers, you can immediately begin looking at PITCHf/x data for pitch usage and velocity. How often have you read highly touted pitching prospect x throws in the low- to mid-90s and wondered, what's his actual average velocity though? After a rookie pitcher has pitched in the bigs you can immediately turn to Brooks Baseball or other sites such as Baseball Savant and FanGraphs for this info. It will take some time to truly assess the value of each pith a pitcher throws, but educated guesses about the effectiveness of each pitch can be made using info about the pitch's movement, batted ball profile and ability to miss bats. You can also get an idea of how a pitcher plans to attack hitters by looking at their usage rates for each pitch. A high reliance on a sinker is probably a good indicator a pitcher is going to pitch to groundball contact, whereas a greater reliance on breaking balls could be a good indicator of a pitcher trying to miss bats who could be a good source of strikeouts.
In addition to using PITCHf/x data, it's worth looking into scouting reports for pitchers -- and for all players for that matter. Scouting is an inexact science, but sites such as MLB.com, FanGraphs, Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus are great outlets for scouting info. Some of the info is behind paywalls at the aforementioned sites, but tools grades and scouting reports can be telling when trying to determine a player's ceiling and present big league readiness. If a player is described as raw, there's a good chance they're going to have some growing pains. Others who are described as polished are more likely to step right in and make a seamless transition from the minors to the majors.
Also, scouting reports can help weed out players who are playing above their skis from legitimate prospects who were expected to succeed at the highest level. For instance, if Roger Kieschnick is promoted to the majors and goes on a heater gamers should probably be skeptical of the production. If instead it is Byron Buxton who tears the cover off the baseball, wreaks havoc on the bases and piles up fantasy points, then that is far less shocking and could be an indicator of a truly special prospect getting acclimated to the majors very quickly. In addition to reading scouting reports, comparing a rookie's numbers in the majors to what they've done in the minors is usually a good idea. If Kieschnick comes up and steals three bases in his first week, it can be written off as a fluke since his high for stolen bases in a single season is 13 back in 2011. If you're looking for great minor league splits info, Minor League Central is a great source of information for stats accumulated since 2011. They provide single season splits by minor league level as well as since 2011 info, and they even feature in-depth info on plate discipline, batted ball data and things of that nature. Using this info can help add to a small sample accumulated in the bigs and paint a clearer picture of what a player might actually be. In closing, not all rookies are created equal, and knowing who is a phony and who is legit can help immensely when constructing winning daily fantasy rosters.
The core of hitter research should involve researching Vegas over/under totals, ISO, wOBA and wRC+. Breaking research down by split to focus on the handedness of the pitcher the hitter is facing is also obviously a must. Incorporating park factors is a great addition to research, but it's one that's widely used across the industry. Beyond that, though, there are other things savvy daily gamers should be adding to the mix that aren't well covered in daily fantasy advice pieces.
Looking at pitcher batted ball data is a great way to identify strong targets, namely in GPPs. If a pitcher has a huge flyball rate, the likelihood of him serving up a homer is far greater than that of a pitcher who coaxes worm burners at a high rate. Line drive rate takes much longer to normalize than groundballs and flyballs, but if you use three years of data, then incorporating line drive rate into research is useful too.
It should go without saying, but if studying pitcher batted ball data can be useful, then in same vein, studying hitter batted ball data can help gamers make more cash. Again, groundball and flyball rates normalize much faster than line drives, so in-season groundball and flyball rates can be used in daily research, but three years of data should be used when looking at line drive rate. In addition to looking at line drive rate, taking a peek at infield flyball rate is great for identifying which hitters are giving away the fewest outs on popups -- nearly a gimme out.
Next level research can include digging into what pitch types specific hitters are good and bad against. For instance, a glance at the FanGraphs page for Drew Stubbs reveals he's very good against fastballs but has historically struggled with sliders, curves and changeups. More on Stubbs momentarily, but a player with Stubbs' profile would make for a good candidate to use against starters like Bartolo Colon and Lance Lynn, who both throw tons of fastballs, if the other variables work out in his favor. He'd make for a terrible selection against a pitcher like Collin McHugh since the Astros' hurler throws a ton of sliders and curves.
As promised, there was more worth discussing with Stubbs. Last year, he posted positive run values against sliders, curveballs and changeups. What changed? The team he played for changed. Stubbs was in his first year with the Rockies. They play their home games at Coors Field, and the thin air at Coors Field has been shown to wreak havoc on secondary offerings. All players who play at Coors Field make for enticing daily game options, but players of Stubbs' ilk could make for even sneakier great plays. That prototype of player is likely to be under priced as a result of their struggles with secondary offerings away from Coors Field. If you're looking to kick your winnings up to the next level, then incorporating some extra research that goes above and beyond the norm can be your key to success.