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Deep Data and MLB DFS: Applying key data to season-long leagues

RotoExperts Staff March 16, 2017 1:40PM EDT
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This offseason, Logan Hitchcock and I wrote Painting the Edge: Deep Data and MLB DFS, which is available for purchase here on Amazon. Our goal was to instill a process over results approach for MLB DFS (Daily Fantasy Sports) players of all experience levels. We accomplished this by sifting out the noise and using data analysis to determine what actually matters, why it matters, and how you can use it to shape your DFS process. While the book teaches you how to apply this methodology to your DFS strategy, there are plenty of applications to season-long Fantasy baseball.

When it came to hitter evaluation, the relationship between a player’s power and batted ball data piqued our interest. We found that there was a close-knit connection between a hitter’s ISO (Isolated Power) and their FB% (Fly Ball Percentage) and Hard% (Hard-Hit Percentage). It makes sense. What does a hitter need to do to hit for power? Hit the ball in the air, and hit it hard.

In DFS we can use this information to develop the most accurate baseline projections for a hitter. In season-long Fantasy baseball, we can use this information in a broader way to identify potential bounce back candidates and undervalued assets on draft day. Using our understanding of the relationship between ISO, FB%, and Hard%, Logan and I developed a statistic called xISO (expected ISO). We can use xISO to identify qualified hitters from 2016 who should see an uptick in power output in 2017 based on their batted ball profiles. Layering in context, such as scouting reports on a hitter’s raw power, is important, but this gives us a great foundation for determining whether a hitter’s power will improve or decline.

Here are two undervalued draft day targets based on gaps between xISO and actual ISO in 2016:

Anthony Rendon (WAS, 3B, NFBC ADP 91.12) – Rendon bounced back from an injury plagued 2015 campaign to post a solid .270/.348/.450 line that included 20 HRs and 10 SBs. This led to a good .180 ISO, but our xISO has Rendon challenging .230. He elevated the ball even better than he did in his breakout sophomore season (21 HRs), posting a 43.3 FB%. This elevation came at no expense of contact quality as Rendon’s 36.5 Hard% was in line with his 2014 season, and one of the primary reasons he bounced back from the injury shortened and effected 2015 season (32.7 Hard%).

Rendon will be entering his peak power years, starting the 2016 season at age 26 and ending it at 27. We could see an increase on his 10.0 HR/FB% (Home Run to Fly Ball Percentage) from last season, which was four percentage points below the league average for qualified hitters. The five hitters ranked just above Rendon in Hard% combined with the five hitters ranked just below Rendon in Hard% posted an average HR/FB% of 16.67%. If Rendon has the same batted ball distribution as last season but can raise his HR/FB% to even league average levels, it would bring his 20 HR total to 28.

Kole Calhoun (LAA, OF, NFBC ADP 189.57) – Calhoun is being drafted nearly 70 spots lower on average than he was last season despite making several meaningful improvements across the board in 2016, his age 28 season. Calhoun hit more fly balls; his FB% increased from 35.4% to 39.9%. His quality of contact improved. Aside from seeing his Hard% increase from 28.0% to 35.3%, his Soft% dropped from 19.1% to 16.6%. Moreover, Calhoun simultaneously saw his BB% (walk percentage) rise and K% (strikeout percentage) lower. This had all the makings of a breakout season, but for whatever reason the results did not follow. Trust the process over the results and nab Calhoun at a reduced price tag this season.

By understanding the relationship between a hitter’s batted ball profile and their power, we can unearth draft day sleepers. Beat your opponents by drafting based on player skills rather than simply looking to last year’s results. This methodology works over time, whether you’re drafting your season-long roster or your DFS team.

If you are looking for more ways to evaluate hitter skills and prioritize process over results, check out Painting the Edge: Deep Data and MLB DFS. Make this season on DraftKings and FanDuel a winning season!

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