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Fantasy Baseball Player Evaluations: How to Use Some of the Advanced Statistics

The “advanced” statistics are not complicated. You just have to understand them before you put them into action.

Chicago White Sox v Oakland Athletics Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Due to some comments out there, there seems to be a lot of confusion on how to use some of the newer statistics we now have. I thought I would try to clear up some of the confusion and let you guys know what I have figured out after a year’s worth of research.

BABIP is a useful tool, but also misleading

BABIP is a great tool to tell if someone is due to regress towards the mean. Like this season, we know that Albert Almora's .384 BABIP is most likely not going to continue at its current rate, just like Dexter Fowler shouldn't have a .196 BABIP rest of season. This is when BABIP is a very useful tool, but it can be misleading if a player is hitting for more or less power than they should be. This is because BABIP doesn't factor in home runs. For example, some people may have seen Matt Olson's .238 BABIP last season and assumed that his batting average would grow this season. In reality, however, he was luckier than most anyone else on the diamond by having a 41.4% home run to fly ball ratio. This is not sustainable, and even though home runs don't count as balls in play, they do count as hits. So even if his BABIP started to regress more towards the mean, his batting average would most likely start to drop due to a drop in his home run rate. This makes projecting home run hitters with low batted ball events like Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Joey Gallo harder to project since their batting averages rely heavily on their home run rates, but we'll get more into that later.

Line drives and medium contact make Jed Lowrie happy

Some people probably assume you are more likely to get a hit on a line drive with hard contact rather than medium contact, and those people are wrong. By hitting a line drive with medium contact instead of hard contact, you actually improve your chances of getting a hit by 10%. Because of this, you'll often hear me quote soft contact rates and line drive rates when talking about potential batting average help. For instance, in the preseason I did a lot of coverage on Athletics second baseman Jed Lowrie, who, in 2017, had an incredible line drive rate of 27.1% and an even more impressive soft contact rate of 11.8%. This led to Lowrie having a breakout season at age 34. So if you are looking for players with potentially high BABIPs, look more at their soft contact rates rather than their hard contact rates.

You can’t hit home runs on the ground, no matter how hard you hit them. I'm looking at you Christian Yelich, Eric Hosmer, and Yandy Diaz.

Preseason there was a lot of buzz around Yelich moving to Milwaukee and the potential for more home runs. Sadly, it doesn't matter what the atmosphere is like in Milwaukee if Yelich is going to continue to hit more than 50% of his batted balls on the ground. Make sure if you are looking at power potential you take in to account a player's fly ball rate and not just their hard contact rate.

If you want home runs, you better start pulling the ball

Did you know a fly ball hit with hard contact is only a home run around 35% of the time? Yeah, it shocked me too when I did the math. So if you want a home run hitter, it is usually a good idea to look for players with not only high fly ball and hard contact rates, but a high pull percentage as well. This is because more than 63% of hard-hit fly balls that are pulled end up as home runs. On the other hand, a hard hit fly ball hit to the opposite or center only have around a 19% chance of leaving the ballpark, so go grab your power hitting pull hitters.

Strikeouts don’t matter..... but they do

Let me start off by saying, if you are trying to evaluate a player's past performance, don't look at strikeouts since it basically has the same value as a ground ball once you factor in double plays. Now if you are trying to project a player's future success, then strikeouts become very important.

You'll often here me talk about players with high strikeout rates and why I am concerned, and that's because simple statistics are against them. The rise in strikeouts is most likely the driving force behind the .242 batting average the league has this season, and they can also lead us to incorrectly value players. For example, let me give you two players.

Player A: 40% Hard%, 30% K%, 15% BB%

Player B: 35% Hard%. 15% K%, 5% BB%

Now if I asked someone which player would hit more home runs, a lot of people would go with Player A since he has made more hard contact. The problem is if both players have an equal amount of plate appearances and fly balls, Player B will actually end up with more hard-hit balls than Player A since he has 25% more batted ball events. This is what led me to buy into Manny Machado as a top three finisher in home runs this season, and most likely led us to undervalue players like Jose Ramirez and Mookie Betts. When judging power potential, sometimes you must look at more than just raw power.

Be wary of swinging strike rates

Swinging strike rates are heavily used around the fantasy community, and for the most part get the job done. When we evaluate certain players, however, we must take into account the swing percentage of that player. For instance, Adam Jones has a terrible 12.9% swinging strike rate, so many people may have thought his 17.8% strikeout rate would grow in 2018. The problem with this was that we didn't take into account the fact he was swinging at pitches 58.1% of the time, so of course he should have more swings and misses than a guy with a 40% swing rate. Because of this, I started to look more at contact rates rather than swinging strike rates since a player's contact rate is based on the number of balls he made contact with once he swung.