Fantasy Baseball Sabermetric Statistics: What Are We Talking About?
You may have seen sabermetric statistics such as BABIP, wOBA and FIP, along with many others, thrown around in a few articles here on so-called-fantasy-experts and the other sites you may read. To the average Fantasy Baseball player, I’m sure they look like we are speaking another language, but I promise you we are not.
The true “experts” will use these stats to help define what the value of a player really is. Is it a perfect system? No. Nobody is 100% right, but these sabermetric statistics help us get closer to the right answer than most.
So yes we use them, but what do these statistics mean? Are they actually important?
I’m going to tackle the second part of that question first. The answer is yes, they are absolutely important; would we be using them if they weren’t? They are not the end all, be all, but they are something you absolutely want to understand how to use, to give yourself an advantage in your league.
The first part of that question I will pick the sabermetric stats that I use most often when evaluating a player and explain what it means and how I use it.
Offensive Sabermetric Statistics
BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play)
Of all the sabermetric stats, this is the one that is familiar to most people. BABIP is a fairly simple concept. It is a player’s batting average of all balls they put in play. Since is it just balls they put in play, it excludes a player’s strikeouts, walks, hit by pitches and home runs.
Here is the formula for those who want to see it:
BABIP = (H – HR)/(AB – HR – K + SF)
The most basic reason to use BABIP is to see if a player was lucky or unlucky. The league average for BABIP is anywhere from .290 to .300, so if a player has a BABIP of .350 you can usually say he was lucky for that year, or span of time, and some regression is expected.
However, you can’t say that about everybody. Sometimes a player’s skill set will set him up so he has a higher BABIP. There are two things you can do to help determine this.
- Look at his past seasons. If a player has a career BABIP of .310, but suddenly his BABIP drops to .260, then you can you can expect him to start hitting for around .310 again very soon.
- Look a player’s type of hit balls. The more quality the contact, it is more likely his BABIP will be higher. Line drives land for hits way more often than fly balls and ground balls do. So if a player who is typically a high line drive hitter has his line drive percentage drop then his BABIP most likely dropped as well, and you can expect some improvement. On a similar note as this, you will want to pay attention to a players line drive BABIP. If there has been a sudden drop, it can be another sign of “bad luck” and you can expect it to return to more of the norm for the player.
wOBA (Weighted on Base Average)
This is a fantastic stat that is not used enough. wOBA, created by Tom Tango was first discussed in his book, “The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball”, measures a hitters overall value per plate appearance. wOBA gives each type of offensive output a value relative to the league. Per Fangraphs, the formula in 2013 was as follows:
wOBA = (0.690×uBB + 0.722×HBP + 0.888×1B + 1.271×2B + 1.616×3B + 2.101×HR) / (AB + BB – IBB + SF + HBP)
Batting average and OPS (on-base plus slugging) are more widely used, but there are flaws with using both of those exclusively. Batting average gives the same value to a home run the same as it does a single. OPS values a home run four times the value it does a single. Neither statistic uses the true value of the different types of ways of getting a hit or on-base, which wOBA does.
The league average for wOBA is usually around .320. Using .320 as a league average you can judge whether or not a players wOBA is either good or bad.
wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created)
This is exactly what it sounds like. wRC+ is the measurement of how good a hitter is based off how many runs he creates.
I’m not even going to bother with the formula, it is so long and confusing its not even worth posting.
That said this is another all encompassing stat that gives overall value for a hitter, similar to wOBA. Although a lot of people think this is actually better than wOBA. The reason for this is because it does something very similar to wOBA, value each type of hit accordingly, but also takes into account park effects.
How to use and read wRC+. It is based off an average of 100, so this means that for each point above 100 you are one percent better than league average and the opposite for every point below. This makes it extremely valuable and easy to use.
Batted Ball/Contact Rates
I mentioned batted ball statistics when I was explaining BABIP, so I thought I would take just a second to explain it too.
Its fairly simple. You will see the following
- LD% (Line Drive Percentage)
- FB% (Fly Ball Percentage)
- GB% (Ground Ball Percentage)
- IFFB% (Infield Fly Ball Percentage)
There is not an exact formula for success, but line drives have a higher success rate of producing runs than fly balls and ground balls. Of course fly balls also correlate to home runs.
What you really need to do is use the batted ball stats along side the contact rate.
Contact rate is what tells you the percentage of each ball contacted was soft, medium or hard.
There is no definite formula for this either, but the table below is a good guideline to use when judging if a player has good contact rate or not.
You can use both of these together to know if a player was just getting a little lucky hitting a lot of hard hit ground balls or maybe they were really good as they were hitting a lot of hard hit line drives.
There are multiple ways to have success, just depends on what success you need that to be. It can be a lot of power or a lot of base hits. Using both of these rates together can help you determine if the player is going to succeed in the categories you need him to.
Pitching Sabermetric Statistics
FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching)
Measures what a pitchers ERA would be if he had the equivalent of the leagues average defense behind him. The formula is as follows:
FIP = ((13*HR)+(3*(BB+HBP))-(2*K))/IP + constant
*The constant brings FIP onto an ERA scale and is generally around 3.10.
What does it mean though? Well, the simple way to think of it is if a pitcher has a lower FIP then his ERA than he got a bit unlucky and if it went the other way then he got a bit lucky. It isn’t a perfect system, and you will still find pitchers like Tyson Ross who seem to post ERAs lower than their FIP regularly, but this system evens out for the most of them. Those pitchers just seem to pitch a way, perhaps inducing a lot of ground balls, to keep breaking the FIP trends.
Before we move on, I want to quickly mention xFIP (Expected Fielding Independent Pitching). The only difference between FIP and xFIP is it replaces a pitcher’s home run total with an estimate of how many home runs they should have given up. This is calculated by reducing or increasing their HR/FB ratio to the league average and replacing (13*HR) in the FIP formula with ((13*(Fly balls * lgHR/FB%)). xFIP not only removes the randomness from defense out of the equation, but also removes some of the randomness in the pitcher’s performance.
BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play)
After reading what BABIP is for hitters, I’m guessing you can figure out what this one measures when it comes to pitchers, but I will tell you anyway. BABIP for pitchers measures how often a ball hit in play goes for a hit. The league average for this is around .300, but due to some factors out of their control, such as luck and the defense behind them, pitchers BABIP can be higher or lower. Here is the formula.
BABIP = (H – HR)/(AB – K – HR + SF)
Same as BABIP for hitters, you want to look at a pitchers historical numbers to truly evaluate them, not just compare them to the league average. Although for pitchers it will take a larger sample size than hitters to really be able to see a trend of what their BABIP is, and we actually expect their BABIP to trend more toward the average of .300, so it is OK to use that more for pitchers.
Strikeout and Walk Rates
I love using these rates when determining how good a pitcher can be.
These are pretty easy to understand too. They are the number of batters a pitcher strikes-out or walks per nine innings.
This gives you a good sense of how dominant a pitcher can be and how much control they have with their pitches.
You ultimately want to find a pitcher who has a large difference between his strikeout rate and walk rate. That is the K/BB rate. However a pitcher can be very effective even if he doesn’t have a lot of strikeouts. This just means he will not help you in that category. This is usually done though batted ball rates, which I cover next.
Batted Ball Rates
Just like BABIP, batted balls and contact rates are the opposite for pitchers than what they are hitters.
The general concept here is that the less line drives a pitcher allows the better. On the other side of that, the more ground balls he enduces the better.
There is no 100% perfect way to determine success based off batted ball rates, but using these as guidelines in combination with BABIP helps tell you whether a pitcher is truly good or lucky. Example is if a pitcher is allowing a lot of ground ball and fly balls, but they are falling for hits, then he is generally getting unlucky. But if a pitcher is allowing a lot of line drives and his BABIP is high, then you know he is probably not that good.
Although it is possible that a pitcher gets really lucky and a lot of their line drives are caught for outs, but common sense and history proves that to not be the norm.
Sabermetrics statistics when used properly can really give you an advantage when analyzing players. The ones I mentioned above are good ones, but by no means are the only ones you should use. I suggest you use great sites like FanGraphs to find a plethora of great stats on players from contact rates to their wRC (Weighted Runs Created).
Now just because I am talking about these stats doesn’t mean you should ignore batting average and ERA, along with the other standard categories. You should instead use everything together to make a more informed decision, along with getting help from the “So-Called Fantasy Experts.”
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