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The Mysterious World of Advanced Statistics

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If you play Fantasy Baseball you’ve likely heard about those things called “Advanced Statistics.” Probably from the person in your league who usually wins. Or from the person who comes in fifth every season and complains that if your league only used OBP instead of Batting Average, his team would dominate. That guy is the worst. We’ve established that you’ve heard about the these stats, but what are they exactly?

Advanced Statistics are there to measure what baseball players do on the field beyond the standard countable stats used in your typical Fantasy Baseball leagues. I’m sure there’s an official definition of advanced stats, but the way I see it, they are there to help give us an improved picture of how well someone is playing.

It’s easy to track how many home runs or RBI Josh Donaldson because you just tally them up. Advanced statistics show a more in-depth and accurate view of a player’s true performance.

Discussing 3 Advanced Statistics

Let’s break down some of the various Advanced Stats like BABIP, FIP (xFIP when you’re feeling extreme), and HR/FB rate.

FIP — Fielding Independent Pitching

This measures what a pitcher’s ERA would be like if you strip away all the things a pitcher can’t control and focuses on what he can — basically, home runs, strike outs, walks and hit by pitches. It takes the role of defense out of the equation. When you have Miguel Cabrera playing third base, a lot of balls are probably going to get by him that someone else might get. Cabrera’s defense will let up more runs in, so a pitcher’s ERA goes up, even though that pitcher had no control over anything after he delivered the pitch.

We’ll get into why and how xFIP is useful (and extreme) once we get into these advanced stats primers a little deeper. But now that we know what FIP is, how can we use it? Basically, if a pitchers’ FIP deviates from his actual ERA you can make some predictions on the rest of the season or next year. These two guys help illustrated my point:

  • Nathan Eovaldi  (4.37 ERA/3.37 FIP) had a tough year for the Marlins, but according to his FIP he pitched much better than his ERA. He’s moved to the Yankees in the offseason, and they have a better defense that should help save him some runs.
  • Just look at what they did with Brandon McCarthy (4.05 ERA/3.55 FIP) last season. He had a FIP in the mid 3.50s, but for the first half of the season an ERA over 5.00. He pitched great in the second half, but he still ended with a 0.50 difference. He left the Bronx for the wide open spaces of Dodger Stadium, so his ERA is likely to drop this season as well

BABIP — Batting Average on Balls In Play

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According to BABIP, Dondaldson’s numbers should be on an upswing this season. Credit – Duluoz Cats/FLICKR

This matters for both batters and pitchers. For batters, it measures how often a “batted ball” lands for a hit. Your average BABIP is about .300, so if a batter is hitting way above or way below that level you can predict which way a player’s hitting is trending.

Have a guy with a .220 BABIP? More than likely, his hits are going to start falling for base hits instead of turning into outs. The reverse goes for a guy with a .380 BABIB. For pitchers, it’s the opposite. It measures how often they turn those “batted balls” into outs.

Last season’s breakout star, Jose Altuve, ended the season with a .360 BABIP, so for all of you drafting Altuve hoping for another .346 batting average, you’re probably going to see some regression. However, you might be able to find some added production from fellow early round pick Josh Donaldson. His batting average dropped 56 points from 2013 to 2014. The culprit? It could be the below average .278 BABIP. If, and likely when, his numbers balance out this season he will be producing at an even higher level than last season.

HR/FB Rate

As I’m sure you can guess from the nifty name, this is the ratio of how often a flyball allowed by a pitcher turns into a home run. Yes, if a pitcher makes a bad pitch, it’s more likely for the batter to jack it out of the park, but there are a lot of variables that affect whether the ball lands in an outfielder’s glove or the seats. If you pitch in Coors Field a lot more of those flyballs are going to turn into souvenirs. The average HR/FB is about 10%, so if you’re above that you’re having some bad luck which should balance out at some point.

Who had some terrible HR/FB rates last season? Both Wily Peralta and Hishasi Iwakuma had rates over 13%, so look for those numbers to drop especially for Iwakuma since he plays in spacious SafeCo Field. It’s never a bad idea to draft pitchers who play in large ball parks. All that extra space will keep balls in the yard and give their outfielders more space to make the catch.

Baseball is a game based on math and math tends to balance out. If you have a player with an incredibly bad FIP or BABIP, odds are he’ll go on a streak to get that number back to his career average. And vice versa, if you have a FIP of 1.00 or a BABIP of .400. Things tend to even out in baseball — and for Jerry Seinfeld, but mostly in baseball.

This season, you and I are going to explore the world of advanced statistics. I’ll explain what the stats are and how they can help you draft, trade or pick up better players. We’ll go over who’s over-performing and due for a slide, or who’s numbers are about to bounce back and go on a hot streak. Most importantly, I aim to do the impossible — I’m going to make talking about mathematical computations a must-read experience sprinkled with wit and humor.

Jose Altuve Photo Credit: Paul Hadsall/Flickr

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