DFS Strategy: Batter vs Pitcher Stats

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How much do batter versus pitcher stats matter in daily fantasy baseball?

One of the constant battles a new daily fantasy baseball gamer must face is the balance between conventional wisdom and reality. Very often you will hear even the most respected broadcasters trumpet a hitter’s edge on a particular starter, and the basis for such a proclamation is usually his stats against that hurler.

We have all heard this since we were little kids watching our first game: “Hitter x really has Maddux’s number” or “He owns this guy.” Then the graphics department will come along for the ride, posting that he’s 5-for-13 with 2 home runs. While that’s an interesting little snippet, it’s almost certainly completely irrelevant and on its own serves absolutely no indication of future performance.

There are a number of issues with taking batter vs pitcher statistics with a huge grain of salt. First, the sample size is almost always just way too small to derive any conclusion going forward. The best hitters in history will have a week where they couldn’t get a hit against a college pitcher, and the worst everyday hitters in the majors will have a week where they go 13-for-23 with 3 homers.

The six-month grind has many ups and downs and a player’s true level will be reflected in those stats, whether it be the old standards of batting average and earned run average or in the advanced metrics such as BABIP and FIP if the player has been on the positive or negative side of variance.

Aside from the laughably insufficient sample size, the next issue with batter vs pitcher statistics is that they are analyzed in a vacuum. Was the starting pitcher working on three days rest last time he faced the hitter? Was the wind blowing out at 25 mph? Was the pitcher working with an 8-0 first inning lead and pitching to the situation by throwing strikes and letting his fielders do their thing?

Was the pitcher up three runs in the seventh inning with two outs and a runner on with the best hitter on the opposing lineup in the on-deck circle? Was the pitcher returning from an extended DL stint and still working his velocity up to midseason levels?

These multiple factors are the very reason that sample size must be significantly large in order to give any credence at all to a batter vs pitcher historical stat analysis.

To further reinforce the fallacy of accepting batter vs pitcher statistics (as well as any others in an insufficient sample size), using a field of play that the average baseball fan new to DFS can relate to, think of how many times a below-average hitter who was undrafted in your season-long league has one of those opening weeks where he absolutely tears it up.

He could have been a righty facing a bunch of lefties in a five-game series. Fantasy owners will hit the waiver wire overbidding for him that first Sunday night waiver period. We all know what almost always happens; that same player will be back on the waiver wire by June once the number of at bats in less optimal situations levels out his early advantages.

In the DFS realm, the overuse of batter vs pitcher statistics will give a sharp player an advantage in many situations. On short slates, for example, many gamers will attempt to diversify from the crowd by overplaying the hand of a light-hitting shortstop who is 4-for-6 against today’s starter.

Their supposed wise guy play doesn’t diversify their team as much as they think, as positions such as shortstop and catcher, where there are slates with primarily weak hitters, are prime spots for people to overplay batter vs pitcher. This gives you the opportunity to fade those guys, who have no real extra expectation of success and will be over-owned due to your competition chasing fool’s gold.

The same issues in using batter vs pitcher stats to make hitter decisions holds true for pitchers. When an otherwise good pitcher has a bad outing, you can be sure that every gamer who uses BvP stats will be stacking that lineup and therefore fading the pitcher.

It stands to reason that if you delight at seeing a shortstop who is 5-for-8 against the pitcher, then you will also be on that lineup stack, as by definition the rough outing last time will result in the hitters having solid stats in that tiny sample. Even if a hitter were 0-for-4 with four strikeouts in two previous games, the last outing where the starter didn’t have it and that hitter smashed two doubles, the hitter now shows 2-for-6 with 2 xbh.

Let your opponents fall into the batter vs pitcher stat trap, as the sample sizes are meaningless. Stick to more representative samples such as pitcher vs lefties/righties and batters vs lefties/righties and you will go a long way toward turning the small edge into consistent DFS results.

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