Daily Fantasy Strategy – 8/19/13 – For Draftstreet

This weekend I had the opportunity to attend Saber Seminar in Boston. It was a wonderful event full of presentations by some amazing people like members of the Red Sox front office staff, Harry Pavilidis and Dan Brooks, Keith Law, and Fangraphs’ own Dave Cameron and Bill Petti among others. I began writing this within 30 minutes of getting back from the airport last night.

For the purposes of daily fantasy strategy, the most interesting presentation of the weekend was that of SABR president, Vince Gennaro. Vince was lamenting the usage of batter-versus-pitcher (BVP) data by both managers and TV broadcasts. Likewise, I hate it when I see daily contest players rely on that data. Vince noted the small sample size issue with BVP data, but presumably he has also read the portion of The Book that proved BVP data is not predictive.

Vince wants to find a better way to play match ups. I assume he’s coming at it from the angle of finding a better way for managers to play match ups and to make both lineup and in game decisions. But his work is equally applicable to daily fantasy strategy. Vince looks at the following five categories in an attempt to determine the best match ups:

  1. Hitter quality
  2. Hitter style
  3. Pitcher quality
  4. Pitcher style
  5. Ballpark

The two most interesting factors for daily contest purposes were hitter and pitcher style, or at least these were the two I hadn’t already considered as factors. With respect to hitter style, Vince found that certain hitters don’t have a huge difference in performance when facing good and bad pitchers. If the quality of the opposing pitcher was on the horizontal axis and production was on the vertical axis, the slope of the line would be very slight. The names he mentioned were guys like Elvis Andrus, Marco Scutaro and other high contact hitters. But low contact hitters tend to feast on bad pitching and struggle against good pitching. The slope of that line would be much steeper. The example given for that type of hitter was Chris Davis.

The take away for daily players is that high contact hitters might be under priced when facing good pitchers. This is a bit of a generalization, but the Draftstreet pricing model reduces a player’s cost quite a bit when they are facing a strong starting pitcher. Which of course makes sense. But I’m assuming the model does that for all players fairly equally and isn’t aware of the outcomes of Vince’s research that certain types of hitters don’t suffer as much against good pitching.

The factor of pitching style is where Vince is truly trying to find a better alternative to BVP data. As mentioned, the problem with BVP data and the reason it is not predictive is primarily because of the small sample size. But Vince had the idea to try to group together similar pitchers and see how a batter has fared against that type of pitcher. Looking at a hitter’s stats against a group of pitchers obviously provides a larger sample size than a batter against a specific pitcher. He has done some terrific work building “clusters” of pitchers, but he’s still working on the project. Hopefully someday he’ll finish it and release these clusters so that daily players can take advantage of them. This is also something I may look into a bit in the future in this space.

The Daily Five

David Price, $15,512 – On the whole, the Orioles are a slightly above average offensive team with a 102 wRC+. But really they’re just good against right-handed pitching. And that’s the side you want to be best against given that a team will have many more plate appearances against right-handed pitching. In fact, just over two-thirds of Oriole plate appearances this season have come against right-handed pitching. But against lefties they’re actually 10% below average. And with David Price having issued just 3 walks to the last 258 batters he has faced, I would need a really good reason (aka a really bad match up) to sit him at a reasonable price like this.

Matt Garza, $15,193 – Astros.

Jordan Zimmermann, $14,908 – Zimmermann was a guy who crossed my mind at Saber Seminar when Harry Pavlidis was talking about what makes a good changeup. Within that presentation, Harry noted that a large gap between a fastball and a changeup leads to more swings and misses while a smaller gap leads to more weak contact. Zimmermann crossed my mind when that trade off came up because he has been open about often pitching to weak contact. But he’s also gone through stretches where he has racked up strikeouts. I’m guessing that the alternating between weak contact and Ks on Zimmermann’s part has more to do with location as opposed to changeup speed, but it’s something I plan on looking into at some point. Anyway, I like his match up with the Cubs today.

Norichika Aoki, $6,169 – To give you an example of a high contact hitter who could be under priced because he’s facing a good starter, I give you Aoki who has the second best contact rate in the league. He’ll be facing Shelby Miller, and his price is right around the average cost I have to spend per hitter after spending more than average on pitching.

Dustin Ackley, $4,729 – Here is another of a high contact hitter whose price may be a little too depressed because they’re facing a good pitcher. If Ackley had enough PA to qualify, his contact rate would be more than one standard deviation above the mean. Other encouraging factors are the platoon advantage over Jarrod Parker and the fact that he hasn’t been horrible lately with a 116 wRC+ over the last 30 days.

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You can find more of Brett's work on TheFantasyFix.com or follow him on Twitter @TheRealTAL.

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