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By the Numbers: The stats behind the stats

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Each year, the early weeks of the season produce some peculiar stats, and that doesn't make it easy to be a Fantasy owner. Justin Masterson already has four wins, a 1.85 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP. Brandon Crawford is hitting .303, and John Buck has seven homers. When April oddities like these arise, the question facing every Fantasy owner is, "how do I respond?"

Every add and every drop has its cost, so it's a good idea for owners to look behind the surface stats to see what is going on under the hood. This is especially true in the first month or two of the season, when statistics are comprised of small samples, but even later in the season, player stats can be deceiving.

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Sabermetrics -- the use of advanced statistics in baseball -- has caught on in both the Fantasy and real worlds. The use of metrics that break outcomes into components or measure skill can offer a reality check when a player produces unexpectedly good or bad Fantasy stats. This primer reviews some of the more widely-available peripheral stats that have been developed by sabermetric pioneers, which can shed light on the sustainability of a player's current Fantasy value. (For more information on the derivation and history of the stats covered here plus many others, see the glossary at The Hardball Times.)

For each metric, I'll explain what is being measured, what the major league norm for the stat was last season, and a current example of how the stat can be applied for Fantasy purposes. All season long, I'll be using these metrics in my By the Numbers columns to help you find hidden gems for your rosters as well as drop and sell-high targets.

Note: All current year stats are for games played through Monday, April 22.

Sources: 2012 rates for all major leaguers collectively are from Baseball-Reference.com, except where otherwise noted below.
* Rates are from FanGraphs.com.
** Batted ball rates are from FanGraphs.com, excecpt for infield flyball rate, which is from StatCorner.com.
*** Rates are from StatCorner.com.

Stats for both batters and pitchers

Batted ball rates
What they are: The rates at which balls are hit in a given trajectory. For example, a ground ball rate is equal to the proportion of all hit balls that are grounders.
2012 major league rates**: 21 percent for line drives, 45 percent for ground balls, 34 percent for all flyballs, seven percent for infield flyballs (popups).
Players impacted in 2013: Batted ball profiles matter, because they go a long way in determining whether a hitter has power or if a pitcher is prone to allowing extra-base hits, and they also impact batting averages. Brandon Morrow's cold start can be tied to a 49 percent flyball rate that has helped produce four homers and seven runs. Normally much closer to flyball-neutral, there could be a turnaround in Morrow's future. Colby Rasmus has hit four home runs and four doubles, putting him on a 30-homer and 30-doubles pace, both of which would be firsts for him. He has turned 46 percent of his hit balls into flies, which is not much different than his rates from his previous four seasons. Whether he can sustain that pace depends on the next two measures ...

BABIP
What it is: Batting average on balls in play (excludes home runs and strikeouts). It can be a reflection of a hitter's or pitcher's batted ball profile (e.g., flyball hitter, ground ball pitcher) or a reflection of random fluctuation.
2012 major league rates: .297 overall, .709 on line drives, .238 on ground balls and .131 on flyballs.
Players impacted in 2013: With a 1.69 ERA and 0.53 WHIP so far, Hisashi Iwakuma has looked like an ace, even though he hasn't induced that many strikeouts or ground balls. A .119 BABIP through Monday's games is so far out of line with major league norms and Iwakuma's .283 rate from 2012, so he appears to be due for a serious fall. And as for Rasmus, he has yet to make an out on a line drive (7 for 7), so eventually, some of those potential doubles will turn into outs.

HR/FB
What it is: Home run to flyball ratio. It tends to be fairly steady from year to year, but a huge dip or surge can indicate a change in luck, particularly if the sample of flyballs is small.
2012 major league rate: Eight percent
Players impacted in 2013: Worried about David Price? Don't be. He has only allowed 16 flyballs through his first four starts, but four of them became homers. With more reps, he'll likely get that ratio back near the major league average. The aforementioned John Buck is hitting flyballs at a higher rate than usual, but he is also turning 23 percent of them into homers. With HR/FB ratios of 15 percent or lower in each of his previous three seasons, there is good reason to be skeptical of Buck's power production. The same is true for Rasmus, whose 27 percent ratio is more than double those from his last two seasons.

Stats for batters only

Strikeout rate
What it is: The percentage of at-bats that results in a strikeout.
2012 major league rate: 22 percent
Player impacted in 2013: Nick Hundley is off to a surprisingly good start with a .296 batting average, but it's being boosted by a .417 BABIP that's not built to last. Underneath that high rate on balls in play is a 32 percent strikeout rate that will weigh down his average if it persists.

Walk rate
What it is: The percentage of plate appearances that results in a walk.
2012 major league rate: Eight percent
Player impacted in 2013: Coco Crisp's current 16 percent walk rate is more than double his career mark, which is just under eight percent. Not coincidentally, Crisp has drastically reduced his swing percentage on pitches outside the strike zone. Crisp was more selective earlier in his career, so while he appears due for some regression, he may be rediscovering a skill that has merely been dormant. If the trend continues, Crisp will continue to exceed expectations in the stolen base and runs categories.

Isolated Power (Iso)
What it is: The per-at-bat rate at which a hitter gets extra bases. Also, the difference between slugging percentage and batting average.
2012 major league rate: .151
Player impacted in 2013: A casual glance at Billy Butler's .412 slugging percentage might give the impression that the first baseman's power surge of 2012 was a fluke, but it's the batting average that's weighing that stat down. He is getting extra bases at practically the same rate (.196 Iso) as he did last year (.197 Iso), though a more-than-doubling of his walk rate is cutting into his opportunities to get hits. Also, if Butler were not just 2 for 22 on ground balls, his slash line would look much better. Normally, he would have three more ground ball hits by now, and even if they were all singles, that would give Butler a .275/.422/.471 line, instead of the .216/.375/.412 line he currently sports.

Stats for pitchers only

K/9
What it is: The rate of strikeouts per nine innings.
2012 major league rates*: 7.1 for starters, 8.4 for relievers
Player impacted in 2013: In the early going, Clay Buchholz has shed his more contact-friendly ways, striking out 8.7 batters per nine innings, as compared to his 6.8 career rate. He's not getting hitters to swing and miss more often, but he is getting more called strikes, particularly on his sinker. according to BrooksBaseball.net. He's also getting more vertical movement on that pitch, so it's a trend that owners should keep an eye on. If he can sustain it, Buchholz will be more than just a middle-of-the-rotation type.

BB/9
What it is: The rate of walks per nine innings.
2012 major league rates*: 2.8 for starters, 3.5 for relievers
Player impacted in 2013: Marco Estrada is known for his sharp control, and so far this season, he has compiled a pristine 1.5 BB/9 rate. Fantasy owners might overlook that, as his ERA (4.50) and WHIP (1.33) are both inflated. An 18 percent HR/FB ratio and .338 BABIP have played an important role in bloating those stats, but all of those marks should shrink over the coming weeks. There's nothing wrong with Estrada's control, so owners can use this knowledge to their advantage and target him as a buy-low candidate.

Strikes thrown percentage
What it is: The percentage of all pitches thrown that result in strikes, whether swinging, called, fouled off or put in play.
2012 major league rate: 63 percent
Player impacted in 2013: Ross Detwiler has long shown a knack for efficiency, but with an early 67 percent strikes thrown rate, he's getting through plate appearances even more quickly. That means Detwiler can pile up innings for owners in points leagues. He's also getting more swings and misses, but that hasn't translated into a higher K/9 rate, as he is also allowing a much higher rate of balls in play. By holding opponents to a .167 batting average on grounders, Detwiler has been able to maintain an 0.90 ERA and 1.00 WHIP, but without more strikeouts, those marks could soar to mediocre levels.

Swinging strike percentage
What it is: The percentage of pitches that result in a swing-and-miss.
2012 major league rate***: Nine percent
Player impacted in 2013: Not surprisingly, pitchers who frequently get swinging strikes also tend to get lots of strikeouts. As a rookie, Tommy Milone had a mediocre nine percent rate, and since the lefty doesn't throw hard, owners probably didn't expect much more. However, Milone got swings-and-misses as a minor leaguer, and through four starts, he has lifted that rate to 10 percent, helping himself to a 7.5 K/9 rate. That won't make Milone a stud in the strikeout category, but if he can maintain his gains, he can help with ERA and WHIP without forcing owners to sacrifice Ks.

Strand rate
What it is: The percentage of baserunners who fail to score an earned run.
2012 major league rates*: 72 percent for starters, 75 percent for relievers
Player impacted in 2013: Entering his Tuesday start, Carlos Villanueva was the only qualifying starting pitcher in the majors who had stranded every baserunner he had put on, as all three of the earned runs he allowed came from solo shots. (He finally failed to strand a runner on Tuesday at the Reds.) The home runs should continue to come, and meanwhile, at some point Villanueva will have some men on base when those and other hits happen. Owners in deeper leagues can put this early-season statistical oddity to good use and sell high on Villanueva.

xFIP (Expected Fielding Independent Pitching)
What it is: An estimate of what a pitcher's ERA would be if it were based on outcomes that a pitcher can influence, such as strikeouts, walks and flyballs, factoring out the impact of defense and luck. Derived from FIP, but factors in flyballs in place of home runs.
2012 major league rates*: 4.06 for starters, 3.92 for relievers
Player impacted in 2013: ERA can be deceiving because of the distortions that occur due to aberrant strand or BABIP rates. Hyun-Jin Ryu has been an early example of this. He has been throwing strikes and missing bats, but his 4.01 ERA does not reflect it. xFIP takes Ryu's .364 BABIP into account, building in the assumption that it should be normal, and estimating that his ERA should actually be 2.98. A 28 percent line drive rate has played a role in that inflated BABIP, but as Ryu's innings build up, it's fair to assume that both his line drive and BABIP rates will recede. He is still largely an unknown quantity, but Ryu is showing early signs of being a top Fantasy pitcher.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al Melchior at @almelccbs . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Report: Orioles in 'continuous dialogue' with pitcher Chris Tillman
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) The Orioles and pitcher Chris Tillman are reportedly engaged in "continuous dialogue" for a long-term extension and have been for the past several weeks, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Tillman signed a one-year, $4.315 million deal in January to avoid arbitration and the discussions for a new deal are still considered preliminary, according to the report.

Tillman posted a 13-6 record in 2014 with a 3.34 ERA in 34 starts.


Tigers bullpen decision coming down to Ian Krol, Kyle Ryan
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Tigers manager Brad Ausmus is running out of time to finish off his bullpen for Opening Day. The final bullpen role will likely be a left-handed pitcher and is expected to come down to Kyle Ryan and Ian Krol, according to MLB.com.

"If I'm there, hopefully it's a good situation, whether it's long or short," Ryan said. "For them to have enough confidence in me to go into Spring Training as a reliever, and actually for them to believe that I might be able to make the team as a reliever, that makes me proud."

Ryan has given up seven runs on seven hits in 11 innings of work this spring. 

"When he throws it right, it's good," Ausmus said of Krol. "He has a tendency to occasionally slow his arm down on his cutter and curveball. He did it a couple times today. But when he doesn't slow his arm down, it's very good."


Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson continues to make his case
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson still doesn't know what his role will be when Opening Day rolls around, but he's showing he belongs on the roster, reports MLB.com.

"There's always stuff I need to work on, and I need to continue to impress," Pederson said after launching his fifth home run of the spring Saturday, boosting his batting average to .373.

Manager Don Mattingly remains quiet on what he will do when the decision has to be made, but Pederson is doing what he can to impress.

"[Opening Day] is out of my control," Pederson said. "It's something you dream about as a kid, playing in the big leagues, and you do anything you can to make that dream come true."


Angels P Matt Shoemaker gives up three runs in loss to Dodgers
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) After pitching six scoreless innings in his last start, Angels pitcher Matt Shoemaker struggled a bit in the team's 5-4 to the Dodgers, reports MLB.com.

Shoemaker gave up three runs on four hits in six innings, striking out two. One of the hits he surrended was to Joc Pederson on a two-run homer.

The 28-year-old completed last season with a 3.04 ERA, 124 strikeouts and only 24 walks.


Reds third baseman Todd Frazier feels ready for Opening Day
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Reds third baseman Todd Frazier feels his swing has come back and is ready to tackle the long haul ahead of the regular season, reports MLB.com.

"It comes quick, like usual," Frazier said on Saturday morning. "I get goose bumps thinking about it right now -- another year, it's crazy."

Frazier struggled early in spring training, but has rebounded to go 8 for 23 in his last seven games.

"I hit in the Minor Leagues for about 10 at-bats [on Friday], just to try and feel it back-to-back. I do, and I feel really well," said Frazier, who is batting .262 in 14 games this spring. "I feel like if I had to play tomorrow [in the regular season], I'd be ready to go. It's all about preparation, and offseason stuff. I feel like it's so far, so good."


Angels OF Mike Trout homers in loss to Dodgers
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Angels outfielder Mike Trout homered in Saturday's 5-4 loss to the Dodgers, reports MLB.com.

Trout, 23, robbed the Dodgers' Alex Guerrero of an extra-base hit in the first inning, making it a successful day for him, despite the loss. 

This spring he has a batting average of .477 with four home runs and 14 RBI. 


White Sox hope to have Robertson, Petricka back by Opening Day
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Two key members of the White Sox bullpen are working their way back from forearm injuries, but manager Robin Ventura is confident he'll have both back by opening day. 

Closer David Robertson is scheduled to pitch on Sunday. 

"We're trying to make sure we’re extra careful with him," Ventura said, per Comcast's Dan Hayes. "He doesn’t seem to be concerned about it as much as we do."

Setup man Jake Petricka isn't as far along as Robertson. He played catch on Saturday for the first time in five days.

The Sox are taking it slow, so that the team will have both pitchers for Opening Day as well as the rest of the season. 

"You’re just making sure you’re cautious enough that you feel good about when (they go) out there that there won’t be any setbacks,” Ventura said. 


Indians pitcher Zach McAllister fans nine in outing Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Indians pitcher Zach McAllister went five innings Saturday against the Brewers, allowing two runs on six hits with nine strikeouts. McAllister, who is expected to make one more start before Opening Day, touched 97 mph with his fastball in the appearance, according to Cleveland.com.

"He's been impressive and he's been doing it all spring," said Francona. "He's not just throwing strikes, he's down in the zone when he wants to and then he can elevate with some velocity. I think his hard work is really paying off."

McAllister has felt he always had the added velocity.

"Throughout my career I've always felt I've had a little more (velocity) in there if I could maintain it," said McAllister. "For whatever reason, whether it's being more consistent with my delivery or my arm action, I'm just trusting that when I let it go it's going to go where I want it to go. I'm not trying to place anything."


Pirates Pedro Alvarez looking to stick at first base
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Pirates first baseman Pedro Alvarez is hoping to stick at his new position after converting from third base, reports triblive.com.

On opening day, Alvarez will be the team's 54th first baseman in its 129-year history.

“It's a matter of getting used to seeing the field from that point of view,” Alvarez said. “I need to get the reps in so the responsibilities that come with playing that position become second nature to me.”

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington talked about the team's past efforts of platooning the position.

“You can't develop something you don't have. You can't buy something you can't afford,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “That's why we've tried to platoon. Over the last couple of years, we've realized that's a challenge for a National League manager. Platoons are much harder here than they are in the American League, especially with a one-dimensional player who can only play one position.”

The hope around the organization is that they can get quality production from Alvarez.

“Our hope that is between Pedro Alvarez and Corey Hart, we'll get quality major league production,” Huntington said.

The 28-year-old is batting .306 with two home runs, nine RBI and eight strikeouts this spring.


Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton can't find a rhythm Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton tossed six innings Saturday against the Blue Jays, allowing six hits, including two home runs and no strikeouts. Morton, who is fighting for a spot in the starting rotation, is still recovering from labrum surgery six months ago.

"Physically, Charlie is in a good place," manager Clint Hurdle said to MLB.com. "He is trying to make some mechanical adjustments in his delivery, but we don't have any health concerns about him."

Morton isn't worried about fixing mechanical issues just yet.

"Now is a tough time to put a lot of emphasis on mechanics," said Morton. "I gotta go pitch, adjustments or no adjustments."


 
 
 
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