Daily Fantasy Sports is becoming ever so popular among baseball fans — both casual and serious. Here’s a new way, that really works, to help you win your events.
Statcast has undeniably revolutionized the baseball statistics world. Most of the things that could be measured by the “eye test” can now be analyzed using numbers. From defensive skill, to true hitting value, Statcast tells us all of the things that the normal stats don’t.
At the end of April, Hitter X is hitting .375/.500/.700, and he looks unstoppable. Is he going to slow down, or keep it up for a Barry Bonds-esque season? Well, the thing is, we don’t know. We can’t tell just from that. Is he really that great of a hitter, or is he getting lucky? Yes, BABIP could fill in some of the question marks, but it assumes all batted balls are created equal (spoiler alert, they’re not). This is why Statcast is helpful. It tells us how hard he’s hitting the ball, at what angle he’s hitting it, and most importantly, how lucky, or unlucky, has he gotten.
A “barrel” is a term coined by the dudes at Statcast. What is a barrel? Well, when a hitter hits a barrel, you know it’s a barrel. That’s the simple explanation. The mathy explanation is a ball in play hit at an exit velocity and launch angle combination that generally has an expected batting average of .750 and an expected slugging percentage of 1.500. That’s the minimum for a barrel. Over half go over the fence, the others mostly going for doubles or outs. Simply put, you know off the bat if it’s a barrel.
Casey Boguslaw and I started @MLBBarrelAlert at the beginning of the season. (Jim Passon and Michael Liu also help out a ton.) Manually run (yes, it’s manually run), we tweet out whenever someone hits a barrel.
Who gives a darn? Why should you care? Well, if you’re reading this, you probably play Daily Fantasy Sports, or are generally interested in the subject. In less than a month, the account has gotten 2000+ followers — an overwhelming amount play DFS. At first, we were confused, but then realized why.
After a player’s game starts, you’re stuck with them in you’re lineup. You want them to do well. Say a player who you didn’t start hits a barrel. It’s a lineout. Damn, he squared it up, but the center fielder made an over the shoulder catch near the 405 foot sign. This doesn’t appear in the box score. It’s the same as an infield fly out on the stat sheet. But, he barreled it. It was for an out, which isn’t good. But if you’re considering your lineup choices for the next day, does it matter if that ball is caught by the outfielder in deep center or goes 10 feet over the fence down the line in right?
It shouldn’t. He hit the ball hard, he didn’t get the results. However, “not getting the results” isn’t based on much. For the most part, it’s random.
Barrels are more predictive than home runs. If, at the All-Star Break, you were given the chance to predict a player’s second half home run total, using only their first half home run total or their first half barrel total, which one should you choose?
You should choose barrels. Barrels have a stronger correlation with second half home runs than home runs with second half home runs. Why is that? Well, luck. A player’s second half home run total has nothing to do with if his first half home runs were bloop fly balls in Colorado or balls that hit the foul pole just over the fence. Those even out; regression happens. However, barrels are more consistent. If you hit the ball hard in the first half, you’ll probably hit the ball hard in the second half.
Now, what does this have to do with making money? Well, we can apply the same thing on a nightly basis. Players that hit the ball hard in the past tend to hit the ball hard in the future. Barrels are very predictive of the future, and predicting the future is really handy when you bet money on the future.
If you play Daily Fantasy, you probably use either DraftKings of FanDuel. So, using each site’s scoring system, and the barrel results from the 2016 season, I figured out how many points a barrel was worth, on average.
On DraftKings, a barrel is worth 10.24 points, on average. A lot of the times it’s a homer, and on occasion it’s not. You could get zero points on a flyout, or a lot of points on a dinger.
On FanDuel, a barrel is worth 14.80 points, on average. Again, you don’t get 14.8 points for every barrel your players get; sometimes you’ll get zero and sometimes you’ll get a lot.
So, I put my fake money where my mouth is. I went on DraftKings, and picked players who barreled the ball a lot, and pitchers who ranked well in “Barrel FIP”, and made a lineup every day for two weeks. It was in the free contests, so I didn’t make any money (you need to be in the top 25 of thousands to win), but I did do quite well. In 11 of 14 events, I placed in the top 50 percent, and in 6 of the 14, I placed in the top 20 percent. I think that’s pretty good.
The moral of the story is that past results don’t matter for the future. The process is more important.
Problem is, it’s not an exact science. You can’t just predict barrels and what the results would be. There are so many factors, like pitcher, weather, ballpark, etc. I kept all those in mind, knowing it’s easier to barrel off bad pitchers and easier to get a barrel over the fence at Coors Field.
I mentioned Barrel FIP earlier. Casey made this to measure pitching performance, replacing barrels with home runs. First half Barrel FIP has a stronger correlation with second half ERA than first half FIP and first half ERA. It’s better for predicting ERA than ERA is, just like barrels predict homers better than homers do.
So Casey sends me this every day before I make my lineup:
When I see this, I notice Chris Sale first in Barrel FIP. Even though Aaron Judge is at the top of the league in barrels, I feel less inclined to pick him knowing he’s facing Sale, one of the top in Barrel FIP. Similarly, I see Dexter Fowler or Matt Carpenter’s matchup against Mat Latos, and even though they don’t get as many barrels, they’re still facing Mat Latos.
For pitchers, it’s a little different. Barrels aren’t that horrible against pitchers, only a -3.7 on DraftKings and a -4.8 on FanDuel, on average. These are bad, because you lose points, but can easily be knocked out by a couple strikeouts. That’s why Barrel FIP is helpful. It includes strikeouts and walks in its measure with barrels to determine who the better pitchers will be in the future.
That said, it’s also important to take a hitter’s walks, strikeouts, and stolen bases into consideration when building a lineup. We don’t have an all encompassing measure yet, but are working on one. Keep barrels as your number one priority, but don’t forget the other PA results.
I think that covers everything. This strategy is really useful, but you tend to see the same guys in your lineup every day, like Freddie Freeman, Eric Thames, Francisco Lindor, Nicholas Castellanos (who is a steal), and Aaron Judge, among others. After all, barrels picked up on Thames before the rest of the world picked up on Thames, which is great, because at the time he was a pretty cheap start.
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