9 Underlying Player Stats to Know (Fantasy Baseball)
In any fantasy sport, owners should be comfortable diving below surface statistics in order to achieve a better idea of how a player is actually performing and thus their expected performance moving forward. This is especially true in fantasy baseball.
As our own Dan Harris likes to say, deeper stat analysis is a great way to explain a player’s current production, but it’s not necessarily predictive. However, deeper stat analysis is a great way to identify players that are frauds, ridiculously unlucky, or somewhere in between. This then allows for the identification of players to buy, sell, and hold.
As such, we’ve asked our writers to identify underlying player stats that fantasy owners should be aware of.
What one underlying player stat should fantasy owners take note of?
Jerad Eickhoff’s xwOBA of .190
Eickhoff leads all MLB pitchers (starters and relievers) in xwOBA with a .190 mark through 20.1 innings in 2019. The righty hurler has a secure spot in the Phillies’ rotation with the recent struggles and demotion of Nick Pivetta. He owns a three-pitch mix that includes a four-seam, slider, and curve, with the latter grading out as one of the game’s best over the last four years. Now free of carpal tunnel issues that caused numbness in his pitching hand in 2017-18, Eickhoff has improved his fastball via higher spin rate and elevation and slider through better location at the bottom of the zone. The improved overall arsenal is allowing the 28-year-old to induce a significant amount of whiffs and weak contact. Grab him now while he’s roughly 20% owned in fantasy leagues.
– Nick Gerli (@nickgerliPL)
Caleb Smith has a 15.6% SwStr%
Don’t look now, but the only pitchers with a better swinging strike percentage induced are Blake Snell, Max Scherzer, and Gerrit Cole. Smith was already excellent last year prior to his injury, striking out 27% of his batters, but he has taken a major leap forward this year to 33%. To put that into perspective, Chris Sale is the MLB historical leader but even he is just at 30.1% in his career. Smith’s BB% has plummeted as well so don’t be surprised if you look up at the end of the year and see him with some Cy Young votes.
– Bobby Sylvester (@bobbyfantasypro)
Sonny Gray has a 2.90 xFIP
While it may seem like a turnoff for a lot of fantasy managers out there seeing Gray with a 3.64 ERA and an 0-4 record, it is not all his fault. He currently has a 2.90 xFIP which for those who don’t know is incredibly good. xFIP essentially measures how well a pitcher has pitched (talent and/or ability) independent of their defense. This means that it will only incorporate statistics that the pitcher is mainly in control of such as strikeouts, walks, hit by pitches, and fly balls allowed. Gray’s xFIP is one of the best right now in the league, but unfortunately his fantasy value is a little low due to the fact that he does not have a very good supporting cast surrounding him on defense. With only being currently rostered in around 30% of leagues, he is worth stashing in the event that his defense improves over the course of the season. If that happens, then we can see what he is really capable of.
– Matthew Catalano (@MatthewCatala16)
Chris Paddack has a .138 BABIP and 11.7% swinging strike rate
Paddack has had an exceptional start to his rookie year, but this .138 BABIP screams negative regression — or so you’d think. This BABIP is surprisingly supported by an expected batting average of just .167, which ranks in the top six percent in all of baseball. Further, Paddack’s 30.3% K rate ranks in the top 15 in all of baseball, despite just an 11.7% swinging strike rate, which would typically equate to a 23-25% K rate. Paddack essentially has two pitches (he throws his cutter just 10 percent of the time), so I expect the league to adjust to him and his fantastic put-away changeup. His BABIP should normalize, but I am intrigued to see how low Paddack can keep this BABIP and xwOBA, and how high he can keep this strikeout rate, especially with a potential innings cap.
– Carmen Maiorano (@cmaiorano3)
Jack Flaherty’s K-BB% (23.1) ranks 16th best in MLB
One of the biggest concerns with Flaherty during draft season was whether he could curb the walks while continuing to strike out batters at a high clip. So far this season, he has. Flaherty’s last two starts have helped bring his ERA down to 4.06, so the panic level may not be quite as high as before. The 10.7 K/9 and 3.32 xFIP further support how good Flaherty has actually been. Take out the two starts in Milwaukee, and he’s given up a grand total of just five runs in 24 IP. Of course, four of those runs also came against Milwaukee, but it was a home start in which Flaherty struck out 10 Brewers. Flaherty has given up 12 runs to his NL Central rivals and just one to the Dodgers, Padres, and Reds combined. The window to buy below market value is quickly closing.
– Paul Ghiglieri (@FantasyGhigs)
Madison Bumgarner’s 7.0 K/BB ratio
This one honestly surprised me, but as the saying goes, you make your own luck, and what better way to do it than by keeping the ball out of play and avoiding free passes? MadBum’s pristine 7.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio is the second-best in baseball behind only Max Scherzer’s silly 10.8 K/BB mark, and over the last three seasons, every pitcher with a K/BB ratio of 6.5 or better has finished with a sub-3.00 ERA. Bumgarner has never been an elite bat-misser, and he isn’t one now, but if he can keep his K rate anywhere close to a strikeout per inning while issuing less than one walk per start, he’s almost certain to be a major asset in ERA and WHIP. So let’s not be too quick to look at his current 4.30 ERA and declare that MadBum is “washed up.”
– Andrew Seifter (@andrew_seifter)
Christian Yelich’s 41.2% HR/FB rate
The highest HR/FB rate in a single season among qualified hitters since 2002 is 39.5% in 2006 by Ryan Howard. In 2018, Yelich finished third all-time with a 35% HR/FB rate which had everyone screaming regression. Yet, here we are over one month into 2019 and Yelich is doing anything but regressing back to the mean. Since the Marlins traded Yelich to the Brewers, he’s carried an amazing 36.5% HR/FB rate compared to his career 21.7% HR/FB rate. In addition, he’s bumped his fly ball rate up to a career-high 41%. Something has to give, right? Where does Yelich’s true talent lie? Will he continue to laugh in the face of regression and mash 60+ homers or finish closer to his career rates?
– Max Freeze (@FreezeStats)
Yandy Diaz’s 3.9-degree average launch angle
The narrative on Diaz has always been the same. He can break out once he starts elevating the ball. Well, Diaz has looked like a breakout in the first month, posting a .298/.395/.596 triple slash, but he hasn’t gotten any loft on the ball. His 3.9-degree average launch angle is lower than his launch angle last season, and Diaz’s 54.5% groundball rate puts him 16th among qualified hitters. No qualified hitter with a groundball rate above 50% also has a SLG of .500 or greater other than Diaz, and Diaz has a .115-point gap between his SLG (.596) and xSLG (.481). He’s ridden a 29.2% HR/FB ratio for most of his power. Diaz had some sleeper hype heading into the season, which might lead owners to believe the breakout is happening for him, but Diaz hasn’t made the necessary changes to sustain his power. He is still good in points and OBP formats thanks to his 0.85 BB/K ratio, but in traditional 5×5 leagues, Diaz is someone to shop around.
– Elliott Baas (@elliottbaasbb)
Robert Stephenson has a 20.2% swinging-strike and 57.6% contact rate
He ranks third among all relievers in each category, trailing only Josh Hader and Edwin Diaz. The former starter has posted 18 strikeouts and a 2.45 ERA in 14 2/3 innings from Cincinnati’s bullpen. While he often enters games directly after the starter, the Reds are not committed to using Raisel Iglesias exclusively as a closer. Stephenson could work his way into a few save opportunities down the line. Regardless of role, his SP eligibility makes him a useful asset in leagues with daily lineup changes.
– Andrew Gould (@andrewgould4)