Daily Fantasy Baseball: What's the Value of a Hard-Hit Ball?
Advanced baseball statistics have a tendency to be equal parts science and gibberish. The latter portion of that can mask how stupidly important some of these numbers are.
Take spin rate as an example. This could refer to the amount of backspin a batter gets on an individual ball in play, or it could detail the number of pirouettes Nolan Arenado can do before throwing a batter out at first by 30 feet. In reality, it refers to the amount of spin a pitcher gets on an individual pitch, which will help illustrate the type of movement you can expect once it leaves his fingers. That's immensely valuable data, but that value is partially masked by the vagueness of the name.
Hard-hit rate is similar. While we logically know to what this refers and that it has some value, it's hard to know exactly why we should care. Sure, a hard-hit ball is great, but what does that even mean?
We've seen in the past that hard-hit rate correlates highly with FanDuel scoring, even higher than batting average on a per-plate appearance basis even though one is a results-based stat and the other is not. But again, so what? What exactly does that get me if I select a guy who winds up producing a hard-hit ball?
Let's try to answer that question today. Thanks to FanGraphs' splits leaderboards, we can see what each and every hard-hit ball has turned into over any time frame we desire. By showing the results of a hard-hit ball to relative to other contact qualities, we should be able to see just how valuable this one individual statistic truly is.
A Cavernous Difference
We're going to just start with the obvious here and compare hard-hit balls to those that are medium-hit and soft-hit, the three quality of contact outcomes provided by Baseball Info Solutions. Clearly, this is going to favor the hard-hit balls just by definition, but it's a necessary exercise to show exactly what you're getting with each well-struck ball.
The table below shows the outcomes of all balls of each contact quality since the start of the 2016 season. That's when baseball's home-run surge started, so it would taint the sample to use data from previous seasons. On-base percentage was excluded because batted-ball events will not include events such as walks and hit-by-pitches. The "FP/PA" column refers to the fantasy points generated in each plate appearance based on FanDuel's current scoring rules. All plate appearances by pitchers were excluded.
|2016 Through Present||Average||Slugging||wRC+||FP/PA|
A hard-hit ball is worth almost four times as much as a medium-hit ball on FanDuel. Let that sink in for a second. It's hard-hit or bust.
For context on that 347 wRC+, Aaron Judge finished the first half with a 197 wRC+, and no other batter was above 170. An average hard-hit ball is worth more than 1.75 times Judge's value. Can you see now why it's wise to focus heavily on a player's hard-hit rate?
On the flip side, a wRC+ of 52 -- which is what we get from a medium-hit ball -- would be the third-worst mark in the league, besting only Carlos Gonzalez and Alcides Escobar. Those guys have strikeouts weighing them down while the numbers above do not. And that's not even discussing the soft-hit balls down at -22, which is worse than Clayton Kershaw's career wRC+ as a hitter of 0. From a DFS perspective, it's hard-hit or bust.
This is all obvious. It's more just to illustrate the immense value of a hard-hit ball. But this is before we even break down each type of hard-hit ball -- whether it's in the air, on the ground, or a liner -- which should juice up our desire to find these puppies even more.
Even Grounders Help
So, we've established we want to get hard-hit balls, and we need them in order to have even an inkling of success in DFS. But does this desire persist even if the ball is hit on the ground? The results would seem to say yes.
Although there's a major gap between a hard-hit fly ball and one on the ground, you're still getting value from that grounder.
That doesn't mean we should favor a hard-hit grounder over all events. The table below compares those hard-hit grounders to all classifications of medium-hit balls, and it should show that line drives carry plenty of value even when they're not well struck.
|2016 Through Present||Average||Slugging||wRC+|
A medium-hit line drive had a much higher wRC+ and slugging percentage than a hard-hit ground ball, meaning we should favor those over hard-hit grounders. But if it's not a line drive, you had better pray that puppy is well-struck.
Let's try to illustrate all of this in a different way by showing a heat map of each different categorization of a ball in play. The chart below shows the wRC+ for each classification since the start of 2016. While this will give further value to line drives of any kind, it also shows just how delicious hard-hit fly balls are.
The most desirable outcome is a hard-hit fly ball. All other fly balls are death traps of destruction.
After that come the line drives of each leverage. They're not going to lead to dingers, but having each wRC+ be higher than that of a hard-hit ground ball is telling that these things carry water regardless.
And, although it's not quite as spicy as a liner or a hard-hit fly, a hard-hit ground ball is far from being the worst outcome for DFS.
Searching for Hard-Hit Fly Balls
Now, let's toss aside the liners and grounders for a second. In that chart, you saw just how much value is in each and every hard-hit fly ball, boasting a slugging percentage of 1.705 with a 468 wRC+. How do we apply this to the rest of the 2017 season?
There are two different ways of going about this. First, you can see each player's fly-ball rate on hard-hit balls for the year, which will give you an idea of which guys are making the most of the balls they do strike well. You can find that full list on FanGraphs, and the top 10 batters are here among those with at least 50 hard-hit balls.
|On Hard-Hit Balls||Fly-Ball Rate||Ground-Ball Rate||Line-Drive Rate|
Considering the offense in which he plays, this would seem to make it wise to invest in Lonnie Chisenhall in good matchups. If he hits it hard, it's going in the air, and there's a good chance that tater's leaving the yard. This also helps explain how Matt Davidson wound up blasting 14 home runs from the start of May to the end of June.
The other way -- and likely the more valuable route -- is to look at how often each guy strikes it hard when he puts the ball in the air. A meaty fly-ball rate is great for DFS, but as we saw above, it doesn't mean much if you're not simultaneously producing hard-hit balls. Here are the 10 guys who have made hard contact most often this year when lofting the ball, and that full list is also on FanGraphs.
|On Fly Balls||Hard-Hit Rate||Medium-Hit Rate||Soft-Hit Rate|
Mancini entered the All-Star break with prices that generally hovered around $3,000 while hitting sixth for a solid Baltimore Orioles offense. Baltimore's park figures to heat up during the summer months, so as long as Mancini can stay in the lineup with Chris Davis coming back, he'll be an important bat to monitor.
It's not just the four-homer game boosting Gennett. He has a 39.6% hard-hit rate and 37.3% fly-ball rate on the season, and as you can see, most of those flies are well-struck. Like Mancini, he'll benefit from a park with a solid hitting environment going forward, so don't jump off the Scooter bandwagon just yet.
Fowler has been slowed by injuries, but when healthy, his power has been noteworthy. His isolated slugging percentage is .240, and his 14 home runs are just three short of tying a career high. That's for a guy who used to play his home games at Coors Field. Fowler's rocking a 37.3% hard-hit rate and 38.5% fly-ball rate, making him an obvious bat to buy once the St. Louis Cardinals kick off the second half.
We knew coming in that hard-hit balls had value. That part was obvious. But how much weight they carry in daily fantasy baseball is bonkers.
Events like strikeouts and walks are still going to matter because they do take up plate appearances, but the tables above likely show that we should be willing to accept some deficiencies there if it comes with a bump in hard-hit rate. It's great if that middle infielder successfully puts the ball in play, but it won't benefit us much in DFS if he's not putting some zip behind it.
That said, not all hard-hit balls are created equal. The creme de la creme is a hard-hit fly ball, something we should always covet when it comes to DFS. Line drives and grounders still hold value, but hard-hit flies will get you to the promised land.
There are plenty of great metrics out there that can aid in your DFS research, especially with Statcast's data being public. But don't gloss over hard-hit rate. Its definition is simple, its payoff is huge, and it should continue to be a focal point as you're filling out your daily lineups.