Daily Fantasy Baseball: Does Scoring Differ During Each Month of the Year?
Some of y'all may associate April with happiness, sunshine, and the start of the MLB season. It's all about optimism and emergence from the perils of winter.
I grew up in Minnesota. Despite what the calendar may say, winter isn't always gone by the time opening day rolls around.
The Twins were set to move into their new crib at Target Field in 2010, and people were a bit worried. After all, they had been cozy in the Metrodome since the 1980s, a place where they weren't subject to Minnesota's hatred of all things beautiful early in April. Just the year before, Minneapolis had received almost an inch of snow on the same day that would have been opening day in 2010. But, yes, the calendar says spring, so let's just pretend all is well.
Things ended up working out all right for the Twins at Target Field that year, but that's not the point here. The point is that not all of the country has snapped out of winter's deathly grips by the time the start of a new season rolls around. We've seen that offense is more abundant in warmer weather, so this would seem to be something we should note when it comes to daily fantasy baseball.
If we were to see a dramatic difference in scoring between April and May or May and June, that would impact the way we may view hitters relative to pitchers based on what month it is.
We don't want to just assume this is the case, though, based on where I grew up and a simple little narrative. Let's investigate it for ourselves. Is there a difference in fantasy scoring based on what time of year it is?
Looking for Trends
The best way to find this out is to look at league averages for production over a three-year span. We'll do this for 2013 through 2015, tracking the offensive production by month.
There are three things that should help us draw conclusions from this. The first would be looking at the collective triple slash line for each month. We know that slugging percentage has the highest correlation to per-plate-appearance scoring on FanDuel, making a slash line a helpful bit of information.
Second, we want to look at how fantasy scoring as a whole fluctuates over the course of a season. We'll do this using FanDuel's scoring rules that were implemented prior to the 2016 season. Because this is a league-wide scope, the best way to break this down is by points per plate appearance, neutralizing for seasons in which more games may have been played in a given month than others.
Finally, we'll also look at the home run rate by month. If this were significantly different, we may alter which types of position players we target during a certain part of the season in order to not use players when their skills are less valuable.
A Cloudy Picture
If we were hoping to find some definitive arc where scoring increased and decreased, we'd likely end up with some big ol' frowny faces.
The table below shows the results of the three-year sample. There are some fluctuations from month to month, but they certainly don't appear to follow a straight path.
|Month||Average||On-Base||Slugging||Points Per PA||Home Run Rate|
April showers bring May power, but the scoring doesn't follow.
We would assume that the months with the highest slugging percentages (May and August) would also have the most points per plate appearance. Instead, that honor belonged to April, the month we went in thinking may lag behind.
Data is fun, isn't it?
The most interesting month on the table, for me, is July. I would have assumed July and August would be the two most fruitful months for power hitters. August was fine, posting the second highest slugging percentage and home-run rate, but July was last in both departments. That would seem to indicate the nationally warmer weather had little or no effect on offensive output.
It's still a bit puzzling to me that scoring would be higher in April despite a low slugging percentage and an average home run rate. So, let's change things up a bit to see if we can figure out why that was the case.
One thing that slugging percentage doesn't account for is walk rate. If players were drawing more walks in April as pitchers tried to find their groove in the new season, that may explain why scoring saw a minor bump. Based on the table below, it looks like that could be the case.
|Month||Strikeout Rate||Walk Rate|
Here, we do see a more logical arc. Strikeouts and walks are highest the first and last months of the season, and they (mostly) bottom out in the stretch of May through July.
The numbers in September aren't too hard to explain. September call-ups mean players who aren't necessarily big-league caliber will be in the lineup and on the mound. The batters will strikeout more, and the pitchers will issue more walks. April's reasoning is a bit more difficult to comprehend.
This could all be due to timing at the beginning of the season. Hitters may not be seeing the ball perfectly yet, leading to more swings and misses. Pitchers may not have their control down to perfection yet, resulting in more walks. The data doesn't necessarily suggest this, but it's a logical potential explanation.
The explanation isn't what matters, though; it's the overall results. Batters having increased walk rates and lower slugging percentages in April should change things a bit in the way we formulate our daily fantasy baseball decisions.
The lower slugging percentage means we should be a bit more hesitant to use a hitter who solely relies on power in cold weather. Miguel Sano will draw some walks, but most of his high-level production comes via the round tripper. If he finds himself in that cold Minnesota air in April, maybe it's best to look elsewhere.
An increased walk rate may have more implications for pitchers than it does for hitters, but it wouldn't necessarily change how we value them relative to those hitters. It would make me less likely to use a pitcher who is a bit more on the erratic side. Guys like Francisco Liriano and Tyson Ross would benefit from the increase in strikeouts, but if the league sees an increase in its walk rate, that would have major implications for their value.
This is reflected in the splits of those two pitchers, both of whom have struggled with issuing too many free passes. Over 304 1/3 combined innings in March and April, Liriano and Ross have a combined career ERA of 4.82. In the month of July, that drops to 2.71. Actionable? You betcha.
The walk rate doesn't change my approach much when it comes to hitters. I don't avoid hitters with high walk rates as they get the points for a walk and could also score a run, but I'm also not going to go out of my way to target them. The dip in slugging percentage is a far greater concern that I am more likely to take into account.
Overall, we don't see a huge shift in fantasy scoring based on the month of the year, but there are still some minor takeaways from the data.
First, scoring as a whole doesn't decrease for offensive players in April. This means we can keep our philosophy when it comes to spending on pitchers relative to hitters the same as we are unlikely to see the totals of that month favor one side over another.
Second, even though scoring is higher early in the year, that doesn't mean we should simply disregard weather. The reduced slugging percentages in April make me want to target batters playing either indoors or in warmer climates at that time of year. The ball flies better when it's warm (and preferably humid), and we should be accounting for this when picking one batter versus another.
Third, pitchers who struggle with control are a bit of a risky proposition early in the season. Players showed higher walk rates there in our three-year sample, potentially making those control issues even more glaring. You can unleash them later (at your own risk), but they are dangerous cookies at the outset.
Parts of the country are still certainly feeling the effects of winter when a new MLB season begins. That doesn't mean we have to completely change how we attack daily fantasy baseball. By implementing some of the minor tweaks above and giving a bump to hitters who avoid that cold weather, we'll be just fine, and hopefully that'll allow us to enjoy winter's eventual recession even more.