The following article was created from the transcript of Benny’s Coaching Session on 5/1/19.
One question I get often from new players is “how do you do your research?”, so I figured I’d walk everyone through some of the things I do every day that you can do yourself to help give you an edge.
One of the first things I do is look at the matchups. You can do this in a number of places: Sportsbooks have odds, DFS sites themselves will have the pitcher matchups, etc. I prefer to use the sportsbooks for this as you also get projected run totals, which helps point you in the right direction. Some people say Vegas isn’t important, and while I’m not a slave to it, it is definitely not unimportant to know which teams project for the most runs, even if you only use that information to help you gauge who the chalk is likely to be. From here, I usually try to identify some teams that stand out right away. These are ones that I want to make sure I dive deeper on because they are likely to have an impact on the slate.
My next step is to look at the pitchers, even before I look at my hitters. Now I know this is a hitting coach session and we concentrate on hitters here, but the best lineup in the world is going to struggle against a high-end starter and a crappier offense against a gas can pitcher may end up being the better play. A good example today is David Hess for the Orioles. Or Shelby Miller any time. These guys suck, and while the Pirates and White Sox are not elite offenses, they may end up being elite today in those matchups. So now we should have at least a decent overview of who we do and don’t want to target on any given slate.
I usually start my analysis with the teams that stood out in totals and also the teams that stand out facing a gas can pitcher. The first thing I want to know is what the pitcher doesn’t do well, so I know what kind of bats to target and whether or not he is a good guy to target.
I’m about to mention “xFIP” quite a bit, so here’s a primer: It stands for “Expected Fielding-Independent Pitching”. The dictionary definition is “An estimate of a pitcher’s ERA based on strikeouts, walks, HBP, and fly balls allowed, assuming league average results on balls in play and home run to fly ball ratio. A lot of words, but the gist of it is that it tries to smooth out pitching based on taking out things like strikeouts and fly balls. What it attempts to do is say what a pitcher should be doing if he had an average defense and league average number of things like home runs allowed. The actual math is not something you need to care about.
What you really want to know with xFIP is that when ERA > xFIP, the pitcher is pitching well, but getting unlucky. When ERA < xFIP, the pitcher is getting lucky and isn’t throwing as well as the numbers would seem to dictate, and regression is likely.
Regression is always likely to either the upside or the downside if a pitcher’s xFIP and ERA are far apart, and the number they tend to converge toward is the xFIP. A guy with a 2 ERA and a 4 xFIP is more likely to pitch like a guy with a 4 ERA the rest of the season. Conversely a guy with a 4 ERA, but only a 3 xFIP is more likely to pitch better going forward and end up near that xFIP number. We like to know this, because bad pitchers may have had a few good starts, but are likely to end up back where they normally are. Guys can get hot for a little bit, but ultimately there is a reason for the old “back of the baseball card” saying where guys tend to do what they do year in and year out. The one exception to this is young pitchers. Sometimes guys really do improve, but you tend to see it more with young pitchers or guys coming off injuries than you do with some 35-year-old finally figuring out how to be a great pitcher if he wasn’t for the first 34 years of his life.
I want to target against pitchers with low Strikeout rates and high xFIP. ERA can be deceiving for various reasons, which is why I use xFIP as more of a stabilizer to how well a guy is really pitching. Guys with low ERAs and high xFIP are guys we say are getting lucky, because they should have given up more runs.
The Splits are a tool I usually look at first, because I want to know whether righties or lefties hit a guy well, sometimes even both. Once I know that, I want to know what kind of pitcher this guy is, so I use FanGraphs to look at his batted ball profiles.
Pitchers that give up high rates of hard contact (mid 20s), high rates of FBs (40-50%+) are ones we want to take bats against. Low GB rate is also a good thing, but that tends to go hand in hand with the other numbers for LD rate and FB Rate being high as those add up to 100%.
Now that we know the types of pitchers we’re looking to target with our bats, let’s move on to analyzing the bats.
For GPPs, guys, stacking is obviously the way to go for upside. I could get into al the numbers here with you, but frankly many people have done a much deeper dive into it than I can do here in an hour and the research all says the same thing: Stack if you want to win GPPs.
I have seen these questions asked numerous times over the last few days. “How do you decide what kind of stack to play? How do I know when to play a full stack as opposed to a mini stack?” Obviously, the answer is slate dependent, but here’s my general take on it:
When I’m making a lineup for a GPP, I tend to want to stack the max number of bats on it I can. I prefer mini stacks to round out that main stack or in cash where sometimes you want exposure to certain situations but not to go all in on them. For GPPs, the idea is to maximize the number of points and win the whole fucking thing, right?
So, the normal argument is that if the guys get on and someone homers you get the hits or walks that got them on, points for the HR, RBIs from the HR hitter, and runs scored for all the guys. Yeah, that is how you rack up points, but it’s not actually the reason we stack. We stack situations.
In a normal game that ends up with just a few runs, the top of the order likely gets 4 ABs and the bottom of the order may not even get a full 4. In a game that features 10 runs, the top of the order may end up with 6 ABs each instead of 4 and everyone in the order in that case would get at least 5. The reason we stack is we’re looking for that opportunity.
If I have 5 guys who get 6 ABs each, and you have 5 guys stacked in a 3 run game and they only get 4 ABs each, I have 30 chances to produce fantasy points, while you only get 20.
So, when playing GPPs I want a main stack of 5 guys on DK and 4 on FD (the max you can stack). Remember, stacking is boom or bust, but when you “boom” it’ll mean 6 ABs for the top of the order, and at least 5 ABs for everyone else.
You don’t have to stack guys together. In fact, most lineups go RLRLRLRLRL so teams can’t just bring in one reliever and have a splits advantage over a group of guys batting in a row. Therefore, if you are stacking against a guy who is solid against one side of the plate and horrendous against the other, it almost makes more sense to skip a few of the guys who bat from the weaker side.
I also like taking a punt as my last guy, sometimes. For instance, stacking the top 3 Mariners against a lefty, as they all hit lefties well (Haniger, Santana, Beckham) and then punting w/ the Mariners’ catcher.
When I’m building stacks in my lineups, I have a few things that are priorities:
1 – I don’t want chalk stacks.
If you play a chalk stack, your pitching options better be way off the board and your other players outside that stack should also be guys you think you get at low ownership. I prefer to stack teams that may be the third or fourth highest owned, because chalk always takes more ownership than it should, and that leaves these other teams under owned.
For example, on any given slate, no matter the matchup, no team ever has more than a 20-25% chance to be the highest scoring (small 3 and 4 games slates excluded), yet we routinely see these teams 30-40% owned. The third or fourth best teams probably have a 10-15% chance of being the top scoring stack, but many times you get 3/4 or 3/5 guys on that stack at single digit ownership.
In the first situation (a 20-25% chance of being the nuts at 30-40% ownership), you aren’t being rewarded even when the stack does hit, because everyone else has the same guys and at a rate higher than expected. In the second scenario, you are getting guys at 7-8% owned when they have a 15% chance of being the top scorer. That means your risk/reward is almost 2 to 1 as opposed to 1 to 2.
2 – Know the kind of pitcher to target.
I know everyone says target the guy who sucks, but what exactly does “sucks” mean and how do you quantify it? For me, the ideal guy to stack against has a high WHIP. A high WHIP means he gives up a lot of walks and hits, therefore a lot of baserunners. More baserunners means the lineup turns over more often and gives us a better chance to get that 5th and 6th AB for our guys. Remember that extra ABs add up to 5-10-15 more opportunities for your stack to produce fantasy points at the plate, and that’s our goal.
I also like pitchers with low K percentages. Guys who lack strikeouts can’t get out of jams easily, and also give up a lot more contact. Balls in play have a chance to find a hole or become an error, strikeouts are finite. (Plus, they’re fascist. Ground balls are more democratic.)
3 – FB rate and HR/FB are big.
We prefer big large chunks of fantasy points to bleeding guys slowly. WHIP is important because it turns the lineup over, but a bunch of walks or singles and a run scored is not likely to produce the top number on the day. It’s nice to have, but you also want HR. Things like FB rate, HR/9, and ballpark factors that point to guys being HR prone are excellent to see when stacking against a pitcher. FB rates above 40-50% are what we want, and HR/9 over 1.4 is ideal. You get some guys near 2 and that’s perfect. Also think about the ballpark factors.
Research shows that high run total games are 60% more likely in places like Toronto, Cincy, Milwaukee, and Colorado as opposed to San Francisco, San Diego, or at Citi Field in New York. It doesn’t mean a team in SF can’t explode for 10+ runs, but it happens way more often in places that are better hitters’ parks. A good way to quantify this is by looking at HR, hit, and Run scored multiples on a parks factor page. The stadiums in the top 25% are about 2-3 times as likely to produce 8+ runs as the ones in the bottom 25%. Again, any team can get shutout in Coors, or put up 10 in Petco, but the idea is that over the course of a season if you stick to the better ballparks the chances of you being right are far higher.
So, the next thing I want to talk about is mini stacking.
I do like the idea of double stacking on FD or mini stacking 3 guys with a five-man stack on DK. I also want to say I’m not a slave to doing it, though: I feel pitching is more important. So, if a stack works out position wise where I get the guys I want and can mini stack three guys I like in the positions my stack didn’t use than that’s awesome, but it doesn’t always work that way, especially when you also have to fit in pitchers.
I tend to start with the pitchers and the stack and then go to the final three spaces open on DK or the other four on FD. I’d rather play a two or three man mini stack and then punt with some cheap guy to make it fit on a team I like than just mini stack three bats from a lineup in a bad situation to make my lineup a 4 by 4 double stack on FD or a 5 by 3 stack on DK. Again, if it works out that I can do it and like the players I have to use, I’m all for it, it goes back to that whole opportunities argument we discussed above. If I cannot though, I do tend to try to pick on situations and maybe go with a 5 by 2 and throw in a punt or even a 4 by 3 with a punt to make the salary work.
PUNTING: Two ways to do it, but think about this for a minute:
When a cheap $2200 guy gets a bump up to second in an order, it doesn’t change the kind of hitter he is. If you are a slap hitter batting 7th, you are still a slap hitter when you’re batting second. At best, you can rack up a few hits, get one more AB and have a slightly better chance to score runs.
When I punt in GPPs, I like power. Chris Davis may strike out 90% of the time, but as a cheap punt, he also can give me upside with one swing. Steve Wilkerson from Baltimore won people GPPs the other day at min price by going yard.
When I punt catcher, I don’t just look for a cheap guy, I use James McCann, Austin Hedges, or Wellington Castillo v. LHP, guys that have the ability to go yard. Remember, you want to build a team that if everything goes right you win. Home Runs and stolen bases are such big boosts to your fantasy scores that guys who get them tend to be towards the high end of production at their position for the day. Cheap is fine, but cheap with upside wins you cash. If the punt option you are choosing can’t go yard or steal a base, you aren’t going to get what you want out of them.
Last thing I’ll say for today is that bullpens are an underrated way to find good teams to stack against. When a starter gets lit up, he tends not to make it five innings. That means you likely get as many or more ABs against the back end of a team’s bullpen. Last year I stacked against Orioles pitchers all the time, knowing that if the starter struggles, the guys coming in for him are probably even worse. That means if my stack gets 4-5 runs in the first few innings. There was a good chance they could end up with 4-5 more in the later innings against that shitty bullpen.
Also, I do prefer road teams when I stack, but not exclusively. There is something to be said about getting the full 27 outs even when you are putting up massive runs. Sometimes that one last AB in the ninth is the difference between a Q seat or a 5-6-digit payday, whereas not having those last few ABs could drop you down to 8-10th and maybe only a 2-4X cash.