Luck Factor in the Senior Circuit (NL): Starting Pitchers
- Updated: March 23, 2011
Hopefully, you are following along with the luck factor series. This will be number five in that series. If you haven’t checked it out yet, I will try to give you a quick hook before we dive into the numbers. Fantasy baseball players have many of the same concerns as general managers. When you look at the free agent market you want to differentiate between the guys that had career seasons and those that are really good. Then, you can find the occasional diamond in the rough that gets you over the top.
Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez will obviously help every fantasy team, but the winners are the ones that find the pot of gold at the end of their fantasy draft. Heck, many of the best players were found on the waiver wire after the draft. The guys that had Ben Zobrist in 2009 probably did pretty well. Carlos Quentin had the same affect a couple of years ago. Last year, guys like David Price and Brett Gardner helped teams excel. Everyone wants to know how to find those guys and avoid guys like Jason Bay that went in the other direction.
For us, we are looking at teams as a whole. Which teams will be the surprise team like San Diego was last season? Which team will disappoint us as the Angels did? If you look carefully enough you can find this year’s Texas Rangers. While that might not help fantasy owners directly, we do see that good teams usually have a lot of players that overachieve. Luck factor can help us with these critical questions. Hopefully, I’ve gotten your attention, so I’ll review the process briefly.
Luck factor is essentially the difference between a team’s performance and the league average in numbers where they do not have direct control. For pitchers, those numbers include defense efficiency rating (DER), home runs per balls hit in the outfield (HR/OF), and percent of runners left on base (LOB). The presumption is that since pitchers do not control these numbers completely then luck plays a part. Luck factor is the representation of that luck. It simply is the difference between those numbers and the league average. The obvious implication is that we can expect some regression on both ends. In other words, those numbers should move towards the middle.
Some of you that are reading this are more versed in sabermetrics than others. For those, I should point out that luck factor is purely a qualitative metric. It is only meant as a general predictor and not a specific one. The bigger the number on either end the stronger the luck, but other than that the numbers have no specific meaning. Teams and sabermetricians alike never want to settle on luck. Luck is what allows you to win in Vegas. It isn’t a good model to base your franchise on. So, we’re constantly looking for strong correlations that can be replicated. In other words, can we find something other than luck to hang our hat on?
In the American League tables we noticed that LOB numbers were strongly correlated to DER numbers. That makes perfect sense. Ironically, pitching numbers are probably easier to link to other batted ball metrics. The Oakland Athletics signed a bevy of pitchers with high flyball rates. They have an outfield with above average fielders and a very spacious home ballpark. The combination gives those pitchers a higher chance of success. The same is true in parks like Petco Park and Citi Field. The inverse would be true in Coors Field or Ameriquest Field. Teams that pay attention to those factors (along with where their stronger fielders are) end up succeeding.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone to see most of the positive luck factors on top and most of the negative one on the bottom. Yet, we see a few individual anomalies inside. The Phillies and Padres virtually were even in terms of luck which means we should be able to predict similar numbers for them this year. The same is true of the Reds and Rockies. Meanwhile, teams like the Diamondbacks and Mets should take a tumble.
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