Are pitchers riskier than hitters? A roto versus daily comparison.
For those who have been reading my column this season, you know that this is my first year participating in daily leagues. My first love was traditional rotisserie leagues, which I’ve been pretty successful at with a couple of national expert league titles under my belt. Recently, I noticed an interesting contrast between traditional, yearly roto leagues and this new wave of daily games, aside from the obvious differences.
Everyone knows pitching is risky
You see, in yearly roto leagues, one of the most common adages is that pitching is risky. Everyone knows that pitching is more volatile than hitting on a year-to-year basis (I’ve yet to actually see a thorough study conducted on this, but I imagine it’s true, and since nearly everyone believes it to be true, it suits the purposes of this article regardless). From one year to the next, a pitcher’s win total and ERA can differ drastically, and the injury rate for pitchers is higher than it is for hitters. This is born out in rotisserie auctions where 30% of the money is usually spent on pitching despite the fact that pitchers make up 39% of the roster and contribute towards 50% of the categories.
Or is it?
I recently noticed, however, that the opposite is true of FanDuel games. Or, at least, I noticed anecdotally that this seemed to be true, so I decided to investigate. To test my theory, I calculated the FanDuel score (using the MLB Salary Cap 35k format) for every game every pitcher started since 2000. I then calculated the FanDuel score for every hitter with at least three at-bats in a game since 2000. From here, I calculated the standard deviation for both our population of pitchers and our population of hitters.
If you’re unfamiliar with how standard deviations work, a standard deviation tells us how closely our data points are clustered to the mean. The smaller the deviation (aka the more closely clustered they are), the less random variation we assume is in the data and the less volatile the stat is.
Looking at our above table, these standard deviations tells us that in any given start, 68% of pitchers are within 6.88 FanDuel points of the mean and 68% of hitters are within 3.27 FanDuel points of the mean.
Hmm. On first glance, this may make it seem like my theory is incorrect, since the standard deviation for hitters is smaller than the standard deviation for pitchers. There’s one piece of data we haven’t considered yet, though, which is the mean for each population.
Pitchers, on average, produce far more points than hitters on a daily basis. Nearly four times more points, actually. When we take this into consideration, we can see (on a percentage basis) how closely clustered hitter and pitcher performances are together.
This gives us a much clearer picture than the first table. Here, we see that while the raw standard deviation for pitchers is larger, it’s actually much smaller, percentage-wise, than it is for hitters. This tells us that 68% of pitchers are within 72% of the mean while 68% of hitters are within 135% of the mean.
So what does this tell us? And why?
So what this all boils down to is confirmation of my initial theory: that pitchers are less risky than hitters in the FanDuel format. So why is this the case when it’s so commonly accepted among serious roto players that pitchers are “risky” propositions?
One big factor is that injuries have much less of an impact on the FanDuel format. If you lose a pitcher to injury in FanDuel, you miss out on a few innings of work and get to start with a clean slate the next day. If you lose a pitcher to injury in roto, however, you’re still stuck with him tomorrow (and the next day, and the next day, and every subsequent day that he is injured).
Another factor is that, while pitching statistics are volatile in general, there is a sample size disparity between FanDuel and roto. Over the course of a single roto game, pitchers will face maybe 800 batters and batters will face maybe 650 pitchers. Over the course of a single FanDuel game, however, pitchers will face maybe 25 batters while batters will only come to the plate three or four times. That means that in roto, pitchers have approximately 23% more confrontations than batters, but in FanDuel, they have approximately 614% more confrontations.
So what can we glean from all this? Well, if you’re the kind of person who is risk averse, spending a greater percentage of your 35k on pitching (i.e. buying a top pitcher) will give you more consistent results than going cheap on pitching and spending most of your money on hitting. That’s not to say that this is necessarily the optimal strategy for long-term success, just that it is less risky.
One last note. I’ll be a guest on TribLIVE radio’s fantasy program again today at 4:30 EST. You can listen in live here.
Derek Carty’s work can also be found at The Hardball Times Fantasy and DerekCarty.com. He has previously had his work published by NBC’s Rotoworld, Sports Illustrated, FOX Sports, and USA Today. He is the youngest champion in the history of LABR, the longest-running experts league in existence, and is a graduate of the MLB Scouting Bureau’s Scout Development Program (aka Scout School). He welcomes questions via e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter.