Ground Balls, Fly Balls, Strikeouts and Daily Fantasy Baseball

August 12 11:16am

felix hernandez, king felixKeep the ball on the ground, and it stays in the park. So goes the mantra for pitchers as they advance in the ranks. And we know that a good ground-ball rate leads to a small home-run rate, so put a notch in the belt for the worm burners. They’ll avoid the big blast at least.

But don’t forget about the fly ball pitchers.

Here’s a truth that might surprise you: the more strikeouts you get, the more fly balls you give up. According to SIERA creator Matt Swartz, strikeouts have a correlation of -.13 with ground balls in pitchers over 162 IP.  Intuitively, this is because there are strikeouts to be had high in the zone. Generally, pitches higher in the zone lead to whiffs, fly balls and home runs while pitches low in the zone lead to a little more contact and ground balls. If a pitch high in the zone misses its spot, or doesn’t get to the mitt fast enough, it’s a home run.

Of course, the best-case scenario is a pitcher that has a great strikeout rate and a great ground-ball rate. That describes Tim Lincecum (9.46 K/9, 50% GBs), Matt Garza (9.22 K/9, 48% GBs), Felix Hernandez (8.73 K/9, 48.5% GBs), Jon Lester (8.62 K/9, 50.3% GBs) and Roy Halladay (8.35 K/9, 52% GBs). You might notice something. For the most part, these are all studs that will cost you an arm and a leg anyway.

But how do we use our new knowledge of the link between strikeouts and fly balls when playing FanDuel? Well, there’s always a predilection towards strikeouts since they are worth a point in the scoring system. But consider this newfound correlation between strikeouts and fly balls an asterisk when you’re looking at your starting pitcher with the great strikeout rate: some fly balls might come with the strikeouts, and therefore more home runs.

Why not combine this thought with your knowledge of park factors? Brandon Morrow has the league’s best strikeout rate among qualified pitchers (10.45 K/9), and lo-and-behold, he has the leagues’ tenth-worst ground-ball rate. His home park augments home runs by right-handers 16% and left-handers 14%. Maybe he’s not the best play at home, especially against a slugging offense. Virtually any other park than New York and Texas and he’s a strong play. This same fact is true for Michael Pineda (9.07 K/9, 33.8% GBs), Scott Baker (8.2 K/9, 34.3% GBs), Colby Lewis (7.38 K/9, 34.5% GBs), Shaun Marcum (7.56 K/9, 36.7% GBs), and even Josh Beckett (7.88 K/9, 38.1% GBs) and Tommy Hanson (9.83 K/9, 39.2% GBs). Try Bud Norris (8.49 K/9, 40% GBs) away from home, right?

On the other side of the coin, you might find some undervalued ground-ball types in those bad stadiums. If you’re stuck looking at Seattle in Texas, or Texas in Toronto, try out C.J. Wilson, who has a career ground-ball rate over 50%, still gets about eight strikeouts per nine, and has shown he can have success in a tough home stadium because he avoids the fly ball. Despite their lower strikeout rates, players like Derek Lowe (6.14 K/9, 58.9% GBs), Jhoulys Chacin (7.27 K/9, 57.4% GBs), Trevor Cahill (6.69 K/9, 56.4% GBs), and even Fausto Carmona (4.85 K/9, 56% GBs) might make for sneaky plays in tough stadiums. If you can’t pick Morrow at home, wait a day or two and try Ricky Romero (7.81 K/9, 54.8% GBs) instead.

Strikeouts are king, but they come with an asterisk. Make sure you find the right balance of park, strikeout punch, and ground-ball rate in your daily starter.

Eno Sarris will have a little fun on Fridays while using sabermetric research to try to help you better your FanDuel choices. He also writes for all three blogs at FanGraphs and recommends them heartily. In his free time, he does his best at Bloomberg Sports, RotoWorld, RotoHardball and the best Mets site out there, AmazinAvenue. If you like beer (and who doesn’t), try for beer reviews and more.

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