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Pitch Info: Using Sabermetrics for 2024 Fantasy Baseball

Spencer Strider fantasy baseball rankings waiver wire pickups draft sleepers starting pitchers

One of the most fundamental questions in fantasy sports is if a player's current performance is sustainable. More than any other sport, baseball has many statistical measures that can be dissected in numerous ways to analyze player performance.

Pitch Info is a public pitch tracking system providing a lot of data to help fantasy managers make this determination for mound breakouts and busts alike. Unlike many of the other metrics we've looked at in this series, Pitch Info data stabilizes (or becomes predictive) very quickly so you can use it early in the season. Let's look at how to use this data to give you an edge in your fantasy baseball league throughout the season.

The first step is finding it. Basic Pitch Info information such as pitch selection and velocity can be found toward the bottom of a pitcher's page on FanGraphs, but you'll have to use the Pitch Info tab for more detailed information. Hit the Splits tab located on the banner toward the top of the page and then choose the option on the far right, Pitch Info. That will bring up three tables that are loaded with information, the third of which is most important for fantasy purposes.

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Interpreting Pitch Info Data: Velocity

The first data point to understand is velocity. Generally speaking, a pitcher who loses fastball velocity is losing something to either an undisclosed injury or the aging process. Pitchers that gain velocity can expect to increase their production. For example, Pablo Lopez posted a career-best K% of 29.2 in 2023, crushing his previous season's 23.6 mark.

One reason why is that his fastball velocity spiked from an average of 93.5 mph in 2022 to 94.9 mph last year. The pitch generated more whiffs (15.8 SwStr% vs. 9.5 in 2022) as a result. Lopez's heater went from a plus pitch to an elite offering, so it's only natural the new weapon helped pile up the Ks.

When evaluating a pitcher's velocity, you should always look at his baseline velocity as opposed to an arbitrary league average. Lopez had always thrown a "good" fastball, but his velocity spike allowed him to take his game to a new level. Other variables like movement and location matter, but velocity is a good introduction to using Pitch Info data.

 

Interpreting Pitch Info Data: Pitch Mix

Slightly more advanced is pitch mix, or what pitches a pitcher throws and how often he throws them. A pitcher may improve his production by abandoning a poor pitch or developing a new one. This is a good stat to consult if a pitcher sees a sharp change in his K%, as a change in pitch mix could represent the change in approach that supports the new number. If the change doesn't have a corresponding pitch mix shift, it may prove less sustainable.

It wasn't just a velocity spike that propelled Lopez's stellar season. He also made a substantial pitch mix change, throwing a brand-new slider 21.4% of the time. Lopez's slider was effective, posting a 15.6 SwStr%: the second highest in Lopez's mix. He threw fewer fastballs (38.7% to 34.7% vs. 2022) and changeups (35.2% to 21.1%) to accommodate the new slider, but both remained effective weapons. Is it any surprise his K% increased?

The same type of analysis may be performed for several other stats, including BABIP, FB%, LD%, GB%, and HR/FB. These variables may be considered over a pitcher's complete pitch mix to determine how good he could be without relying on conventional metrics. This can be good for identifying sleepers, as pitchers with one or two standout pitches could break out by simply using them more.

 

Interpreting Pitch Info Data: Pitch Results

What is the baseline for this type of analysis? As strikeouts have increased throughout the league, the benchmark for what constitutes a good SwStr% for each pitch type has shifted. The following data from PitcherList provides the 2023 average for select pitch types:

Fastball: 9.8 SwStr%

Cutter: 11.7 SwStr%

Slider: 15.2 SwStr%

Change: 14.6 SwStr%

The fastball will generally be inferior in results to pitches that don't need to live in the strike zone, as hitters typically fare better on pitches in the hitting zone. However, getting ahead in the count is necessary to make those put-away pitches work as intended, making (sometimes) mediocre fastball results a necessity. Similarly, relievers can air it out over short stints and generally post higher average SwStr% rates than starters do.

It is dangerous to generalize, but two-seamers and sinkers stink for fantasy purposes. They're usually hit harder than fastballs. They may post strong GB% rates, but also have high BABIPs and scary triple-slash lines. Any sinker hit in the air was probably a mistake, so the HR/FB rate is usually high for the limited number of fly balls hit against them. Their SwStr% rates also tend to be poor. Overall, fantasy managers usually prefer a straight four-seamer or a cutter to be the "zone pitch" in a pitcher's repertoire.

 

Conclusion

To conclude, Pitch Info tracks a lot of data of interest to fantasy managers, including average velocity, pitch mix, and individual pitch results. This data may be used to predict who will break out or which breakouts can sustain their current performance. If you would like more analytical tools to help you dominate your leagues in 2024, stay tuned!

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