Our expert baseball handicapper explains how the use of batted ball statistics can be an important tool in the handicapper's arsenal to find value in any MLB line.
There are now more statistics than ever compiled in baseball, and a lot of them can be confusing to sort through for the average handicapper. However, there is one set of statistics that should be very familiar to most, and that is batted ball statistics. These are easily understood and can be very useful for handicapping pitchers facing certain teams or playing in specific parks.
Batted ball statistics are compiled all three dimensions. You have the up-down set of data in ground ball percentage (GB%), line drive percentage (LD%), and fly ball percentage (FB%). On the other hand, you have pulled ball (Pull%), center field ball (Center%), and opposite field ball (Oppo%) for the three sections of the baseball field. The “how far” for a batted ball is a little more subjective and is divided into Soft%, Med%, and Hard% categories, which should be pretty self-explanatory.
One of the most obvious uses for these statistics is to understand day-to-day run totals lines in given ballparks. Have you ever seen a run total line above 12 at Wrigley Field in August? With the wind blowing out and a pitcher with an FB% over 50% on the mound that would not be abnormal. Same goes for Coors Field, the totals are always inflated when you have pitchers with flyball tendencies on the mound. But knowing these pitcher tendencies can be valuable in going against a line that is high due to park factors. Two ground ball pitchers would negate the effects of the wind, outfield walls, or altitude, after all.
When looking at starting pitcher performance and negative trends, pay special attention to line drive and hard hit ball rates. Line drives are a death knell to pitchers and will negate any defense behind them. Ground balls are the best result a pitcher can ask for, in comparison. We actually have exactly how much better a ground ball is than a line drive, and the number might be surprising. Line drives produce 1.26 runs per out, fly balls 0.13 runs per out, and ground balls 0.05 runs per out. The extremes of ground ball and fly ball results are usually acceptable for a pitcher, but anything above average in line drive rates (or about 21%) is usually a disaster.
Hard hit rates when added to pulled ball rates often can indicate when a pitcher has run into a dinger problem. A pulled ball that is hit hard leaves the yard more often than a hard-hit ball to the opposite field. Keep an eye out for pitchers that are running into this combination, while also experiencing a drop in velocity. These are serious red flags and indicative of a pitcher that you can start fading immediately.
When looking at these statistics, note that they do take a little time to normalize with a sample size big enough to matter. Monthly splits are less reliable than half-season splits, for example. But given any situation, there is more than enough data to find value in any given line, you just have to know what to look for.