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Drafters who used sabermetrics last year were able to aptly identify Adam Wainwright as an ace despite his high ERA.
If you're serious about assembling the best fantasy squad possible, it's imperative to delve into the wonderful world of sabermetrics.
Playing in a league where your peers think Jorge de la Rosa's 16 wins make him an intriguing target? Developing a working knowledge of advanced stats will give you a competitive advantage and increase your chances of engineering the best team.
This is coming from someone with a journalism degree, so don't tell me you're not math-savvy enough to understand these numbers outside the typical box score. Here's a basic guide to a few of the most important stats (all available on FanGraphs) to help evaluate players. There are so many more useful metrics to consider, but I don't want to overload you, and quite frankly I'm not that smart.
Strikeout and Walk Percentages
The name explains this one pretty well. Don't expect high batting averages from players who constantly whiff. Justin Upton provided a disappointing .263 average due to an ugly 25.0 percent strikeout percentage in 2013. Meanwhile, a walk machine like Shin-Soo Choo (15.7 walk rate) puts himself in place for more run-scoring opportunities.
These are especially important for pitchers, who hold less control over batted balls than hitters, but can take batters into their own hands with punchouts. It's also useful to measure these per nine innings, with a 7.0 K/9 or higher and a 3.0 BB/9 or lower good barometers for what you want.
Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP)
Perhaps overused at times, BABIP removes strikeouts and walks from the equation to determine how many balls found open terrain after contact. For hitters, BABIP is most useful when identifying outliers among career rates. Joey Votto finished ninth with a .360 BABIP, but that's hardly a fluke considering his career mark sits at .359.
But consider the case of Max Scherzer, In 2012, his .333 BABIP was second among eligible pitchers. Last year, the dip dropped drastically to .259, paving the way for his career year. He owns a .302 career BABIP, so expect him to stray somewhere in the middle this season, which will veer his ERA north of 3.00.
Batted-ball rates can often explain a BABIP discrepancy. Looking at how a batter or pitcher's batted balls are spread out between line drives, fly balls and ground balls is a better indicator of whether luck or skill played a part.
Line drives produce the most hits, so .300 hitters like Votto, Mauer and Mike Trout will occupy the top of the line-drive rate leaderboard.
For pitchers, you want as few liners and fly balls (home runs are bad) as possible with as many ground balls, which produce the least damage and are most likely to result in outs. A ground-ball artist, Justin Masterson led the league with a 58.0 percent ground-ball rate last season, which helped him notch a 3.45 ERA.
Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP)
Pitchers are at the mercy of their defense, which is another reason hitters draw more excitement at the draft table. ERA isn't always the best judge of a pitcher's individual merit, which is why FIP was created.
FIP measures a pitcher's play with normal outcomes on batted balls in play. Strikeouts and walks are also weighed in the formula since hurlers determine those. There's also xFIP, which normalizes home run/fly ball rates to a league average. Many pitchers harbor above- or below-average tendencies on fly balls while not pitching in neutral parks, so FIP is the better metric.
Using FIP during 2013 drafts led savvy drafters to Yu Darvish (3.90 ERA, 3.29 FIP in 2012), Max Scherzer (3.74 ERA, 3.27 FIP) and Adam Wainwright (3.94 ERA, 3.10 FIP). There aren't as many cases of underrated studs this year, but Doug Fister (3.67 ERA, 3.26 FIP), Homer Bailey (3.49 ERA, 3.31 FIP) and Corey Kluber (3.85 ERA, 3.30 FIP) make for strong choices.