This article is part of our Umpire Analysis series.
My lineup building strategy for daily fantasy at FanDuel used to heavily involve looking at data that tells us how batters perform versus certain types of pitchers, which can be found at Baseball-Reference. One day while doing research, however, I began to think that this sort of data is a bit imprecise for what I was attempting to achieve. It may be the case that Justin Upton does well against ground-ball pitchers, for example, but sinkers, splitters, and two-seam fastballs (to name a few) are all pitches that help keep balls on the ground, so what is it that Upton actually excels against?
Don't be scared by the odd looking categories on top. All this chart from Fangraphs is doing is using linear weights to tell us how hitters this season have fared against different pitch types. The "w" next to the type of pitch is the cumulative runs above average a player has produced on that particular pitch. This can get pretty messy when trying to compare players, which is where the "/C" in the right-hand columns is particularly useful. This measures performance on pitch type for every 100 such pitches seen. As the chart shows, Upton is leading the league in runs per 100 pitches against the changeup in 2014 with 11.87.
Now that we've passed the introductory phase, it's time to talk about how we can start incorporating this data into our daily fantasy research. Using more helpful information from Fangraphs, we can see how often each pitcher is throwing a given pitch by percentage.
As we can see, Jimenez throws his slider 23.6 percent of the time according to pitch type data, so our first instinct may be to see if there are any Yankees who have performed well against sliders this season. It's not quite that simple, however, as the slider is more effective when thrown against hitters of the same hand. Thus, our hurler may choose to use it less often against left-handed hitters.
In other words, if our goal is to take advantage of the short porch in the Bronx on Friday, we may want to see if we can find a left-handed Yankee who has performed well against the split-fingered fastball, a pitch Jimenez has thrown 15.2 percent of the time this season. When we sort our pitch values chart for batters who have handled splitters in 2014, we see Jacoby Ellsbury has tallied 6.21 runs above average per 100 pitches, making him a hitter that could be worth considering.
We may also want to try to use this data to pick pitchers. We would accomplish this by once again navigating to the chart, but sorting for "team" instead of "player" stats to see which clubs have struggled against which pitches, and then selecting a player who features those pitches at a decent rate.
As I have in the past, I would recommend you not lean on this data too heavily to the exclusion of other information. It seems to me, however, that learning which hitters excel against certain pitch types can garner us a significant edge when building our lineups.