H2H HistoryDuel: Using FanDuel to compare the 2015 MLB Hall of Famers
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By MATT MUSICO
On Sunday, July 26, four legendary MLB players will receive the highest individual honor the sport has to offer: enshrinement into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The debates are finally over as Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez and Craig Biggio will officially be considered one of the best to ever step on a diamond.
Or is it?
For daily fantasy baseball players, the entire idea surrounding player value has completely changed in recent years. Sure, we can look at any of these four and recognize they were beasts during their respective careers, but it'd be interesting to find out what kind of FanDuel performers they would've been if DFS existed then as it does today. Similar to how we compared the FanDuel stats of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron to decide which was the better option, we're here to evaluate each of Cooperstown's 2015 inductees in a way FanDuelers would appreciate most.
Not many hitters enjoyed facing Johnson, Smoltz or Martinez at any time, but who would've had the biggest upside if one needed to be chosen for a contest today on FanDuel?
Let's find out.
Before picking a pitcher, most FanDuelers first evaluate them in a number of different scenarios. These three were consistently dominant, but there were situations where they would've been good picks, and others where they would've been not-so-good picks.
First, let's take a look at a few different splits any DFS player would pay attention to before making any lineup decisions:
As we can see across the board, Johnson was the best in every particular scenario, followed by Martinez and then Smoltz. Should it be surprising to see the Big Unit that far ahead of these two, though? Well, considering strikeouts and wins are the two most important metrics with regard to pitcher production in FanDuel MLB contests, it shouldn't be. Those were two things in Johnson's career he typically did better than anyone else.
None of these guys were slouches when it came to whiffing opposing batters — all of them have at least 3,000 career strikeouts — but nobody did it more consistently than Johnson. In over 4,000 innings pitched and 618 total appearances across 22 big-league seasons, he struck out 10.6 batters per nine innings, which is the best ratio in MLB history. Pedro does come in a close third with a 10.04 K/9IP mark, but this is another instance where the Big Unit is just better.
While finding a pitcher with a high K-potential is great, most successful lineups have one thing in common: a winning pitcher. Why? Well, it's the only pitching statistic on FanDuel worth more than one point. That's why finding out which pitchers are favorites and which are underdogs before first pitch is a common practice. It's no surprise that Johnson, Smoltz and Martinez all produced an FDP average in the upper-teens when they won, but how about when they didn't?
Smoltz was the only one who would typically throw up an absolute dud when he didn't have his best stuff on the mound. Johnson and Martinez, however, still went deep enough into games and struck out enough hitters to average 12-plus FDPs per loss. As for no-decisions, the Big Unit once again distinguishes himself from the the pack as the only double-digit FDP producer when his record went unblemished. Is there anything the monstrous left-hander didn't do well during his stellar 22-year MLB career?
Yes, there is. You'll have to be patient and wait for it, though.
All Hall of Famers fought through rough patches to experience extended dominance, and each of these hurlers dealt with their fair share. However, Smoltzie went through something no member of the Hall has ever experienced: Tommy John surgery.
His first 12 seasons with the Atlanta Braves couldn't have gone much better: he was part of a historically dominant rotation that also included Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, he won the World Series in 1995 and captured the NL Cy Young award the following year in 1996.
Then, he was forced to miss the 2000 season. Sure, getting TJS appears to be a necessary evil for hurlers now, but times were a little different over a decade ago – especially since he was in his mid-30s once the surgery and rehab was finally behind him. When he did make his comeback, it wasn't as a starter. From 2001-04, he was (virtually) used exclusively as a reliever. In fact, he instantly became one of the most dominant closers in baseball, racking up 154 saves.
Transitioning to the bullpen allowed him to become the first – and so far, the only – MLB pitcher to register at least 200 wins and 150 saves in a career. He's also set to became the first Hall of Famer who underwent Tommy John surgery. All this time as a reliever distinguished himself amongst his peers and could've been a huge reason why he pitched until age 42, but in FanDuel terms, these were four years of wasted productivity. The opportunity to rack up the necessary innings and strikeouts to push the above FDP per-game averages closer to his fellow Hall of Famers was gone.
DFSers also take a hard look at lefty/righty splits. That's normally quantified by some advanced metric like wRC+ or wOBA, but here it is broken down in FDPs:
Alright, this is cool to look at, but what does it mean?
If you entered a contest today, one well-known tournament strategy is putting together a contrarian lineup. If you targeted hitters in games pitched by one of these studs, it would definitely qualify as contrarian. The table above displays the average number of FDPs produced by each kind of hitter on a per-game basis.
So, the best opportunity to have a hitter score positive FDPs against Martinez or Smoltz meant putting lefties into your lineup. As for Johnson? It's clear that picking a right-handed hitter was the only choice. The Big Unit obviously would've been the best FanDuel option of these three, but here's one more chart to bring it home before we shift over to some offense:
Well, that settles that, I guess.
The lone position player in this year's Hall of Fame class, Craig Biggio doesn't have a fellow 2015 inductee to really talk about hitting with (he could talk about it with the other three, but come on, they're pitchers). There is one bright spot, though: he's the best hitter in this year's Cooperstown class. That sounds like refrigerator material. If the former second baseman was available for today's MLB contests, here's what his FDP production would look like in situations all FanDuelers care about the most:
Once again, there aren't a lot of surprises for the soon-to-be Hall of Famer. Overall, he'd be among the league leaders at second base with regard to average FDP production, he was better at home than on the road, slightly lost some juice through the dog days of summer, was right in the thick of things during Houston Astros wins, and not so much during losses. He didn't hit a whole lot of homers (291 in almost 11,000 career at-bats), but Biggio was one of the most prolific doubles hitters in the game (668 career two-baggers, fifth all-time), while also dealing with pretty severe reverse splits.
After quantifying Biggio's career in terms of FDPs, it got me wondering as to how he performed when forced to face his fellow Class of 2015 inductees. Thankfully, Baseball-Reference keeps a record of Batter vs. Pitcher stats, allowing us the opportunity to see what he would've averaged on FanDuel against them (with the thought that one game equals four at-bats):
Well, this shouldn't be surprising. Although he faced Johnson the least, we already knew about Biggio's struggles against southpaws, so FanDuelers likely would've avoided him in this situation. But against Martinez or Smoltz? The numbers say it wouldn't have been an awful play.
This is a legendary group that includes a total of over 700 wins, 9,000-plus strikeouts and more than 3,000 hits. The focus will be on them getting their rightful place in baseball history, and while plenty of distinctions will be used to describe them, their hypothetical production on FanDuel unfortunately won't be talked about. We can only hope someone made a quick addition to his plaque so part of it reads "Would've been a certified FanDuel stud." It only makes sense.