GM'S OFFICE: Best practices for the BHQ Starting Pitcher Matchups Tool

One of the big evaluative steps forward at BaseballHQ.com in 2018 was the implementation of our revised Starting Pitcher Matchups Tool. This replaced an older Matchups system that was based on our Pure Quality Start (PQS) rating system. As the numbers in the game had shifted—more strikeouts, more home runs, and runs scored—the cracks in the PQS system were widening. We had modified our PQS scores, but in terms of how they fed into our Matchups Tool, we felt there was something more accurate and easy to use out there. So our research team began to look at way to build a better system from the ground up that could serve both the DFS and season-long crowd. We rolled out a test run at the very end of the 2017 season, but really began to run the tool through its paces in 2018. 

Our own in-house accounting of the tool proved very favorable as the season went on (witness our first month and mid-season reviews), so we thought it might be time again to focus some attention to its uses and features—plus even providing a few tips on best practices—here near the beginning of the 2019 season. 

 

Matchups Tool Review

For those that want to digest—or just see—the nitty-gritty back story, here’s a link to the Research article in 2017. There’s a lot of data, charts, and formulas in there, but as far as big takeaways, one can distill it down to three parts:

First, each start has its own ratings for the four standard rotisserie categories that SPs affect: Wins, Strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP. This component approach acknowledges that two starters with the same overall rating on a certain day are likely get to the rating differently. Perhaps because of the opponent’s SP that day, a pitcher’s Win rating will be higher (more likely to gain a win) or lower (less likely). If you have a choice between one of two similarly-rated pitchers overall, but you’re in a close strikeout race in your league, maybe you choose the one with a higher K score. These component scores become very valuable as the season goes on, and fantasy teams are jockeying for position in different categories. In theory, these component ratings give you an edge on which pitchers might be a better fit for your certain team needs. 

Second, the overall (composite) scores are easy to digest with just a bit of familiarity, as the scale runs roughly from 3.0 to -3.0. Of course, the higher the rating, the more likely the start will be successful. A general rule is that any rating over 1.0 can be deemed a must-start, while once you get much below 0.0, the risk increases quickly. But of course, it might be advantageous to be familiar with a pitcher’s component scores as well. 

Third, the tool gives some broad guidelines on how the ratings may differ as per your specific league parameters. In one sense, you can just pick the pitchers with the higher score—either in a one-day setting (DFS or daily transaction leagues) or if you’re setting your pitching staff for the week ahead. But depending on whether your league penetration pool is deep or shallow—in other words, are there 60 pitchers being rostered and used in the league, or closer to 120—your threshold of tolerance could be different. Our staff developed a chart with these guidelines so that if you choose, the differences in the player pool are important considerations in who starts and sits. This chart, “Overall SP Rating by SP League Percentile,” runs on both every DAILY MATCHUPS column page as well as in the Tool page itself (the difference of these two pages is highlighted below). 

 

Practical uses

Whether you’re a new BaseballHQ.com subscriber or a veteran, being introduced (or re-introduced) to our SP Matchups Tool can be a powerful tool in your daily or weekly lineup decision-making. While no system is perfect, many users and staff members rely on the data and have found it to helpful, especially as the season rounds the first monthly corner and heads into May. Here are several practical uses and examples of how to get the most out of the SP Matchups tool.

Daily Use
An essential distinction to realize is the difference between the Matchups Tool itself, and our DAILY MATCHUPS column. Though obviously intertwined and each helpful in their own manner, these two elements serve different purposes and are updated differently on the site. 

Take the page with the “raw” Matchups Tool, for instance (Teams Menu / Starting Pitchers / then choose your View/Print or Download/Save option—this is also linked off of every Daily Matchups column). Why do we say “raw”? Several reasons:

First, this page contains the most up-to-date info on starters and rotation changes as they happen. The chart here (in all its forms, more on that below) is dynamic—it automatically pulls the names of the scheduled starters from our stats provider several times a day, and as there are changes, the ratings on this page are updated automatically. So when there’s an overnight switch of a starter, due to late-breaking injury, extra-inning marathon, rainout or the like, this page will very likely be the first to reflect it. 

Second, because it’s dynamic, the chart on this page (again, however it’s displayed) is sortable. Go ahead—click on any of the column headings, and you'll find the data is sorted in that column. So it’s easy to sort the list by K rating, or ERA rating, or even (if you dare) Wins rating, as well as (of course) the Overall rating. While this can give you tips on who is rated higher that day, it also allows you to target low ERA and K Ratings that can inform hitter decisions in DFS contests or daily transaction leagues. Again, as we get further into the season and you are looking to make gains or maintain a lead in a category in a Rotisserie league, the Matchups Tool assists you in doing that.

Plus, the page is flexible, via the links at the top. It allows you to view all of that day’s scheduled starters, which you can filter to just one league if you wish. Want to look ahead to tomorrow? That’s available, too; as well as an eight-day option (again, viewing all of MLB, or just one league), which we’ll address is some more detail below. Plus, if you’d rather do more extensive sorts of your own, Excel-ready .csv files are available for download—again in Today, Tomorrow, and 8-day versions. 

The DAILY MATCHUPS column, by contrast, (News menu / Matchups; and posted every day to the home page slideshow) adds another layer of analysis with its short summary paragraphs on many of the individual pitchers that day. The column's author takes that day’s matchup scores, sorts them into descending order by Overall Rating, and breaks them up into Strong Starts / Judgment Calls / Weak Starts. We attempt to cover all of the Judgment Calls, as well as some selected Strong and Weak Starts. But because this column needs to be written the day before publication, there are times when a day-of morning tweak is necessary. That’s when having the Matchups Tool page can come in handy.

For instance, say a team decides to hold a starter back for an extra day of rest, but doesn’t notify the press (and our stat provider) until after the previous night’s game. By first thing in the morning, it’s likely that our DAILY MATCHUPS column still reflects the original starter. While we attempt to correct these changes quickly once we're aware of them, the existence of the Matchups Tool page allows you to most likely reference the most recent information. In most cases, the Tool will have adjusted for the change, so you can see there what the new starter’s rating for the day will be. We always attempt to update the charts on the DAILY MATCHUPS page to reflect this new reality, but because the column is completed the previous day, the information doesn’t update automatically. 

Our goal is also to have the DAILY MATCHUPS column live on site around 10:00pm ET for the following day, so those night owls and West Coasters can get a start on the next day’s lineups if they choose. But in this case also, if the column is not there when you expect it, the Matchups Tool page is your backup plan.

Weekly Use … and a New Toy 
While to this point we’ve mostly addressed the daily-use aspect of our HQ SP Matchups Tool, it can be just as powerful employed on a weekly basis. The option to view the tool over an 8-day period is an invaluable feature when you go to set a weekly lineup. Especially with week-by-week pitcher streaming being a popular strategy, the tool can let you know what the matchups and ratings could look like, even for games a week away.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t at least mention our DOUBLE DIPPIN’ column, which runs every Sunday. Writer Brian Rudd uses the HQ Matchups Tool to mimic our DAILY MATCHUPS column, but the subjects are the scheduled two-start pitchers from the upcoming week, Monday through Sunday. Similar to that column, two-start pitchers are ranked and divided into Start / Judgment Calls / Sit, with corresponding commentary, where the overall scores are ranked by an average of those two expected starts. Since we’ve incorporated the new Matchup scores in 2018, this column has been essential reading for those in weekly transaction leagues.

But what about pitchers who only have one start in the week ahead? Of course you can use the eight-day scan to manually look up the projected scores … but via writer/Excel whiz Matt Cederholm, we have got a new toy for you.

Welcome to the BHQ SP Matchup Finder. The link is to a downloadable Excel document that essentially stores your starting pitching staff (or staffs, as many as you need) and spits out the ratings for each pitcher over the next eight days with a simple copy/paste from the Matchups Tool 8-day page on the site. I’ve used it for a couple weeks, and have found it an invaluable time-saver come Monday mornings (when I set several of my lineups for the week ahead). It groups two-pitch starters together, and easily gives a quick scan of the ratings of all your starters for the week. Like we mentioned above, I’m sure as the season goes on, the ability to easily access both the component skills ratings and the overall rating for each start will be a boon for my weekly preparation.

So give it a spin, play with it, and by all means give us feedback on it. We’re excited to be able to share this with you all, as a way to more easily prepare our weekly pitching rotations.

 

Staff Tips & Tricks

I polled our staff to earlier this week to see just how they use the Matchups Tool and DAILY MATCHUPS column. In closing, I thought I’d just excerpt a couple of their responses, in case it spurns any new ideas or “I-hadn’t-thought-of-that” moments. Feel free to leave your own tips/tricks/Matchups usage habits in the comments section below. 

Brandon Kruse: I use it for DFS picks. I use the overall Matchup ratings as a shortcut to find the best SP options for that day, then read through any applicable write-ups in the Daily Matchups column, and use the Daily Dashboard links to click on pitchers to take a closer look at their underlying skills on PlayerLink. I’m trying to home in on the best 2-4 options for the day. Conversely, I will also use the Matchup ratings to identify the worst SP options for the day, and often target those pitchers for a hitter stack from the opposing lineup.

Phil Hertz: In the two leagues where I can move players between active and reserve slots, I track my starting pitchers to see whether they're Strong starts, Judgment Calls, or Weak Starts. When BHQ first started publishing the Daily Matchups column, I sometimes used my own judgment and started guys on the Weak Start list. I was invariably burned, so someone winding up on the Weak Start is virtually always not going to be active (barring situations at the end of the year when a need for wins or strikeouts trumps everything else). Within the Judgment Calls list, I predominantly look at the win probability. If there's a good chance of a win, the pitcher starts regardless of whether the pitcher is at the top of the section or the bottom of the section. Otherwise, top half guys go—unless at Coors—and bottom half require additional research.

Patrick Davitt: I use the tool to look at my marginal starters for matchups/streaming opportunities. I also look at my studs, whom I usually play every start regardless, but I always want to know if there's a potential rake waiting in the weeds for me to step on. I also just read the DAILY MATCHUPS column because I like to get a sense of how SPs have been pitching lately, and I find that written analysis is easier to follow than strings of numbers in this regard.

Kris Olson: I use it to find the best values among starting pitchers on the DFS slate, and to find pitchers against whom I might want to stack hitters on the DFS slate. I don't have some concrete formula of dividing our overall rating into a pitcher's price on a DFS site or anything like that, since who my main play as a pitcher in DFS on a given night is also partly a function of the hitters I want to roster (i.e., my pitcher is basically "the best guy I can afford, after filling hitting slots). I also find myself this year using the DAILY MATCHUPS column, since I like also assessing the additional context our writers have been putting in there.

Now go forth and reap the benefits of our SP Matchups Tool!


Click here to subscribe

  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.