Toby is the analyst behind BatFlipCrazy.com and handles a mean Twitter (@BatFlipCrazy). He also single-handedly hosts the BatFlipCrazy Podcast. Toby was gracious enough to grant me an interview and a peek behind the curtain into his analysis.
– Ryan at FSH
Ryan: Toby, thanks for taking the time to sit down and answer some questions today. To begin, why did you start BatFlipCrazy?
Toby: Before starting the blog in December 2016, I spent a lot of time researching my fantasy baseball teams. My wife could see the passion I had for fantasy baseball and how much I enjoyed the research, so she suggested I put that time into a blog to share my analysis with others. I probably wouldn’t have started it without her encouragement.
Ryan: That’s great to have a wife who supports you in that way. I’ve always wondered, what’s behind the name “BatFlipCrazy?”
Toby: I really like batflips and the emotion behind them. They show enthusiasm and passion. I like to think that through my analysis I demonstrate enthusiasm and passion for the game of fantasy baseball. The “crazy” actually came from my cousin. I was sharing different batflip-related names with him and he made a joke about being “batflip crazy” (i.e. batsh!t crazy). It stuck immediately.
Ryan: I love it. The name always stuck with me. So what made you go BatFlipCrazy for baseball? What really fostered your love of baseball?
Toby: I have a lot of fond memories around baseball. I grew up in a baseball household. One of my first pictures as an infant was me “holding” a baseball. My dad was the local high school baseball coach for a number of years. All my brothers played baseball and we used to play home run derby in our front yard with a tennis ball and one of those wooden Giants souvenir baseball bats. I used to come home from school and watch the old home run derbies and then Braves, Cubs and White Sox games because TBS and WGN were national stations. I loved the Robin Ventura-led White Sox (my favorite player) teams of the early 90s.
My family always rooted for the Red Sox because my dad grew up in Western Massachusetts. I ended up going to school out in Boston and was in the city for the 2004 championship run (as well as the devastating years before it). I called my dad the moment Edgar Renteria grounded out – he’d been waiting for that championship a long time. My younger brother was the best baseball player among us. He started four years at a D3 school in Minnesota and internationally for a couple years before becoming a D1 assistant coach. He now runs a non-profit called KeepPlayingBaseball.org that tries to address equity issues in access to college baseball through free resources to high school kids.
As you can tell, so many of my best memories (and future ones, hopefully) involve baseball.
Ryan: Absolutely! Sounds like baseball runs deep in your family’s veins. But what about analysis? Have you always loved stats in baseball? How did you get into baseball analysis and sabermetrics?
Toby: Yes. As a kid, we had this board game. It literally was a board and each of the bases was the size of a baseball card. It came with two dice and a two-sided results card. One side was for players who hit 20 or more home runs and the other was for players who hit fewer than 20 home runs and it had columns for different ranges of batting averages. We would draft our baseball cards and play our teams against one another. There was some probability involved, since players with more home runs and higher batting averages had a better chance to get hits and home runs, but with only two dice it was pretty basic. We would spend hours drafting the teams and playing, especially on camping trips.
Ryan: Umm…I feel like my childhood was robbed and I didn’t know it until now. I need this game!
Toby: I’ve played fantasy baseball since I heard about it in high school in the late 90s, but only got deep into the stats of it more recently, maybe 5 years ago. At the time, all of this data and information wasn’t available (or I didn’t know it did), so I’d look at things like BABIP to determine who I thought would improve or decline as a season wore on. That would inform trades or pickups and drops.
Maybe two to three years ago I really started getting deep into skills analysis and understating more about their relationships and application to the game. Just like anything in life, so much of fantasy baseball is understanding the relationship between the various skills that a player possesses or the various players have on your team. That’s why I play strictly roto – the fun for me is in the complexity of creating a balanced team and playing the game long enough for skills to win out.
I’ve learned more and more each year, especially since joining Twitter in late 2016. New resources and tools have contributed so much to the experience of playing, whether Statcast data or expected stat models like xStats.org. The people who have provided access to that data have made my enjoyment and understanding of the game so much richer.
Ryan: You certainly have become one of my favorite follows on Twitter. You do a lot of research and it seems to vary from tweet to tweet, podcast to podcast who you look into. Some analysts have preferences, do you enjoy researching pitchers or hitters more, and why?
Toby: It’s hard to pick. I like that there is more data and fewer unknowns about hitter performance. Current metrics help us understand a players approach at the plate and the quantity and quality of contact they make. With pitchers, I enjoy getting deep into analyzing their performance with some of the metrics that exist, but I think there is more uncertainty or gaps, at least in my understanding. I’m not an expert in mechanics, so understanding how mechanics impact pitcher performance and command, especially, can be frustrating, as are the volume of injuries. A lot of the quality of contact metrics for pitchers aren’t predictive, either. I enjoy both, though.
Ryan: Since you seem to prefer hitters, what are your go-to statistics when looking at a hitters?
Toby: My go-to metrics for hitters are o-swing, contact & z-contact rate, hard hit rate, fly ball and ground ball rates and batted ball quality data (xwOBA, DB/GB/LD/HD/FB/PU through xstats.org, soft hit rate, hard hit rate, hard hit fly ball rate, hard hit pulled fly ball rate, barrels, volume of batted balls at high exit velocities and not right into the ground, volume and exit velocities at key launch angles, etc.).
Ryan: And what are your go-to statistics for pitchers?
Toby: My go to metrics for pitchers is K-BB%, swinging strike rate, o-swing, first-pitch strike rate, zone rate coupled with batted ball data (xwOBA, DB/GB/LD/HD/FB/PU through xstats.org, soft hit rate, hard hit rate) and pitch splits.
Ryan: If you could only pick one stat to measure a pitcher by what would it be?
Ryan: If you could only pick one stat to measure a hitter by what would it be?
Toby: xOBA (via xstats.org)
Ryan: Are there any stats you try to avoid?
Toby: I think most data and information can be helpful when used appropriately. I generally steer clear of using average exit velocity or launch angle, since I don’t think they’re helpful in isolation. For example, last year Matt Carpenter’s average launch angle was 21.6 degrees and this year it is 20.9 degrees. In no way does this reflect that he’s hitting 8% more of his batted balls at ideal launch angles (hard drives) this year and 7% fewer pop ups. Similarly, his average exit velocity of 90.4 MPH is 61st among hitters with 100 balls in play. Once you combine exit velocity and launch angle, like in the barrels statistic, it starts to mean something. He ranks 18th in barrels/PA and has the most hard hit pulled fly balls in baseball (79) this year, which better explains his power and skill at making quality contact.
Ryan: Like you mentioned before, relationships in stats can be very important. What areas do you like to analyze in conjunction with each other?
Toby: I think you always need to look at the whole picture as much as possible. That means as much data and information as you can analyze together as part of the puzzle the better or you’ll miss something important. The statistics I listed previously are generally what I look at for each player, which is why I may not respond to every question on Twitter or it may take me a while — I don’t like to give people advice unless I feel comfortable the data supports it.
Ryan: Are there any stats you wish existed but don’t yet?
Toby: I wish we understood a bit more about the relationship between players’ swings, the spin they generate of the bat as a result, and how it impacts batted ball outcomes. Guys like Joe Mauer, who always underperforms expected home runs, and Didi Gregorius, who always overperforms them, fascinate me. With Mauer I think it’s because he hits so many opposite field hard fly balls that somehow the spin limits carry, maybe the opposite for Gregorius. I’m just guessing, but I’d love to know more about why and I’m sure will have better spin rate data soon (smarter people than me are probably already discussing it in great detail).
I would also love to access to rolling average graphs (like on FanGraphs) for Statcast data. That isn’t a metric, obviously, but visual presentation is so important.
Ryan: Those are really good ones. I know you love to reference the rolling averages on the podcast when you do a breakdown. What other MLB analysts work do you draw inspiration from or appreciate the most? Do you have a favorite baseball Twitter you enjoy following?
Toby: I thoroughly enjoy baseball and fantasy baseball Twitter. People generally seem friendly, open to discussion, and share ideas. Each analyst has a different way of analyzing players or making decisions and it’s great to see what information and data they draw from. I particularly enjoy learning both player analysis and strategy from folks who have been successful playing in the leagues with the best competition who still freely share their ideas and suggestions. I also enjoy some of the newer voices on twitter who have great depth and enthusiasm for their analysis. In terms of actual MLB analysis, I generally just watch games when I can (rarely shows about baseball) and find most broadcasters detract from the experience. As a result, I find myself watching a lot of Dodgers games because I think they’re some of the best in the business.
Ryan: Are there any times where you’ve been really proud of your findings? Maybe you saw a breakout or regression in a players future?
Toby: Is this the part where I get to brag? Sure, I feel good when I’m correct in a prediction, both because it means folks who follow me on Twitter are benefiting from the prediction and my team as well. My favorite is in-season predictions, where I see a change in skills and know someone is about to go off. This year I’ve spotted it on players like Jesse Winker and Trevor Story. So much baseball performance comes in ebbs and flows, part of managing a successful team or identifying hidden talent is monitoring their skills and seeing when there is a change in approach or a discrepancy between the skills a player is showing and their performance. For example, CJ Cron has seen the highest highs and lowest lows this year. I own him in a 15-team league and sat him for 2-3 weeks of his worst performance because his contact rate crashed. That shows up in my standings but not in his season-long stats. His season-long stats on my team are better.
I’ve missed plenty of predictions, but the beauty of confirmation bias is I don’t remember them as well.
Ryan: Who’s had the most impressive fantasy breakout this season? A batter and a pitcher.
Toby: Most impressive? I’d say Jose Ramirez. He was already a great player and he’s reached another level, both in terms of his power and his speed. While power and speed are down across baseball, Ramirez has managed to improve on both. I think that’s insane. His skills are also crazy — strong plate discipline, elite contact, elite bat control — and I’m a sucker for skills. He keeps getting better.
For pitchers, I’d say Trevor Bauer. I didn’t believe heading into this year, but I will own him on a lot of teams next year, assuming he stays out of the top two rounds. I trust his commitment, his process through Driveline and their cutting edge research, and he seems to know more about pitching and his own body than most. I respect that and it makes me feel confident that the performance will continue and the arm (note I didn’t say ankle) will stay healthy.
Ryan: Who do you expect big things from next season?
Toby: Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Jose Ramirez, Chris Sale, and players with speed who don’t crush your other categories. Other than that, I’ll need to watch the rest of the season and do a deep dive on each player individually to figure out where I think they’ll be in 2019. My only advice is to follow the skills — a lot of the signs of a breakout are there before the breakout actually happens.
Ryan: Favorite player growing up?
Toby: Robin Ventura
Ryan: Most exciting player to watch currently?
Toby: Any player with great discipline who is locked in. Some examples this year are Alex Bregman, June and July Max Muncy, and a two-week stretch of Jose Martinez. They control at bats so well, it seems like they know exactly what is coming, and they make incredible contact. If I had to choose one I’d say Bregman. I tend to watch later games being on the West Coast, but I have Springer, Bregman and Altuve on my two most important teams, so I watch the Astros a lot, too.
Ryan: DH vs pitchers hitting?
Toby: DH. pitchers hitting may add strategy to the National League game, but the terribleness of pitchers batting outweighs it by a large margin.
Ryan: Perfect Game vs hitting for the Cycle?
Toby: Perfect game. They’re both small sample sizes, though, and subject to a lot of luck. That’s only kind of a joke.
Ryan: Power vs Plate Discipline?
Toby: I’ll take both, but I look at o-swing before hard hit rate. Approach is important, since only a few players are successful with terrible plate discipline
Ryan: Pitching prospect vs Hitting prospect?
Toby: Is there such thing as a pitching prospect?
Ryan: MVP vs World Series Championship?
Toby: World Series.
Ryan: Fastball vs Breaking Ball?
Toby: As long as it’s not a sinker, I’m happy.
Keep up-to-date with Toby on Twitter: @BatFlipCrazy
MLB Correspondent | Despite the inherent challenges of being a Rays fan, I’ve thrived as an avid fan of all things baseball and fantasy baseball for 20 years.