Ever since Billy Beane converted the already tediously statistics-driven national pastime into a glorified game of spreadsheet bingo, Fantasy fanatics everywhere have driven themselves batty attempting to divine the next great formula for winning (hint: it will not be found playing fantasy sports). BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play), OPS (On Base Plus Slugging), wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus): they're just a few of the dozens (and dozens) of alchemical formulations to which bean-counting ball fans swear fealty, and which inevitably leave them at season's end with less hair and ever higher blood pressure.
But that doesn't mean that all sabermetrics are bunk. To the contrary, a few different studies have uncovered one particularly juicy data point that is a reliable barometer for athlete performance: their sleep preference, or chronotype.
Chronotype is, for the most part, pre-determined. Much like being left or right handed, some of us are biological early birds, while others are night owls; still others float between the two. Sleep scientists though have taken their research of human sleep patterns down to the genetic level, revealing that all of us are truly preprogrammed to have optimal sleep and wake times.
The results showed a strong correlation between performance during a certain time of day in relation to chronotype. And it wasn't just a piddling few percent difference.
The findings show that roughly one-third of the population prefers the early to bed, early to rise routine. Another 16 percent prefer to go to bed and wake up about an hour later. The remaining 50-odd percent float between the two. All of these can be affected by external factors — diet, light exposure, chemicals — but the underlying affinity is constant. You are destined.
To athletes, chronotype turns out to be a deciding factor when it comes to performance. A recent UK study
subjected various sporting types to a battery of fitness tests spread out over the day. The results showed a strong correlation between performance during a certain time of day in relation to chronotype. And it wasn't just a piddling few percent difference: For the night owl group, early morning workouts plummeted an average 26 percent below peak level performance. Putting it lightly, that's an astonishing difference. In fact the researchers noted that the effect was so pronounced it likely has skewed previously published research pointing to overall better performance of all athletes in the afternoon and evenings.
This research echoes earlier baseball-specific findings that suggests pitcher performance in particular is influenced by game time. In a 2010 study led by W. Christopher Winter, MD of Martha Jefferson Hospital Sleep Medicine Center in Charlottesville, VA, studied 18 Major League pitchers from five different teams. After sussing out chronotype, reseachers determined that 10 players were night owls and eight were up-and-at-'em-in-the-a.m. types.
The real advantage seems to be in games that start after 8 p.m. In those, night owls maintained a batting average of .306 versus morning larks' .252.
Upon furthers investigation, researchers found that early-bird MLB pitchers were found to pull in a consistently lower ERA during games that took place before 7pm (3.06 vs 3.49 on average), while night owl players outperformed more modestly during evening games, albeit at a higher ERA overall (4.07 vs 4.15).
In a similar study the following year that looked at batting average, Winter found that morning folks were generally better at bat in games earlier than 2 p.m.: averaging a batting average of .267, compared to the night owls' .259. When it came to games that fell between 2 and 8 p.m.,night owls hit moderately better (.261 versus a night owl's .252). The real advantage seems to be in games that start after 8 p.m. In those, night owls maintained a batting average of .306 versus morning larks' .252.
Okay. So what does this mean? Keeping an eye on players' sleep habits could be key to earning first place in fantasy or fistfulls of real cash. Pay attention to articles where players make reference to their rest habits; put your faith in night owl hitters when they have evening games and morning lark pitchers when they have earlier bouts. To devout Fantasy leaguers these data points offer a major statistical edge for loading up your bench.
Oh, and a previous sleep study by Winter also revealed another choice tidbit to bear in mind: teams traveling from the West Coast to the East have a 14 percent better chance of winning. If you want to beat your fantasy buddies (or your bookie), go East, young man.