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Batting Order: Using Sabermetrics for 2024 Fantasy Baseball

Corbin Carroll - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, MLB Injury News

You may be wondering why there aren't any advanced stats aimed at predicting a player's counting stats like runs and RBI. The answer is simple: modern sabermetrics reject the idea of a "clutch RBI guy" and therefore do not bother inventing predictive metrics for it. Runs and RBI are team-dependent stats and are unhelpful in ascertaining a given player's real value.

That might work for statheads, but fantasy managers frequently see 40% or more of a player's value tied to his RBI and run totals. We have to care about them. Drafting hitters from strong offenses can help pad the totals, but as you'll see, an even bigger advantage can be found by looking at a player's slot in the batting order.

Don't believe it? Here is a closer look at how to analyze a batter's lineup slot for fantasy purposes.

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Lineup Slot & Counting Stats

In the table below, each batting order slot's plate appearances, runs, and RBI are presented from the 2023 season. The final number is simply R + RBI, an approximate measure of that slot's overall value to a fantasy team.

Slot PA R RBI RBI+R
1st 22,540 3,147 2,337 5,484
2nd 22,032 2,981 2,598 5,579
3rd 21,511 2,712 2,818 5,530
4th 20,999 2,615 2,966 5,581
5th 20,488 2,415 2,511 4,926
6th 19,989 2,234 2,345 4,579
7th 19,417 2,097 2,125 4,222
8th 18,859 2,120 1,951 4,071
9th 18,269 2,111 1,861 3,972

Each batting order slot loses around 500 PA compared to the slot before it. If we divide this total by the 30 current MLB clubs, we get a difference of around 17 PA between consecutive hitters on one team. That may seem insignificant, but it compounds. For example, there is an average of 34 PA separating a team's leadoff man from the three-hitter. Counting stats like RBI require an opportunity to accumulate, and hitters earlier in the batting order have more opportunities.

RBI are highest from the cleanup spot and trend downward in both directions. Leadoff hitters only get more RBI than the seventh, eighth, and ninth spots despite the largest PA total. This is because they never have runners on base for their first PA and need to rely on the weaker eighth and ninth hitters to get on in front of them after that.

Runs peak at the leadoff slot and generally decrease from there. This decrease is not linear, as only 97 runs separate third and fourth while 200 separate fourth and fifth. For this reason, fantasy managers want to stick to the early batting order slots where teams cluster their best hitters. The eighth and ninth slots outperformed the seventh slot in runs last year, but all three pale in comparison to earlier slots.

Finally, the R+RBI column refutes the idea that a team's heart of the order is 3-4-5. It's actually 2-3-4, the only lineup slots to eclipse 5,500 combined R+RBI. The first slot is great for runs scored, and the fifth spot offers a respectable 4,926 R+RBI. After that, production falls off a cliff even among strong offenses. This means that a player in the middle of a weaker offense is likely to outproduce a player on the periphery of a stronger one.

Platoons, injuries, and lineup shuffling can change these numbers, but in general, the earlier the slot, the better for fantasy purposes.

 

The Practical Impact of Batting Order

Most would agree that Corbin Carroll had an extremely successful 2023 season for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He earned NL Rookie of the Year honors with a triple slash line of .285/.362/.506 with 25 HR, but his 76 RBI were relatively low for a strong hitter with pop.

Was he a terrible clutch hitter? Nope, his .280 average with runners in scoring position was identical to his average with the bases empty. Furthermore, Carroll came up huge in several big spots during Arizona's run to the World Series. He didn't wilt under the pressure.

Was Arizona a poor offensive team? While it seemed that way at times during the postseason, the team finished tied with Toronto with 746 runs for 14th of the 30 MLB clubs in scoring. That's a solidly major-league-average offense that shouldn't have adversely affected Carroll's RBI totals.

Indeed, the answer lies in Carroll's batting order slot. He logged 142 PAs as the team's leadoff hitter and another 127 batting fifth or lower, forcing him to rely on the club's less productive hitters to set up RBI opportunities for him. Carroll is projected to hit leadoff in 2024, so his RBI will likely lag behind what we might expect again in 2024.

 

Conclusion

To conclude, counting stat production depends on opportunity and team support. Players that bat early in the order tend to get more of both, though leadoff men give up RBI potential for increased runs scored. If you want to learn more about applying sabermetrics within a fantasy context, stay tuned!



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