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Using Sabermetrics for Fantasy Baseball: Lineup Spot

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 owners 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? Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres smacked 38 HR and hit .344 with runners in scoring position last season in a loaded lineup. Unfortunately for his fantasy owners, he hit fifth or lower for the Yanks in 93 of his 144 games played. His counting stats (96 runs, 90 RBI) accordingly fell well short of what you would expect given his other numbers. 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 PA, Runs, and RBI are presented from the 2019 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 22,823 3,323 2,320 5,623
2nd 22,281 3,279 2,623 5,902
3rd 21,760 2,917 3,021 5,938
4th 21,259 2,827 3,109 5,936
5th 20,794 2,627 2,848 5,475
6th 20,249 2,345 2,500 4,845
7th 19,705 2,195 2,267 4,392
8th 19,122 2,105 2,086 4,191
9th 18,518 1,849 1,699 3,548

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

RBI are highest from the cleanup spot, and trend downward in both directions from there. 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 before their first PA of the game, and need to rely on the weaker eighth and ninth hitters to get on in front of them after that. Since good hitters are usually clustered early in the order to maximize their PAs, leadoff men get minimal help from their teammates in producing RBI.

Runs peak at the leadoff slot and decrease from there. This decrease is not linear, as only 44 runs separate the first and second spots while 362 separate second and third. For this reason, fantasy owners want to stick to the early batting order slots where teams cluster their best hitters if possible. Leadoff guys have the most opportunity and the team's best hitters hitting behind them, so they score a lot of runs for the same reason they do not register many RBI.

Finally, the R+RBI column refutes the idea that a team's heart of the order is 3-4-5. It is actually 2-3-4, the only lineup slots to approach 6,000 combined R+RBI. The 1st slot is great for runs scored, and the 5th spot offers a respectable 5,475 R+RBI. However, the others clearly lag behind. 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.

 

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 would like to learn more about how to apply sabermetrics within a fantasy context, check out some of the other articles linked here.




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