Lineup Logistics

Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening–whichever is applicable to you. As a young baseball fan, I would scan box scores and identify star players by where they batted in their respective lineups. The fast guy would bat first, the big boppers would hit in the 3, 4, or 5 hole, the Catcher would bat 7th or 8th and the worst hitter would bat last. Although that’s been nearly 30 years ago, the paint by numbers lineup approach has only begun to change within the last 5 years or so.  Some might even question whether all 30 MLB teams have truly embraced it.

For fantasy owners lineup construction is often more important than talent itself. So unless your league uses wOBA over RBI, or wRC+ over Runs, to a large degree, your success (or lack thereof) is tied to lineup placement. Are you ready for some hard-hitting analysis? Please have pencil and paper ready. If you bat near the top of the lineup you should have more runs than RBI; if you hit in the 3-7 spots your run and RBI totals will closely mirror each other with a leaning toward RBI the farther down in the order you go; the 8 and 9 spots typically favor Runs — I’ll give you a moment to pick up all the knowledge I just dropped. The point of the matter is that we can spend all winter analyzing BABIP, BB/K, L/R splits, finding potential breakouts or improvement candidates, but if the Manager doesn’t acknowledge it with an appropriate lineup spot, the earnings are going to be capped out.

While lineup placement doesn’t guarantee you production, it does guarantee you opportunity. Here is the 2015 Breakdown of Plate Appearances by lineup position:

Lineup Spot Plate Appearances
1 749
2 730
3 714
4 698
5 682
6 665
7 647
8 627
9 606

With each spot you gain in the lineup you’re adding about 18 PA on average. (NOTE: these totals were the Major League total. The AL totals are more across the board, but the difference is negligible)

While the season is young and many managers are in the tinkering stages, there are some potential developments that may require us to reevaluate our preseason outlook. Here is a peek at some of the situations I feel are worth monitoring, along with the potential effects.

Manny Machado – Most expected Hyun Soo Kim to man the top spot with Machado settling in at the 2 or 3 hole. Given Machado’s skill-set I’ll gladly take the additional plate appearances. Coming into the season my biggest concern regarding Machado was repeating his stolen base production from last season. While this is no guarantee he will replicate that performance, I do feel it improves his chances. While owners could end up being disappointed with his RBI totals, the chance at 110+ runs will more than make up for it.

Billy Hamilton – The Reds had let the cat out of the bag before camp broke, telling the baseball world Hamilton would hit 9th. Hamilton offers one plus skill: stolen bases, and hitting in the 9 hole should not hinder the opportunity itself.  If Hamilton fails to show improvement at the plate then the impact of his poor production will be minimized. If he does perform well at the plate, then a move to the top of the order will follow. Consider this move the Reds’ way of just letting Hamilton do his thing.

Andrew McCutchen – Many assumed McCutchen would bat third in the order. Generally speaking I prefer moves up the lineup; in this particular case I feel a negative impact is possible. For me, McCutchen was a player I’d expect to reach 170 runs + RBI hitting in the 3 hole. Batting second, I question the supporting cast behind him (more on that in a bit). At this point we don’t know if the lineup will take a different shape versus LHPs, nor do we know the impact Kang will have upon his return. At any rate, if McCutchen stays in the 2-hole all season my runs + RBI projection would be in the 150-160 range.

David Freese – A poster boy for how lineup placement can impact value in fantasy. Regardless of what you think of Freese from a skills standpoint, he’s batting third in a lineup behind two plus OBP options in Jaso and McCutchen.  While Kang could easily be the third base guy by the end of the month, should Freese begin the season hitting well, Kang could just as easily be the starting shortstop.  With 15-20 HR pop, 85-90 RBIs is a completely reasonable projection should Freese earn 550 + plate appearances in the 3-hole.

Gregory Polanco – Like Hamilton, the Pirates had hinted around that Polanco would be hitting lower in the lineup. I feel most projections for Polanco had him penciled in at one of the top two spots in the lineup. Batting sixth will still provide stolen base opportunities, but it really caps his run total and the boost in RBI potential doesn’t make up for it. Like Hamilton, Polanco will be given every opportunity to hit himself out of it; I personally feel that may prove to be a challenge.

Mike Napoli – Like Freese, Napoli was a draft day afterthought reserved for deeper leagues and faux Sox fans who failed to realize his home was no longer Fenway. Napoli is currently residing in the 4 spot of the Indians lineup that is still without Michael Brantley. Brantley’s return should do nothing but improve the value of Napoli as Brantley would seem to be the 3-hole option. The first base job and the cleanup spot are Napoli’s to lose, and while he hasn’t proven he’s fully capable of holding either position the the past two seasons, it’s worth considering he’s only two years removed from driving in 92.

David Wright – I felt coming into the season that Wright would fall into the 5-hole with Walker hitting primarily 2nd versus RHP. Thus far, these two have flipped. For me Wright’s value would greatly improve in the 2-hole. Wright is no longer a 20 HR option, thus hitting in the 5-hole could prove to be a challenge when it comes to being a plus run producer. Batting second he can still play to his strengths (.377 career OBP) and could reach 80 runs and perhaps run a little more IF health can remain on his side.

Trevor Plouffe – Plouffe is nothing more than position filler on draft day. No one is happy drafting the Plouffe fish, but the position has to be filled and he’s the defining line between tolerable and a bottle of Pepto. If early lineups are any indications, Trevor Plouffe could easily be himself and clear 100 RBI. With Dozier (.314 career OBP), Mauer (.394 career OBP), and Sano (nice track record of OBP skill despite a high K totals in minors) hitting in front of him, Plouffe should have plenty of ducks on the pond chances on his doorstep.

Marcell Ozuna – A down season last year really had him off the radar this draft season. Last season Ozuna was seen as a big part of the run production cast hitting primarily 5th for a rather thin lineup. Hitting out of the 2-hole in the early parts of this season, Ozuna at the very least has more talented players hitting around him. Should he perform better himself, the offensive output will easily generate positive earnings for 2016.

*****

With less than a week’s worth of data it’s impossible to know the staying power of these lineups. What we do know is how each team has a certain level of fantasy value built into its rosters. While some have more than others, opportunity lies everywhere regardless of the team, division, or league.  You can read the scouting reports, analyze the plate discipline, and chart the exit velocity; or simply look at a box score and see where the opportunities are presenting themselves.

 

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Josh Coleman
Father of four SP1 children. Replacement level husband to a top tier wife. I love my family, value my friendships, and spend as much time as possible (too much according to the aforementioned Mrs. Coleman) dedicated to the pursuit, of another Fantasy Championship. I'm the oddball at the bar who prefers Fantasy Baseball to Fantasy Football.