Lineup Construction and Production

Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening – whichever is applicable to you. In March of 2011, my NFBC partner and I were making our annual trip to St. Louis for another NFBC Draft weekend. Coming off a nice 2010 in which we finished among the top-75 overall, our confidence in taking that next step was at an all-time high. It was about a seven hour trip, so naturally we dedicated a majority of that time planning our draft.

In the 15-team format we had the 13th overall pick. That pick provided us with a variety of draft paths to choose from. We must have discussed no less than 7-8 different selections, but ultimately we felt Carl Crawford had the most to offer.

From 2003 to 2010 Carl Crawford had averaged 146 games played with a .299 AVG, 93 runs, 13 home runs, 70 RBI, and 50 stolen bases. Crawford was always among the league leaders in steals and offered double-digit HR pop. The Devil Rays were also ahead of their time regarding lineup construction as their best player, Crawford, batted primarily 2nd in the order. So while Crawford wasn’t the annual 100+ Run player, the trade-off in RBI totals made him a better all-around fantasy asset.

So now this perennial Top-25 fantasy asset in Crawford, is sitting high in a loaded Red Sox lineup featuring the likes of David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Kevin Youkilis. We blindly threw out 120+ Run upside with the same counting stats we had come to expect.

*****

So much time is spent in the off-season evaluating players skill sets. We like what player B is capable of while player A leaves something to be desired. We’ll spend the offseason touting player B as the one you want and urge you to stay far away from player A. Then naturally when Opening Day arrives, Player A is featured prominently in the 4-spot of a lineup while player B is batting 8th. In the end, all that talent affords you is the greater chance of optimal lineup placement and preferred playing time.

As fantasy owners you are still at the mercy of those damn managers who could give a rats ass about your fantasy team.

Why does lineup construction even matter? For me, I feel lineup construction has 3 points of potential impact in regards to fantasy. I suspect everyone feels the same, but for the sake of this posting here’s a review.

1. The higher in the lineup the more PA throughout the season.

Batting Order Additional PA Per 600/PA
1st  
2nd 13.83
3rd 28.36
4th 41.39
5th 53.87
6th 67.55
7th 82.65
8th 97.58
9th 113.98

These margins are not substantial if dropping one spot, but if you project a guy to hit 2nd and he’s hitting 7th, it’s almost as if he’s missing around 14 games played.

2. Lineup placement determines Run and RBI potential. Your 1,2,8 and 9(AL)  hitters will typically have a lean toward Runs scored while your 4,5,6 have an RBI lean. The 3rd and 7th hitters typically are more balanced, but this could also include the 2, 4 and 5 hitters if a teams lineup has depth.

Once again no major adjustments are needed if you have a projected 3-hole hitter batting 5th, but if your projections are that of a 2-hole hitter that ends up batting 5th – this will likely need to be addressed at some point.

3. What does my team think of me? Think back to your Little League lineup. Who hit 8th or 9th? My guess would be the guy who’s penciled into RF as well. Just because you’re hitting 8th in the opening week doesn’t mean you can’t hit your way out of it. It does, however, tell me you have something to worry about if a 0-16 skid lies ahead. For NL players, it also means you have the pleasure of hitting in front of the pitcher so don’t expect too many fastballs down the middle after working to get the count in your favor. For fantasy owners, the 8 and 9 holes essentially serve as your warning track for player replacement.

Over the course of the first five days of the season (Sunday through Thursday) I took a look at some notable lineup spots that could have a potential impact on my early player projections.



National League

Washington Nationals Adam Eaton 2nd.  The spring training debate of where Adam Eaton will bat has been answered. Eaton has hit in the two hole that everyone expected when he was acquired. For whatever reason, Dusty Baker flirted with the idea of hitting Eaton 6th which caused Eaton’s draft day stock to fall a bit. Those who wisely ignored Dusty’s musings will be rewarded.

New York Mets – Asdrubal Cabrera 2nd.  Cabrera batted near the back-end of the lineup for the majority of last season. However, from mid-August on he performed well in the two-hole so this is likely no surprise to most.  I mention Cabrera simply because he is a player who is far to under-owned at this point and is someone you want to add now… I mean like right now – NOW.

Miami Marlins – Marcell Ozuna 6th. Ozuna found himself in the five-hole in Game 3 so this may work itself out. Heading into the season I projected Ozuna to hit 5th behind Gordon, Realmuto, Yelich, and Stanton. Mattingly inserted Bour to split up the RH hitters in games 1 and 2. This lineup is still a work in progress with Prado still not having played, but if Ozuna is batting behind Stanton and Bour I’d expect a decrease in the RBI potential.

Chicago Cubs – The lineup has been about what I expected, but the SP hitting 8th is a plus for Kyle Schwarber‘s RBI potential from the leadoff spot. The trickle down effects from it could be felt in the 7th spot that Javier Baez occupied on opening night. As previously mentioned, the pitch selection isn’t ideal for those hitting in front of pitchers and Baez’s plate discipline as a whole still needs work. My guess is this won’t be the day in and day out scenario, but if so I would likely downgrade Baez to some degree.

Milwaukee Brewers – Travis Shaw 4th. Three items of note here. First and foremost is that Shaw will be hitting behind three really good OBP options in Braun, Thames and Villar so the RBI potential will be there if he can hit. Second, Shaw even started vs. LHP, though he was moved to 5th in the order. Third, Hernan Perez has been getting playing time elsewhere so he shouldn’t cut into Shaw’s time at third. Most expected Perez would be a 4-5 start per week player, even though early indications were that of a utility role. The Broxton injury could open the door for more outfield time further distancing Perez from Shaw’s spot.

Los Angeles Dodgers –  Two items of note including the leadoff spot and Puig hitting 8th. Most expected Logan Forsythe to be the everyday leadoff hitter. Early indications point toward Toles being the man vs RHP with Forsythe hitting in the back/middle of the lineup. Forsythe appears to have the role vs. LHP. This will increase the value for Toles, who was in many ways a forgotten option on draft days. With Forsythe’s modest draft day price his value isn’t ultimately affected by this, but from a team construction standpoint you’re looking at more RBI and less projected runs.

For Yasiel Puig, the 8th spot in the lineup should be a smack in the face as to where he stands with the organization. If early results are any indication then he has gotten the message. Does it continue vs. actual MLB talent? The leash will be short for Puig to prove himself.

Arizona Diamondbacks – Chris Owings. Most expected Brandon Drury to bat second, at least vs. LHP, but Owings got the nod on Opening Day. He batted 7th vs. Cueto in Game 2, but was moved to 5th after a hot start, in Game 4 vs. Samardzija. Hard to find anything concrete in this aside from the assumption that Owings is well thought of by the new Diamondback brass. The talent and opportunity could mix for a really nice waiver wire addition.

San Francisco Giants – Brandon Belt batting 2nd. Batting in the back/middle part of the order isn’t best suited for what Belt has become. The home ballpark alone prevents him from 30 HR pop annually so take advantage of last seasons 16% walk rate. If that skill set can hold up you could be looking at an unexpected 100 runs.

American League

Boston Red Sox – Andrew Benintendi 2nd. Most expected Benintendi to hit around 6th in a rather long lineup. The move to 2nd is a major boom to his fantasy stock if his ability can keep the job. With rainouts, injuries, and a bereavement stint by Bogaerts, it is difficult to get a real feel for the Boston lineup at this time. With that being said, if Benintendi is hitting 2nd then someone will have to fall. On Opening Day that was Xander Bogaerts who hit 6th. For somewhat of a compiler whose value was built on volume, this could make his Top-30 price tag quite the overpay.

Tampa Bay Rays – Splitsville. The Rays will feature 2-3 platoons based on RHP and LHP pitching. Last season the Rays finished 17th in OPS vs RHP and 18th vs. LHP. For streaming purposes (and those who play DFS) I expect their numbers vs. RHP to increase favorably while those numbers vs. LHP could be among the worst in baseball.

New York Yankees – Gary Sanchez 2nd and Greg Bird 3rd. I really like the move for Bird. I suspected he would hit around 5th or 6th so the potential for increased counting stats provides even more draft day value. The Sanchez move is a little surprising as he’s not really known for a huge walk rate and doesn’t have an established OBP skill set to this point. It’s early and things could change. If not, this is a rare occasion in which I would prefer him hitting a couple of spots back in the lineup.

Minnesota Twins – Byron Buxton hitting 3rd.  Regardless if you were for Buxton or not; having him hit third is not what you expected. Even the most optimistic Buxton fan would have to downgrade Dozier’s run totals. For Buxton, I feel his value improves – he trades some runs for RBIs. And while three-hole hitters don’t typically run, hitting in front of patient types such as Mauer and Sano – the opportunities will be there. All in all I believe this is much to do about nothing. Buxton will hit his way out while Sano will hit his way in.

Kansas City Royals – Alex Gordon hitting 1st. Gordon at his best has never been a huge fantasy asset. He doesn’t necessarily hurt you (last season’s owners raise their collective hands), but he doesn’t really help you. However, leading off would provide a certain level of volume he has never had. Batting .260 over 600 plate appearances is more valuable than .260 over 550 etc. The lineup around him isn’t great, but Cain, Hosmer and Moustakas hitting behind him could give him a strong chance at 95 runs over a full season.

Los Angeles Angels – Yunel Escobar hitting 1st. Most expected the LF duo of Maybin and Revere to leadoff. As of this point, that honor has been given to the slow-footed Yunel Escobar. I’m not one of those to promote .290 OBP speedsters hitting atop the lineup, but I don’t see what advantage Escobar gives you.

His OBP skills aren’t good and he’s an average source with low a ISO meaning they’ll be a lot of station to station scenarios playing out. His value will increase based on volume alone, but not to the point it puts him on the map anywhere. The trickle down effect could be less stolen base opportunities for Mike Trout, and it could bleed over into the RBI potential of Trout, Calhoun, and Pujols.

Oakland A’s – Marcus Semien hitting 9th. The low lineup spot was common place for Semien last season, but from August onward he found himself primarily hitting 1/2 or 6/7 too much success. We saw more talent going out then coming in so I suspected Semien’s days in the nine-hole were over. Not so fast I suppose as 27 home runs must not be what they once were. Ultimately, it doesn’t affect Semien’s value that much for me as the home runs will still be the driving factor in his value. It does cap any perceived value growth from last season.

Seattle Mariners – Mitch Haniger hitting 2nd. Most expected the lineup to feature Jarrod Dyson and Segura at one and two because that’s what those lying managers told us. The early loser in lineup placement is Dyson who has batted 8th or 9th. Once again, Dyson is an example of how modest price tags aren’t as subjected to lineup positioning. Those who drafted Dyson simply wanted his SB upside; anything else would be gravy. Hitting 1st or 9th doesn’t change that skill set, only the volume. Where Dyson was being selected in drafts – that volume wasn’t in the pricing.

For Haniger, the potential profit is huge. Being drafted in the same range as Dyson, Haniger offers a very complimentary skill set for that lineup spot. He has excellent OBP skills and could provide a plus run total hitting in front of the likes of Cano, Cruz, and Seager. Mix in the pop and double-digit stolen base potential and Haniger could be the type of player who wins you a league considering you paid the eight-hole hitter price.

Texas Rangers – Nomar Mazara hitting 3rd. I fully expected Mazara to hit in the 6th or 7th spot of that lineup – hitting 3rd could be a game changer. Batting .260 with 25 home runs from the 6th spot would likely net you maybe 75 RBI on the high-end. Hitting directly behind high OBP options such as Choo and Beltre could push that RBI total north of 90 with the same .260 and 25.

Instead of the Elvis Andrus and Ryan Rua types hitting behind you, Napoli, Odor, and Lucroy provide you support. Once again, the same .260 AVG and 25 home run rewards you with 85 runs instead of 65. If Mazara can hold this spot down, he will certainly go down as a draft day oversight by yours truly.

*****

Lineup construction is a vital part of deriving fantasy value. In the grand scheme of things this is simply the first week of the season. These lineups are, and will be, a work in progress moving forward. The above scenario’s are being played out as if they will be played out in their entirety. The reality of it is that players will hit their way in and out of whatever lineup spots they ultimately settle into. That is not to say that what has already been presented to us isn’t important. After all, in order for it to be a probable outcome, it has to happen the first time.

Carl Crawford did not reach those expected 120 runs. He played in 130 games that year and proceeded to have his worst season as a pro to that point. From April 1st thru April 17th of that year, Crawford batted 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in 12 of the teams first 14 games. An extremely slow start and plenty of talent around him left the Red Sox with too many options not to take action. From April 18th through the final game of the season, Crawford batted higher than 6th just nine times.

Our teams success, or lack thereof, mirrored that of Carl Crawford. We fully expected table setters for the entire league to chase after. Instead we found ourselves constantly looking up the lineup card, chasing numbers we had no hope of achieving.

 

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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.
Josh Coleman

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