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MLB DFS: How much is moving up in the lineup worth?

MLB lineups are not set in stone. Managers often tinker with their batting order depending on players history against a pitcher, whether the pitcher is right or left handed, or if there’s an injury. Moving up in the batting order increases fantasy production, because it increases a players expected plate appearances, the chance of an RBI and/or scoring a run with better hitters in front and behind them in the order. But how much should it increase fantasy production? Is it insignificant, or is it something we should strongly consider in our lineup choices?

Why moving up in the batting order is so significant

The increased expectation in fantasy points in terms of more plate appearances is easy to quantify. Let’s assume that each spot in the lineup has an equal chance of being the last batter to have a plate appearance in a game, 1 out of 9, or .11 repeating (This is actually not true, but is close enough). That would imply that every spot moved up in the batting order is worth .11 more plate appearances. A player moving from the 9 spot to the 1 spot would mean that player now has .88 more expected plate appearances.

The math is pretty simple. As stated before, we have 9 possible batters to bat last for their team in a game, each with a 1 out of 9 chance. The only way for the 9 spot to have the same amount of plate appearances as the 1 spot is for the 9 spot to be the last batter for his team, which has a 1 out of 9 chance. That means 8 out of 9 times, the 1 spot will have one more plate appearance than the 9 spot, meaning he is expected to have .88 plate appearances more than the 9 spot.

The same math goes for comparing a move from the 7 spot to the 4 spot in the batting order. If the last batter in the game is in the 4, 5, or 6 spot in the lineup, the cleanup hitter will have one more plate appearance  than the 7 spot. This has a 1/3rd chance (1/9th + 1/9th + 1/9th) of occurring, therefore the 4 spot has 1/3rd of a plate appearance more than the 7 spot. The math is always .11 multiplied by the amount of spots moved up in the order.

With this information, we can quantify how many more fantasy points a player is expected to score by knowing their fantasy points per plate appearance, and simply multiplying that by the increase in expected plate appearances. For example, Miguel Cabrera is projected this year to average .9 FP per plate appearance. Therefore, If Cabrera was to move up from the 7 spot to the 4 spot, we would expect him to get .3 more FP than in the 7 spot (assuming Fanduel scoring). That sounds like very little, but it actually makes a big difference in baseball where fantasy points for hitters are very sparse, where you mostly are going for 1 FP per $1000 spent on Fanduel.

Cabrera is unlikely to have such a large move though, a more likely scenario is a 9 spot hitter batting lead off, or someone batting 8th moving up the the 5 spot. Those players will average less FP per plate appearance than Cabrera though, who is one of the top fantasy hitters in baseball.

What about being placed in a better spot in the batting order?

Having players ahead of you in the lineup who get on base a lot increases your chances of getting an RBI, while having players who hit well behind you in the lineup increases your chances of scoring a run, both worth 1 point in Fanduel scoring. But it’s unclear how much of an RBI or run advantage being in different spots in the batting order a player has.

For example, players hitting lead off most likely have the best chance of scoring a run, but the worst chance of getting an RBI. That’s because they will have power hitters after them in the order, but the worst hitters in the lineup before them, as well as a guarantee of one at bat with no one on base. A cleanup hitter will have a good chance to get an RBI with high on base players in front of him in the lineup, but will have a worse chance of scoring a run than the leadoff hitter with worse hitters behind him.

The math isn’t all that clear and will differ from team to team because each team has different lineups and different statistics. It’s clear that players in the 6th-8th spot in the lineup have the worst fantasy point expectation without considering plate appearances. What’s unclear is whether the increased RBI opportunities for cleanup hitters means greater expected fantasy points than the increased run opportunities for lead off hitters, or really which spot in the lineup maximizes the chances of both RBIs and runs for a given player.

What does seem safe to assume is that a player who moves up from the 6th-9th spot in the batting order to the 1st through 4th spot will have greater expected fantasy points than plate appearances alone would predict. However, because batters differ in key statistics by very little most of the time, this impact should not be large, and not nearly as big as the impact of increased plate appearances.

Conclusions

Moving up in the batting order means an increase in expected plate appearances and therefore more expected fantasy points for any given hitter. The increase in expected fantasy points for any given hitter is proportional to the amount of spots he has moved up in the lineup. While moving from 9th to leadoff leads to the largest increase in expected fantasy points, the 2nd-4th spot are likely not as far behind as plate appearances alone would suggest because of their advantages for RBI totals. But what is very clear is moving up a large number of spots in the order is very significant for fantasy production and should be weighed heavily when deciding on who to play on any given day.

View all posts by Daniel Steinberg
Daniel Steinberg

About the Author

Daniel Steinberg Daniel Steinberg is a former bond trader at a multi-billion dollar proprietary trading firm in Chicago. He uses his knowledge of statistics and his creativity from his career as a poker professional to create the most advanced Daily Fantasy statistical analysis that you will find anywhere. Follow him on twitter @DanielSingerS

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