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DFS Baseball Strategy: Favorable Spots In The Batting Order

A team’s batting order can matter a lot for daily fantasy. Runs and RBIs account for a significant amount of a players total fantasy points, especially on FanDuel. Often a player can be off my radar completely but become a top play when he finds himself at the top or the heart of the order. In this article I’ll talk about factors you should be considering when looking at favorability of a players position in the batting order.

Heart Of The Order

Some spots in the order have higher Runs and RBI expectations than other spots for players of the same skill. The best research I could find on the subject was written over at Razzball in 2009. Author Rudy Gamble attempted to find how many more Runs and RBIs you could expect from a player based on spot in the batting order, independent of skill. The research methodology is solid, and despite being based on 2008 data it still should be applicable today. The gist of his Run and RBI index tables is that the 4th spot is by far the best in the batting order in the NL, while the 3rd and 4th spot dominate in the AL. For speedy players who don’t hit for power, the leadoff spot may be more advantageous.

High OBP and Speed Ahead, SLG Behind

Using Gamble’s RBI and Run indexes is a good approach to assessing the impact of spot in the batting order to hitters RBI and Runs projections. The only issue is some teams have different types and skill of players in different spots in the order, which can make some spots much more favorable than others.

An ideal spot in the batting order involves having speedy, high OBP players ahead of a given player. Having players on base, preferably who can score from 1st or 2nd base on a double or single, gives a hitter more RBI opportunities. Behind a given player in the batting order, you want players who hit for power, with high slugging percentage or ISO. This is so when that player gets on base he becomes more likely to score runs. The players one spot in front and one spot behind matter the most, but there should be an impact from players 2 and 3 spots away as well.

Quality Opposite Handed Hitting In Front And Behind

It’s easy to think of the starting pitcher as the only pitcher a hitter will face in any given game. However, a fair percentage of a players expected plate appearances in a game will be against the bullpen. Having quality hitters in front and behind a given player in the batting order will increase the likelihood of favorable handedness matchups.

To see this effect, let’s look at the percent of left handed pitchers players with a lot of plate appearances have faced this season (I used the “qualified” filter on Fangraphs). First, players who have seen the least left handed pitching.

 

NamePAvLPAvR    vLPerc
Matt Kemp60252    0.192307692
Yoenis Cespedes59239    0.197986577
Jose Abreu58231    0.200692042
Miguel Cabrera62245    0.201954397
Giancarlo Stanton64250    0.203821656
Buster Posey60230    0.206896552
Nolan Arenado60228    0.208333333
Mike Trout65246    0.209003215
J.D. Martinez62233    0.210169492

 

There’s a pretty strong theme here. Extremely good, right handed hitters are seeing the least left handed pitching. This makes a lot of sense. An opposing manager is going to be wary of giving the best hitters in the game a favorable handedness matchup. You may have also noticed there are 3 Tigers players in the top 10, Yoenis Cespedes, Miguel Cabrera, and J.D. Martinez. This is where we find batting order having an impact. The Tigers lineup consists almost entirely of right handed hitters.

Let’s look at the typical two through six in the batting order for the Tigers.

Ian Kinsler

Miguel Cabrera

Victor Martinez

Yoenis Cespedes

J.D. Martinez

All of these hitters are hit significantly better against lefties. So why would a manager ever throw in a lefty out of the bullpen to pitch versus this group of hitters? He wouldn’t. That’s why the Tigers hitters are seeing so many righties out of the bullpen. The top player on this list, Matt Kemp, faces a similar problem. He normally has Derek Norris and Justin Upton around him in the batting order, both strong right handed hitters, which means he also only sees righties out of the bullpen.

Let’s look at the players seeing the most lefties.

NamePAvLPAvR    vLPerc
Jason Kipnis133194    0.406727829
Kendrys Morales110168    0.395683453
Brandon Moss106164    0.392592593
Eric Hosmer113178    0.388316151
Chris Carter112178    0.386206897
Prince Fielder120192    0.384615385
Evan Gattis108174    0.382978723
Carlos Santana108177    0.378947368
Mike Moustakas103176    0.369175627
George Springer109190    0.364548495

 

We see a bit of a weird trend here. There are several right handed hitting Astros on the list, which is probably a result of the Astros facing a bizarre amount of starting left handed pitching so far this season. The rest of the list has the same themes as the previous table. The best left handed hitter in baseball this season, Jason Kipnis, sees the most lefties. But his teammates Brandon Moss and Carlos Santana are up there as well. This is because the Indians’ strongest hitters are lefties, so the opposing managers use their best lefty arms in the bullpen a lot against them. A benefactor of this is Carlos Santana, a switch hitter who actually hits better as a righty than as a lefty. The Royals are the same way. Their best hitters are all lefties, so their best lefty hitters Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas see a ton of lefty pitchers out of the bullpen

The left handed hitter who has seen the least left handed pitching in 2015 is Anthony Rizzo, who has only 21.2% of his plate appearances against lefties, comparable to a lot of the the strong righties on the Tigers. How has such a great left handed hitter seen so little left handed pitching? Spot in the batting order. Rizzo is normally right next to Kris Bryant, one of the best right handed hitters in the game, as well as Dexter Fowler, a switch hitter who is much better against left handed pitching and one of the best hitters on the team. Nelson Cruz had too few at bats to qualify for my list, but his spot in the Mariners order sandwiched between Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, two strong lefty hitters, makes him see much more lefty pitching than he would in a lineup like the Padres or Tigers.

Summary

  • The best spots in the batting order for RBIs and Runs in general are the 3rd and 4th spots. Leadoff can be better for high OBP, low power guys.
  • The best players ahead of a given player in the batting order are high OBP, high speed players. Ideally, you want players who hit for power behind.
  • Strong, opposite handed hitting around a player in the batting order should increase the amount of favorable handedness matchups he sees out of the bullpen.

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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