Why Batting Order Matters in DFS Baseball
Here are some examples of questions we get quite frequently about our baseball projections and why certain players will come out of “nowhere” to be in top lineups:
“Craig Gentry?! Why is he showing up in top lineups? Are you guys insane?”
“Kevin Pillar?! Why is he showing up in top lineups? Are you guys insane?”
“Andrew Toles?! Why is he showing up in top lineups? Are you guys insane?”
“Steven Souza?! Why is he showing…”
We’ve long been on #teambattingorder when it comes to our projections for a very simple reason: the best way to accrue fantasy points in baseball is to get to the plate more often than other players. And the best way to get to the plate more often is to hit higher in the lineup. It seems so obvious, but it's a concept many new DFS players struggle to grasp (and implement) when making lineups.
Some quick stats from 2016 to get us going. Below is the average number of plate appearances a player saw depending on their slot in the batting order.
[table id=216 /]
Initial takeaway here are obvious: the leadoff hitters saw the most average plate appearances per game and the numbers decrease at a relatively orderly rate until you get to the 8th and 9th hitters where there’s a steep drop-off. This is most likely because teams hit their pitchers 9th (and sometimes 8th) and you see the most pinch-hitting opportunities for those slots. This is fine as in most instances (outside of your team-specific stacking strategy) we are ignoring these slots in the batting order. It’s mostly losers (relatively-speaking) down at the bottom.
So of course the leadoff hitter stands to see the most plate appearances. But how does that translate to FanDuel and DraftKings value when it comes to accruing points? If we take the same constraints and apply Average FanDuel and DraftKings points and Average FanDuel and DraftKings salaries to the mix, we start to get a sense of why the slot in the order provides so much stinking value. (All numbers are averages)
[table id=215 /]
Now things are clearing up a bit, no? The top spot in the order, over the course of 2016, provided the most bang for your buck. Why? Well isn’t the answer the most obvious? These are the players that got to the plate the most over the course of the season. My mind though initially went to the idea that teams were more often that not jockeying around their leadoff hitter, leading to more volatility in the player pricing. That wasn’t the case in the aggregate as the leadoff slot saw the second least amount of players.
[table id=217 /]
A team’s third hitter was the most likely to remain the same over the course of the season with the leadoff hitter right behind. This makes sense with many teams choosing to bat their best players third (and likely first) over the course of the season. FanDuel and DraftKings' pricing algorithms will tend to find "fair" prices for players who get consistent opportunity, so classic number three hitters tend to provide less value as the season goes along. You’ll notice teams were much more likely in the aggregate to shift around their lead-off and #2 hitters, meaning we'll get little known (and very cheap) players with an opportunity to produce on prices that are simply too cheap.
Notice the average FanDuel and DraftKings pricing for the number two hitters. Because teams were more inclined to shift this position, we often found cheaper players in the slot - the average price per player was the lowest among the top four slots in the lineup with the value rating the second best overall.
If anything, we were paying the highest premium for team’s third hitters. Because this position saw the least amount of player movement, combined with the nature of the third hitter usually being in the #stud category we saw the most raw points, but the least value among the top six hitters in the lineup. We were often left overpaying for these guys players.
So where does that leave us? We want to target hitters at the top of the lineup. We want to find opportunities where teams have decided to shake up their orders and bat new players in the first (though more likely) second slot in the lineup. This kind of opportunity will allow us to pay up for the third hitters in the lineup (think punt plays to squeeze in the big boppers) and allows for the best chance to see increased plate appearances relative to base salary.
We of course wrap all of this into our projection system and when teams announce their lineups you’ll be sure to see a shift in how our system views players. Which will inevitably lead to questions like, “Dansby Swanson?! Why is he all of a sudden showing up in top lineups? Are you guys insane?”
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