We all realize that a player’s lineup position will have an impact on his statistics. I’ve recently been pondering the fantasy impact of scenarios such as:

  1. What is the impact of Russ Martin and Matt Kemp’s fantasy value if they hit 2nd vs. in the 5th through 7th spots?
  2. If Kelly Johnson moves from 1st to 6th, will his fantasy value be impacted?
  3. How much does it hurt a Cameron Maybin or Alex Gonzalez to hit 8th in an NL lineup?

I’ve come across analysis on optimizing a lineup – such as in Tom Tango’s Inside The Book – but I haven’t come across direct guidance on how this impacts fantasy value.  So I thought I’d take a shot at it.

If I were to predict the impact of lineup position on a player’s 5×5 stats, this would be my best guesses in descending order of perceived impact:

  1. Runs – Hitting in the top 4 would have an advantage vs. hitting 5th-8th (with NL players hurt by pitchers’ reduced ability to drive in runs)
  2. RBI – Hitting in the middle of the lineup would have an advantage vs. hitting at the top or bottom of the lineup (with top of the lineup worse off in NL because of pitcher)
  3. SB – Hitting first or at bottom of lineup would have an advantage because managers are less likely to run players with middle of lineup hitters at the plate (exception hitting 8th in NL because pitchers will bunt them over)
  4. AVG – Maybe hitting at the top of the lineup gives you better protection so you’ll see better pitches?  (disadvantage hitting 8th in NL as you have no protection)
  5. HR – While it’s possible that top of lineup hitters are less likely to swing for HRs than middle of the lineup, I’m not convinced there is any real difference here except that top of lineup hitters get more plate appearances.

The big reason why I think Runs and RBIs are the most affected by lineup position is that they are largely out of the hitter’s control.  You can hit Pujols 8th in an NL lineup and he’ll hit over .300 and hit 30 HRs.  But there is little doubt that he’ll come up with less batters on base and be stranded more on base.  Because this is so lineup dependent vs. skill dependent,  Runs and RBIs prove to be the easiest ones to measure lineup impact because we can analyze aggregated totals for each position (vs. adjust for player skill levels).

Here is how I measured the Runs/RBI impact:

  1. Gathered the hitting statistics by lineup spot for each of the 30 teams for 2008 (courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com)
  2. Created a Plate Appearance index that accounts for the differences by lineup position. This is based directly on the aggregated results from B-R and, obviously, #1 hitters get the most plate appearances over the season, #2 hitters get the second most, etc.
  3. Created a Runs index as follows:  (R-HR)/((1B+BB+HBP+ROE)+(2B*1.7)+(3B*2.4)).  This formula divides Runs by Total Times on Base, removing HRs as this nets the same result for any lineup position.  ROE = Reached on Error.  I weighted doubles and triples up based on some information gathered on Baseball Analysts regarding run probability when on 1st base, 2nd base, or 3rd base.  The impact of weighting doubles and triples vs just counting all hits as equal was negligible.  I was not able to factor fielder’s choices into the denominator.
  4. Created a RBI index as follows:   (RBI-HR)/(H-HR).  I wasn’t sure how to value the RBI potential of doubles and triples over singles so I didn’t account for it.  RBIs potentially gained by sacrifice flies or ground outs weren’t accounted for in the denominator.
  5. Created a R/RBI index that averages the two indexes.

Below are the results for AL and NL.  The indexes are skill-independent.  So if an AL hitter moves from the leadoff spot to the 9th spot and hits exactly the same, they will have 22% less plate appearances (110/90 – 1), 41% less runs (127/90 – 1) and 14% more RBIs (1- 78/90).  Also, realize that this is based on opportunities to score or drive in runs.  Just because the NL 9th hitter has a higher index than 8th hitter does not mean they will score more runs in total.  It means that a NL 9th hitter who gets on base is more likely to score a run than an 8th hitter.

American League (2008)

Lineup Position PA Index Runs Index RBI Index R/RBI Index
1 110 127 78 104
2 108 121 92 108
3 105 103 123 115
4 103 98 126 114
5 100 95 114 106
6 98 89 98 95
7 95 93 96 96
8 92 85 95 91
9 90 90 90 87

National League (2008)

Lineup Position PA Index Runs Index RBI Index R/RBI Index
1 110 125 75 100
2 108 120 82 102
3 105 103 107 105
4 103 98 133 115
5 100 87 119 102
6 98 81 100 90
7 95 79 93 86
8 93 77 86 82
9 90 84 82 84

For Runs, the indexes mostly confirmed expectations.  I found it a bit surprising that AL 6th hitters are at a slight run disadvantage vs. AL 7th hitters but it’s understandable as 7th hitters benefit more from being driven in by top of the lineup hitters.  I’m also surprised how big of a run advantage leadoff hitters have vs. 3rd/4th hitters as their actual run totals tend to equal out.  I guess the biggest driver here is the larger OBP that 3rd/4th hitters generally have vs leadoff hitters (oh for the days of Rickey and Boggs’s .400+ OBP).  A last point is that the Runs Index for AL/NL are near identical for the first 4 lineup spots but then the NL slides more precipitously for 5th-8th hitters.  This may be a sign of both the NL’s lack of a DH (which reduces lineup depth) and the weak 8th/9th hitters in the NL.

For RBIs,  the AL RBI index distribution is as expected.  The 3rd/4th/5th slots have the biggest advantages with 3rd/4th being similarly advantaged over the 5th slot.  The NL indexes, however, show a much bigger RBI advantage for 4th hitters and (to a lesser expent) 5th hitters vs. 3rd hitters.  NL 2nd hitters also see a big drop in RBI advantage vs. their AL counterparts.  The explanation for both is likely reduced RBI opportunities because of low NL 8th and (especially) 9th hitter OBPs.

The Runs/RBI indexes indicate that any move from the top 5 lineup spots will lead to a measurable decline in total Runs/RBIs – at least partially driven by the increased plate appearances.

So to answer the earlier examples:

  1. The R/RBI impact for Kemp and Martin if they hit #2 vs #5 is basically nothing – you’re just trading off Runs when hitting 2nd to RBIs when hitting 5th.  But moving down to 6th or 7th does have a 13-20% impact on R/RBI.
  2. If Kelly Johnson is moved to the 6th slot, he’d see an estimated 33% increase in RBIs (100/75 – 1) but an estimated 35% drop in Runs.  It nets out to a net loss in combined Runs/RBI but it might not be a bad tradeoff if you’re team is weaker in RBIs than Runs.
  3. Hitting 8th in an NL lineup is the death knell for Runs but is actually better for RBIs than either hitting 1st or 2nd.

Hope this analysis comes in handy when re-assessing players’ values based on their lineup slot.  Next step for me is trying to figure out how I can neutralize the skill-dependency to measure SBs and AVG impact of lineup position.