Why Batting Order Matters When Drafting

Where a player hits in the batting order is very important. It could be a big difference in stats by the end of the year and cost you a championship. Here’s why it matters.

It seems like a simple concept. The higher up in the batting order you are, the more times you approach the plate and the higher the chance you get to be productive. However, there are a lot of other factors that go into it. The No. 8 hitter on a really good team could be more productive that the leadoff hitter on a bad team. These are all things you need to consider when drafting your team. 

Dee Gordon was the No. 1 hitter on the Player Rater. He recorded 205 hits in 651 plate appearances as the Miami Marlins leadoff hitter. While the Marlins weren’t the best offense in the league, 29th in runs scored, Gordon was a star. His teammate, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria hit eighth in 87 games. He had 94 hits in 332 plate appearances. In the same lineup, Gordon had 319 more plate appearances, which resulted in 111 more hits.

Let’s take a look at the highest- and lowest-scoring teams last season. The Toronto Blue Jays led the league in runs scored, RBI and on-base percentage. The Atlanta Braves finished last in runs and RBI and finished 18th in OBP. I had to change it up a bit because of the fluidity in Toronto’s leadoff spot, so I went with the No. 2 hitter, Josh Donaldson. I know the numbers are already going to be skewed because of the type of hitter Donaldson is. The batter that hit in the No. 2 spot the most for the Braves was Cameron Maybin.

In 620 plate appearances, Donaldson finished with 108 runs, 38 home runs, 113 RBI and a .304/.382/.588 line as the No. 2 hitter. Maybin had 41 runs, six home runs, 33 RBI and a .270/.328/.381 line in 348 PAs. Like I said, the differential is great because of the talent, so let’s go a little further. 

Kevin Pillar had 519 plate appearances as either the No. 7 and 8 hitter. In that span, he had 64 runs, 11 home runs, 48 RBI and .285. Andrelton Simmons had 363 in the same spots in the lineup. He finished with 30 runs, one home run, 28 RBI and a .286 average. Again, take skill into consideration, but Pillar was more fantasy-relevant player because of the team he was on.

While it may not always be possible, fantasy owners should target hitters batting in the first five spots of the lineup. Tanner Bell of SmartFantasyBaseball.com, complied 10-years worth of data and wrote a lengthy piece talking about team scoring and lineup positioning when projecting plate appearances. You can find that here.

What he found out is that for every spot you move up in the batting order , you gain about 16 plate appearances per year. So, a typical leadoff hitter gets around 144 more plate appearances than the No. 9 hitter. It also increases based on the team’s run output. A team that is projected to score 850 runs sees an increase of 40 plate appearances at each spot compared to a team only projected to score 650.

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Again, superstar hitters are going to put up numbers regardless of where they hit. It’s the middle-of-the-road players that this mostly applies to. If you’re deciding between two closely ranked players, go with the one that gets more plate appearances. There is a good reason he’s hitting higher in the lineup.

Most of this also depends on how many games a certain hitter will play. An oft-injured player will not have as much value as a healthy one, despite where they hit in the batting order.