This article is part of our Umpire Analysis series.
For most, selecting hitters on FanDuel means pinpointing the best matchup at a certain position for a reasonable price. However, sabermetric research in the area of lineup construction may give us some insight into additional steps we can take in order to construct the best lineup possible. By taking the player's position in his actual lineup into consideration, we can optimize our hitters by selecting those who, by virtue of their place in the order, will likely be given the most chances to produce multi-point outings.
It's common knowledge that a hitter's spot in the starting nine can directly affect how many plate appearances he sees in a given contest. A study of data for the period between 1999 and 2002 discovered that a given spot in the order was at the dish 2.5 percent more often than the spot directly following it. The effect of this is most clearly observed when we notice that the leadoff man averaged nearly one plate appearance more per game (4.83) than the ninth hitter (3.90) in American League parks. The figures were similar for National League venues during this same period.
It stands to reason that the more times a player is at the plate during a game, the more opportunities he has to produce points, but its not quite as simple as selecting as many leadoff men as possible. The reason for this is a fair amount of totals in DFS play come from RBI and runs scored. As you might imagine, a look at that same data found that players in the leadoff spot came up to bat with runners on base just 36 percent of the time – the lowest percentage of any position in the order. The highest instances of batters appearing with runners on came in the 3, 4, and 5 spots, as they saw traffic on the basepaths 48, 51, and 48 percent of the time, respectively.
So what does all this mean? In order to create strong lineups, we can look toward the batters who have a high number of plate appearances in conjunction with those who have the most runners on base during those appearances in order to maximize opportunities for high point totals.
In one sense, this strategy is similar to stacking players on a single team, as we are attempting to give ourselves the most opportunities with men on base in both instances. Of course, the players we'd be selecting while employing this strategy would not all be facing the same pitcher, but there can be advantages to the method as well, as selecting players from a variety of teams means that your shot at winning a contest can not be ruined if a particular offense goes in the tank for on a given evening.
The next step is putting this strategy into practice. We can do this by finding as many hitters at the heart of an order who have favorable matchups as possible. A few selections for Tuesday include: Seth Smith, who appears primed to bat third when the Padres face A.J. Burnett; Howie Kendrick, who will likely hit in the four-hole against the Mariners and lefty Roenis Elias; Brandon Moss, who generally occupies the fifth spot for the A's against Nick Tepesch.
While this way of lineup building may not be as alluring as a natural stack, it can be a very efficient way to ensure your team will have the chance to rack up points without having to select a lesser hitter for the purposes of lining up behind one specific pitcher. Understanding where players are given the most opportunities in the lineup allows us to cut around the fat in order to build winning lineups.