Jonathan Bales is the author of Fantasy Baseball for Smart People—a guide designed to help you profit on DraftKings.
Daily fantasy baseball is a game of processing information. There are a multitude of factors that go into projecting players and creating a lineup. Some of those are static, but others, such as weather and the Vegas lines, are not. By paying attention to the changing variables and quickly reacting to new information, you can find value on players whose prices are static.
When DraftKings decides to price Jon Lester and $9,300, they do so by considering things like his skill set, the opponent, the ballpark, and so on. Those factors are important, but think about how much the weather—something for which DraftKings really can’t account at the time of pricing—could affect Lester’s value. Or how about a change in the Vegas lines? If the Red Sox all of a sudden move from (-150) to (-200) to win, that’s highly relevant information that should affect how we value Lester.
One of the most important flexible inputs—and a major factor in determining player value—is the batting order. Some players hit in the same spot each day, but many do not. When a player who normally hits at the back of the order is thrust up into the No. 2 spot, that’s a really big deal.
How Much Batting Order Matters
In my book, I examined the importance of batting order by looking at how lineups have historically performed based on how they structured their bats. Below, you can see every lineup in 50/50 and GPPs from last season sorted into buckets based on the player who was the lowest in his team’s actual lineup.
The first bucket consists of lineups that rostered players who hit no lower than fourth in the batting order, for example. The final bucket consists solely of those lineups that rostered someone who hit last.
You can see there’s a very linear relationship between batting order and 50/50 success; the later your players hit, the lower your chances of cashing. That shouldn’t be too surprising. Cash game success is about improving the floor of your team—increasing safety—and maximizing plate appearances is a big part of that. You want batters who are going to have as many opportunities to score points as possible.
Also consider that, because you don’t need an elite score to win a 50/50, power isn’t as important as it is in GPPs. Home runs are always nice, but you don’t necessarily need to emphasize upside at all costs. That means the downside of rostering batters early in the order—that they sometimes don’t have a ton of power—is mitigated.
Meanwhile, the effect in tournaments isn’t nearly as great. The worst bucket is actually that with lineups that rostered solely early-in-the-order batters who hit fourth or higher. That’s probably due to a lack of upside; many leadoff and No. 2 hitters don’t hit home runs with regularity. That can sometimes be alleviated with base-stealing ability, but if a guy can’t go deep or steal bags, he’s probably not GPP-worthy.
The success of tournament lineups that used players late in the order was slightly reduced compared to the other buckets, but the effect was small. While using players in the heart of the order is of course ideal for GPPs, it doesn’t seem like dropping to include No. 6 or No. 7 hitters, assuming they have power, is that detrimental in tournaments.
4 Rules of Using the Batting Order
Using this data, I’ve created four rules for using lineup cards and the batting order in your daily fantasy baseball research:
1 Emphasize the batting order immensely in cash games.
There’s simply no substitute for players who rack up plate appearances when you’re trying to increase the floor of your lineup. You should emphasize pure value in cash games, which is very much tied to a player’s spot in the order.
2 Emphasize a combination of batting order and upside in GPPs.
All else equal, you should still try to get players who hit early in the order into your GPP lineups in most instances. But you can also drop down and consider a wider range of players, assuming they can hit for power or steal bases. The numbers on late-in-the-order players are also of course a reflection of the merits of stacking an offense.
3 Always look for “new” players at the top of the order.
When a player moves up in the order, that’s a huge boost to his anticipated production. Because that won’t be priced into his DraftKings salary, it’s vital to check lineup cards not only for scratches, but also for unusual faces at the top of the order.
4 Consider stacking the back of the order of a high-upside offense.
Finally, one of the times when I’ll use batters at the back of the order is if I want exposure to a high-upside offense without running into high ownership. When the Rockies are at home, for example, most of their offense (and that of their opponent) is generally going to be really highly owned.
The exceptions are the batters at the back of the order. They often see very low usage, even in high-upside situations, because, well, they aren’t that good. In terms of pure points, we obviously want Tulo, Arenado & Co. But when you consider how popular those stacks can be, sometimes it doesn’t make sense to use those guys, even if they’re in the best matchup.
Think about it: how many times have you stacked an offense that scored a lot of runs, yet you didn’t kill it on the fantasy scoreboard because it was the back of their order that went off? The top of the order is most likely to score big points, which is why it makes sense to roster those guys 99 percent of the time, but in certain instances—namely when you envision very high ownership in tournaments—it can make sense to consider a few bats hitting late in the order.