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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Average MLB plate appearances by position

Apologies for the extended absence. A new work assignment and a work side project intervened and pretty much ate all of my time this last week.

Spring training rapidly approaches at MLB, and it's time to start taking a close look at 2010's talent and figure out how key players are going to contribute.

One key to evaluating how players will perform is to gauge where in the lineup they hit. Most will argue that it doesn't matter where in a lineup a player hits, and over an individual game that may be the case. But over a season, batting a better player higher in the order will give that player more opportunities to contribute offensively to your team. Average plate appearances for each batting spot by league in 2009:

NL:

1st - 763
2nd - 746
3rd - 728
4th - 711
5th - 696
6th - 681
7th - 662
8th - 643
9th - 622

AL:

1st - 762
2nd - 743
3rd - 725
4th - 709
5th - 693
6th - 675
7th - 657
8th - 638
9th - 618

There is a reason Ichiro insists on batting 1st in the Seattle Mariners lineup, instead of 2nd or 3rd. Batting 2nd costs him about 20 PAs a year, 20 opportunities to get hits, over batting leadoff. Batting 3rd costs him about 40 PAs. Since he puts the ball in play so frequently and hits for an average in the .300-.350 range, that's a difference of as many as 10-15 hits, a big deal for him given he takes great pride in his growing hit total.

Though many sabermetric analysts will claim there's no huge difference in where you bat a good hitter, there is indeed a tangible benefit to batting your best hitter leadoff.

But back to the point: For fantasy analysts as well as sabermetric analysts, gauging a player's potential output also hinges on where in the lineup he'll hit, not necessarily for guesstimating RBI totals, but to gauge how many PAs and ABs he'll get in a season. A player batting leadoff will see 150 more PAs over a full season than a #9 hitter, and 60-65 more than a #5 hitter. For a hitter with, say, a .350 OBP and .450 SLG, every spot up or down the lineup can make a difference of about 3 offensive runs over the course of a full season.

In a head to head fantasy league, it may not make a difference except in very close matchups or in siphoning a small degree of scoring potential from each and every matchup. But in a Roto league this difference is huge, as the runs/hits/etc you could get from an extra 60-150 PAs in a player could be a huge difference maker. And for baseball clubs itself, it can make a big deal both ways: A good hitter shuffled down the lineup can cost you as many runs as batting a poor, overrated hitter higher in the lineup. Lineup position matters.

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