Plate appearances are more critical than ever in a 60 game season. A leadoff hitter will accumulate more at-bats and therefore provide more counting stats. It seems pretty simple, and like something that does not need to be discussed. But the matter of fact is that during a 60 game season, Fantasy Baseball will be a sprint, instead of a marathon. That means that a hitting category could come down to one hit or one run, meaning every at-bat will matter.
Players hitting at the top of a lineup are sure to accumulate more counting stats. Just take a player like Whit Merrifield, for instance. A significant reason he is as relevant as he is is due to his plate appearances. Over the last two seasons, Merrifield has compiled 1442 plate appearances, good for second-most in baseball. On a per-plate-appearance basis, Merrifield’s stats are not as impressive. But due to the fact he has stayed healthy and hits leadoff every day, he complies stats. This is what I want to focus on for this article. In a shortened season, a player’s spot in the lineup is more crucial than ever.
Let’s take two players who I love for 2020. Both players are pretty polarizing among the Fantasy community, and both are potential five-category hitters. The first is Trea Turner, and the second is Byron Buxton. These players are quite different in many ways, but both offer high-end upside.
Trea Turner, SS, Washington Nationals
NFBC ADP: 10.41
Trea Turner is being selected at an ADP of 10.41. I would argue this is a little low given what we know about the season. Turner is a steady player who consistently performs across the board. He hits at the top of a good Nationals lineup despite the loss of Anthony Rendon. He has a great chance to be a five-category contributor.
Last season, Turner started 122 games, with 117 of those being in the leadoff spot. His other five starts were in the second spot in the lineup. Turner complied 569 plate appearances during those 122 games giving him an average of 4.66 plate appearances per game. If Turner returns a similar amount of plate appearances over a 60 game season, he would have approximately 280 plate appearances.
If Turner played 162 games last season, with similar plate appearances per game, he would have had around 750 plate appearances. This would have been ten more than he had in 2018 when he played 162 games. If you extrapolate his numbers to 750 plate appearances, Turner would have hit 25 home runs and stolen 46 bases. Obviously, this is assuming health and his production staying consistent.
Based on my projections, with Turner hitting leadoff in a 60 game season:
280 PA/ 9 HR/ 47 R/ 28 RBI/ 17 SB/ .292 AVG
Based on the projections, Turner is producing numbers like a top-five fantasy asset. Hitting at the top of the lineup is a significant factor for Turner contributing to the kind of numbers he does. What if Turner hit ninth? How might his projections differ? Let’s take a look below.
What if Trea Turner were to hit at the bottom of the lineup? How would that affect his stats and his Fantasy value? When pulling data, hitters in the ninth spot of the lineup averaged out at 3.4 plate appearances per game in 2019.
If Turner were to play all 60 games in 2020 while hitting ninth, he would only accumulate 204 plate appearances. When adjusting the projections, it gives Turner a stat line of:
204 PA/ 6 HR/ 27 R/ 26 RBI/ 11 SB/ .292 AVG
This is a significant difference in production and not a player who you would take in the first round. This should show the importance of drafting players who hit at the top of their lineup. To show the discrepancy, let’s take a look into a player who is projected to hit at the bottom of their team’s lineup.
Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins
NFBC ADP: 158.61
Byron Buxton is a polarizing player in the Fantasy community. He has burned players so many times leaving many players with a sour taste in their mouth. Buxton is a player that I hate to love for Fantasy Baseball. The ceiling is as high as any player in baseball, but unfortunately, Buxton has trouble staying on the field.
Buxton is projected to hit ninth in the Twins lineup. This is the same spot in the lineup that Buxton spent for most of 2019. Of his 87 games played, only seven of those were not in the nine-hole. All seven of those were in the eight spot. For the season, Buxton averaged 3.39 plate appearances per game. If Buxton hits ninth in 2020 like he is projected, he will have less of a chance to make an impact. If he plays all 60 games with the same PA/G, he will end up with 203 plate appearances, over 75 less than Turner.
If you have read my work or followed me on Twitter, you know I am a massive fan of Buxton and the upside that he offers. A shortened season like 2020 could be the type of year where Buxton has an MVP caliber season. If that is the case, the Twins should move him up in the lineup. The issue is that lineup is stacked, and it does not seem likely that Buxton will move to the top.
Buxton made significant strides at the plate in 2019, leading many to believe that if healthy, 2020 could be a breakout season at the plate. The struggle is, will he see the at-bats, and where can you draft him? At his current ADP, Buxton could provide value. But in recent mocks, he has gone as high as 100, leaving little positive return to be had.
At his current projected spot in the lineup, my projections have Buxton accruing 203 plate appearances in 60 games and a stat line of:
203 PA/ 7 HR/ 33 R/ 32 RBI/ 10 SB/ .264 BA
Outside of batting average, Buxton is the more productive fantasy player. But, you would not even think about drafting Turner and Buxton in the same range. Why? Because we know this is hypothetical and Buxton will likely see significantly fewer plate appearances than Turner. But, how does Buxton’s production look at the top of the Twins lineup?
So what if Buxton hit leadoff? How would his projections look?
For 60 games?
274 PA/ 9 HR/ 49 R/ 39 RBI/ 13 SB/ .264 BA
This makes Buxton an extremely valuable player for fantasy. Obviously, the batting average would still hinder him and keep him from being a first-round fantasy asset. But I could see a Byron Buxton who proved to be healthy and hitting at the top the line up as a top 50 pick. Regardless, I hope this exercise has helped you see why a player’s spot in the batting order really matters for fantasy purposes.
What Does This Mean?
This article is about much more than Trea Turner and Byron Buxton. The purpose of this article is to show the importance of lineup position. In a shortened season, lineup position matters more than ever. Every at-bat will be significant, and the more chances a player has to hit a home run or steal a base could be the difference in you winning your league or finishing second.
At The Top
A hitter like Turner or Whit Merrifield, who hits leadoff, will see more plate appearances and the chance to produce more counting stats. The one negative of hitting leadoff is the lack of RBI opportunity. Turner’s career-high in RBI was 73 in 2018 when he played all 162 games. A positive of hitting leadoff is more stolen base opportunities(team and player dependent), and more runs scored. These are both variables depending on the type of player and the lineup that hits behind that player. But hitting leadoff does provide a better opportunity for stolen bases and runs.
Middle of the Order
Players who hit in the middle of the lineup stand a good chance to contribute across the board. Depending on the lineup and who hits behind them, they can have a good opportunity to provide a boost in both runs scored and runs batted in. Usually, players who hit in the middle of the lineup are also your power hitters. So you can expect a decent amount of home runs from most middle of the order hitters. While hitting leadoff guarantees the most plate appearances, a three or four-hitter in the lineup will likely see a good number of plate appearances.
While I did not go into detail on a player that hits in the middle of the lineup in the article, I did want to show that those players will still provide good value. They will still see a large number of plate appearances. It is when you get to the bottom of the order where the number of plate appearances become a concern for a shortened fantasy season.
Bottom of the Order
As you can see from the points made about Buxton, getting to the bottom of the order is where players are hurt by the number of plate appearances they get. Just compare Turner, who had 4.66 plate appearances per game to Buxton, who had 3.39 per game in 2019. Throughout the season, those numbers really begin to two players, as you can see. If Buxton and Turner both hit in the same lineup spot on the same team, Turner would likely only standout from Buxton in batting average. This goes to show that drafting players who hit in the bottom of the lineup for a shortened 60 game fantasy season is not the best strategy.
This article may seem pretty simple, and it is. The importance of a player’s position in the batting order will be crucial for success in the 2020 Fantasy Baseball season. One hit or one stolen base could be the difference in you winning or finishing second in your league. Player’s like Trea Turner, who hit at the top of the lineup, will see more plate appearances, meaning a better chance to accumulate more counting stats.
This article is not intended to deter you from drafting Byron Buxton. He can provide good value at his current ADP. Drafters should just be aware that he may not receive enough plate appearances to be a breakout player for fantasy baseball in 2020.