Plate Appearances - The More, The Better (5/5/08)

When deciding which hitters to add to your team via trade or free agency, one overlooked and underappreciated factor that should influence your decision is where the hitter bats in his team’s batting order.

Your first reaction might be that this is an insignificant factor, but let me assure you, over the course of the season it’s not. In theory it’s possible for a team to win a 9-inning game by sending just 25 men to the plate (e.g. - home team wins the game 1-0 with their only hit being a home run). However, for all intents and purposes let’s assume that a team must send at least 27 men to the plate during a 9-inning game, meaning that each position in the batting order will come up at least 3 times.

Further, let’s assume that the batting order position that makes a team’s final out for the game is totally random (i.e. - it can be any of the nine positions in the batting order with equal probability). Over the course of a 162-game season this assumption suggests that the first hitter will make the final out 18 times, the second hitter will make the final out 18 times, etc. So, the first spot in the order is expected to get 18 more plate appearances than the second spot in the order, which is expected to get 18 more plate appearances than the third spot in the order, etc. Within a team, this suggests that the first spot in the order will come up 144 times more than the ninth spot in the order over the course of a season!

Of course, not every player plays every inning of every game, but even so, hitters at the top of a team’s batting order can easily accumulate 100 more plate appearances during the season than those at the bottom of a team’s batting order. Even without considering possible differences in RBI and Runs Scored opportunities, it should be apparent that if Luis Castillo is on your fantasy team, you should be rooting for the Mets to bat him second rather than eighth.

You may be wondering how much plate appearances for a given batting order position vary from team to team. Here’s an example for a top-shelf offense, an average offense, and a poor offense.

Top Offense (Total of 6,444 plate appearances for the season)

  1. 788 plate appearances
  2. 770
  3. 752
  4. 734
  5. 716
  6. 698
  7. 680
  8. 662
  9. 644

Average Offense (Total of 6,192 plate appearances for the season)

  1. 760 plate appearances
  2. 742
  3. 724
  4. 706
  5. 688
  6. 670
  7. 652
  8. 634
  9. 616

Poor Offense (6,012 plate appearances for the season)

  1. 740 plate appearances
  2. 722
  3. 704
  4. 686
  5. 668
  6. 650
  7. 632
  8. 614
  9. 596

You can see from this example that for a given batting order position, hitters on a top offensive team will make roughly 50 more plate appearances over the course of a season than hitters on a poor offensive team. This is barely a third of the difference between the number of plate appearances for first hitter and the ninth hitter in the batting order for a given team.

So, the next time you’re trying to decide between two (or more) hitters for a spot on your roster, pay less attention to which team they play for, and pay more attention to where they hit in their team’s batting order.

Until next time,

The Sherpa

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