Does A Shift In The Lineup Affect This Player?
I want to play a game. Don’t worry, I am not Jigsaw. This is a classic fantasy sports game. We have two mystery players, both of whom have a good track record and reputation. Where would you draft each player?
Player A: .276 AVG, 36 HR, 97 R, 98 RBI, 12 SB
Player B: .276 AVG, 34 HR, 84 R, 82 RBI, 11 SB
From what I gather from average draft position (ADP), in a 12-team league, Player A would be drafted early in the second round while Player B would go sometime in the fourth (about twenty-four picks between the two players).
Normally an exercise like this is meant to convince the reader there is either too large or too small of a gap in ADP between Player A and B. That is not the purpose of today’s exercise (you’ll have to keep reading, preferably until the end, to discover today’s purpose). In fact, based on ATC projections, I value the drop off from Player A to Player B to be about twenty-three players. As such, I find the gap in ADP between the two players reasonable.
Our two candidates are quite similar, essentially the same player except for runs and RBI. I should reveal, they look like the same player because they are. There is only one difference between the two– Player A hits fourth in the lineup and Player B hits sixth.
This is an aside to explain how, starting with Player A’s stat-line, I derived Player B’s. Feel free to skip this section if the underlying methodology does not interest you. I will reveal the purpose of the comparison in the next/final section.
For those of you who did not skip this section, I appreciate you sticking around to make sure my process and method are sound. The following process is not perfect, and quite a few assumptions are made. However, I think you will find my method convincing enough to yield reliable estimates.
For batting average, I made no adjustment. Both players hit .274. Batting average is a rate statistic, telling us the number of hits a player gets per at-bat. As a rate statistic, it should not be expected to change as the number of at-bats shifts up or down. In the case of a change in batting order position, this is not necessarily true. Both pitchers and hitters use different approaches for/in different spots in the order, ultimately having some effect on batting average. The problem is it is hard to quantify how a player will change their approach and how that new approach will affect a player’s performance. Therefore, I think keeping the Batting Average at .274 is the safest and best choice for the purposes of today.
I took a similar approach for home runs, keeping the rate at which Player B hits a home run the same as Player A. I only adjusted for plate appearance. Player A has 623 plate appearances. With 36 home runs, Player A hits .058 home runs every plate appearance. From 2015-2019, the average cleanup hitter had 4.78% more plate appearances than the average hitter in the sixth spot. A 4.78% decrease in the number of plate appearances would give Player B 593 plate appearances, and, at a rate of .058, Player B would hit 34 home runs.
I calculated stolen bases the same way (.019 SB/PA) to arrive at 11 stolen bases for Player B. In reality, stolen bases are determined by how often a player gets on base, who is in front of him on the base path, and his team’s base running strategy (Player A and Player B are the same player, thus on the same team, so this does not matter in this instance). Of those factors we can quantify how often a player gets on base, and since we are holding all rate statistics constant, that ultimately boils down to plate appearances. Thus, we use the same method as home runs, and we get 11 stolen bases. It is hard to account for how the number of people on the basepath might change by batting order position, but my intuition says whatever the effect, the 11 stolen bases is a reasonable estimate.
RBI and runs are slightly more complicated than home runs and stolen bases. Player A has 98 RBI. In order to determine Player B’s RBI, I gathered home runs and RBI totals for each batting order position from 2015-2019. Yes, you read that right, I needed home runs because I wanted to subtract home runs from RBI. We already estimated that Player B will hit 34 home runs, so we know at a minimum they will have 34 RBI from batting themselves in. I want to see the difference in RBI between the fourth and sixth spot in the order while accounting for the fact each home run yields at minimum one RBI. Doing so reveals a 23.12% decline in RBI (minus home runs) from the fourth batter to the sixth. Player A has 62 RBI minus home runs (98 RBI – 36 HR), which leads us to estimate 82 actual RBI (62 * (1 – 0.2312) + 34 HR) for Player B.
The process to derive runs is nearly identical to RBI, with one extra assumption. I was unable to gather the total number of runs for each spot in the order as I had for home runs and RBI. This is because you cannot attribute runs to a spot in the order if there is a pinch-runner. At least that is my assumption for why baseball-reference does not have stolen bases or runs by batting order position (BOP). I had to estimate runs. There are many ways to do this, and the way I chose is admittedly not the best I could have done. However, I was going for a rough estimate, and when I tried different methods, they all produced a very similar number. The extra time needed to improve the method seemed fruitless.
To calculate runs (while again subtracting home runs) for each BOP, I used the following formula: (1/3)*([RBI – HR] next BOP) + (1/3)*([RBI – HR] next next BOP) + (1/3)*([RBI – HR] next next next BOP). From the fourth spot in the order to the sixth spot in the order, there is a 17.22% decline in runs (minus home runs). Player A has 61 runs without HR (97 R – 36 HR), which leads us to estimate 84 actual runs (61 * (1 – 0.1722) + 34 HR) for Player B.
I’ll cut right to the chase. I have spent enough time dancing around the identity of our mystery player. The identity of both Player A and Player B is Cody Bellinger. Player A is Bellinger’s ATC projection for the 2021 season. Player B then, is Bellinger’s ATC projection estimated from the sixth place in the batting order.
The question still remains – why even go through this exercise? In case you forgot, Bellinger hit sixth in ALL seventeen playoff games last year. He first hit sixth on September 10th in a regular-season game against lefty Madison Bumgarner. The next game he hit sixth and once again against a lefty – Framber Valdez. Was it merely a matter of Bellinger having a platoon disadvantage? It isn't quite that simple, as the very next game, once again he found himself sixth in the order, but this time against the righty Zack Greinke. To finish out the regular season Bellinger hit fourth twice, fifth thrice, and sixth or lower NINE times. For those keeping track at home that is twenty-six times hitting sixth or lower and just five times hitting higher. That is an astounding 84% from the six-hole.
Whatever the reason for this change – most optimistically because Bellinger was having an uncharacteristically down year – I find this extremely troubling. I do not actually believe Bellinger is now the six-hole for the Dodgers. However, we are drafting him as if he is going to hit fourth in every game, and I also do not believe that will be true.
Even if the Dodgers shifted him to 6th just to try to help Bellinger out of his slump, planning to return him to 4th later, we now have an idea of how the Dodgers will handle Bellinger when he inevitably goes through a rough patch. None of the batters being drafted after Bellinger have this concern. Lindor, Harper, Machado, Bichette, and LeMahieu all hit consistently at the top of the order. The first batter who occasionally may hit low in the order is Mondesi, who he hit exclusively 2nd or 3rd last year from September 8th forward. Plus, I don’t think Bellinger has the potential to double-up second place in any roto category like Mondesi does with steals.
Bellinger is currently being drafted 15th off the board. This is simply too high. Personally, I would draft all the players listed above, as well as Albies, Bogaerts, and Kyle Tucker, before I would consider Bellinger. Factoring in pitchers, that would be towards the end of round three for me. There are simply too many great players, none of whom have the potential to be dropped in the batting order for an extended period of time, for me to consider Bellinger at his current ADP.