Ned Yost, manager of the Kansas City Royals, did something two weeks ago that very few big league managers (or even men) ever do. He admitted he needed some help. After dropping 13 of 15 games to close May and 2 of the team’s first 3 games in June, Yost recognized that his lineup wasn’t getting the job done. So, he went to the team’s stats department and asked them to create a lineup constructed for optimal run production. After one minor tweak, the Royals trotted out a new, sabermetric-influenced lineup that looked like this:
|Alex Gordon LF|
|Eric Hosmer 1B|
|Salvador Perez C|
|Billy Butler DH|
|Mike Moustakas 3B|
|Lorenzo Cain CF|
|David Lough RF|
|Jeff Francoeur RF|
|Chris Getz 2B|
|Alcides Escobar SS|
The Royals scored 4 runs that night en route to a 4-1 win over the Twins. While four runs isn’t exactly an enormous offense surge, it seems to be enough for the Royals on most nights. Since the lineup change, the Royals have scored four or more runs in seven of twelve games and have one each of them which puts them at 24-5 on the season. Yost has continued using his "optimized" lineup and the Royals have gone 10-2 since June 4th. This new lineup is a sign of progress in the attempt to merge statistics with the "old school" and it’s resulted in numerous wins for the Royals, but it may not have such a positive effect on fantasy baseball.
There are two sides to every coin and the "optimum" lineup situation is not exempt. I believe that this lineup can mean two different things to two different kinds of owners. The operative aspect of the new lineup is the idea that optimization includes platoons and matchup plays. This idea means that there are several players who will lose at bats in the new system. A lot of fantasy value stems from opportunity so the loss of at bats is generally viewed as a detriment to a player’s value. In most cases, I agree but I don’t think that platoon players are completely useless.
In standard 5x5 leagues, counting stats account for four out of five offensive categories. One of the most determining variables in the valuation of these stats is opportunity. The more at bats a player receives; the more chances he has to hit a home run, drive in a runner or get on base to score a run or steal a base. The players who stand to lose the most in their current situations are Mike Moustakas, Jeff Francoeur and Chris Getz. These players saw the lion’s share of playing time at third base, right field and second base, respectively. Now, they are relegated to playing mainly against pitchers of a certain handedness, thus seeing fewer at bats.
All of these players have had their struggles this season, but Moustakas has been particularly frustrating to his owners. After a season in which he hit 20 home runs and 34 doubles, he’s on pace for only 10 home runs and 17 doubles this season. He may not score or drive in more than 50 runs and the recent developments in Kansas City seem to be making those numbers even less of a probability. Many owners have asked whether or not it is time to drop Moustakas. For anyone holding onto him in a mixed league of less than 20 teams, I think the time has come. He his hitting only .203 against right handers and that’s .080 higher than he’s hitting against lefties. Only 13% of his batted balls have been line drives and Moustakas has always hit a lot of fly balls, 17% of which haven’t made it out of the infield this year. It’s looking more and more like Moustakas is just not a good hitter. A poor hitter with fewer opportunities is not a guy worth owning in anything but the absolute deepest of leagues.
Francoeur wasn’t really fantasy relevant in mixed leagues before the change and he continues to be Al-Only plays afterward. However, I think he might stand to gain a little bit of value with the new lineup. Francoeur will play the majority of games against left-handed pitching as he is a career .288 hitter against southpaws. That should set him up to succeed and boost his rate stats, albeit over a smaller sample size. If you own Francoeur in an AL Only league, I assume it is a fairly deep league and some spots require little more than a warm body. I think Frenchy can be an asset in such a league if you are looking for someone to fill in one of the last spots on your roster. David Lough, Francoeur’s counterpart, will play against righties but has little value. He hit just under .300 over parts of seven seasons in the minors but will not get enough at bats for his small power and speed potential to be significant.
The only move I don’t really understand is the idea to play Chris Getz against right handed pitchers. He’s hit lefties better throughout his career and actually has a better career average than Elliot Johnson. Elliot Johnson seems to be the guy against lefthanders but the second base job may come down to riding the hot bat, rather than a true platoon. This makes it extremely difficult for fantasy owners to gage the value of these two players. Should Getz win the full time job, I would have a little bit of interest. He has the potential to steal 20+ bases with a .270 average. Johnson is a better real life ball player and I can’t imagine a scenario in which he should be owned by a fantasy team.
There’s been discussion about whether or not this new lineup is a win for the sabermetric community. I, for one think it is, but there are always different ways to look at any situation. The same holds true for the effects of the new lineup on the players’ fantasy value. The change may mean one thing for a certain player and something entirely different for another. It’s important to always fully assess the circumstances and decide how they affect your position.