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The fantasy baseball upshot of Shin-Soo Choo's lineup spot
I was part of a conversation recently about Shin-Soo Choo's move to the top of the Cleveland Indians' order. Manny Acta juggled because his leadoff batters hadn't done a very good job until that point, and the skipper wanted to see if he could jump-start Choo, who was off to .235/.361/.333 start.
Someone asked: Doesn't that hurt Choo's value?
I understand that train of thought: Guy who usually hits third or some other prime run-producing place goes to top spot, may score a little more often, but sees fewer men on base when he steps into the box. Not quite the player we bought.
It's not clear if the change is permanent, so intense analysis of its effect is probably a waste of time. But let's assume that it's etched in stone. How much does it matter?
You can find many articles on the impact of batting order on team offense. Matt Klaassen and Bradley Woodrum divulged their hypotheses at Fangraphs. One of them points to Tom Tango's extensive work on the subject, and the other quotes a writer who paraphrased Tango's stuff.
The implication of the order's effect on an individual's performance, and thus, its fantasy relevance? I'm not really sure. There's probably plenty of material on that topic, too.
As Klaassen stated, the edge that an optimal lineup creates for a team is very small, but its effect seems to be verifiable in the long run. For a single player, perhaps that's also true. Some teams' lineups are different every day; others' rarely change. The game isn't exactly loaded with control groups.
I think that the statistical analysis responsible for the conclusions about batting orders is incredibly useful as a guideline for baseball teams. If I'm not mistaken, it presumes that batters would generally perform in roughly the same manner no matter where they reside in the order.
Regarding the individual, my reaction to the initial question - the one about Choo - was no, because I didn't think that a possible change in Choo's projected runs and RBIs mattered much in the standings. Maybe it was an easy one in hindsight of Choo's performance as the leadoff man (.306/.419/.500, with two of his three homers and three of his eight steals).
Acta's choice seems justified, too. Choo may have altered his approach to fit the responsibilities of the leadoff man, and perhaps that made a huge difference. It opened his eyes. He saw the light. Whatever.
Some players respond favorably when they hit at the top of the order. Some don't. There are many intangible reasons, and probably quite a number of statistical measures that tell us the probabilities that players will have success in particular spots.
But we're missing the big picture, and it's my hand over your eyes.
Choo had a disastrous 2011 campaign, but the roto community was onboard with a rebound in 2012. Nearly a quarter of the way into this season, though, some of the faithful began to have doubt. Had to.
The 29-year-old's production since the adjustment of his batting order position has to dispel some of that doubt. Maybe all of it. He can't take it back. We know that he can still hit.
So yes, it does change his "value," albeit indirectly. Is it responsible for defibrillating Choo's season? I'm not sure. Does it affect how many runs and RBIs he produces? Who cares! (Besides, if he stays there, he'll receive more plate appearances. We probably won't mind for Corey Hart and Alex Gordon, either.)
Unpredictability is what makes fantasy sports potentially difficult. When players aren't performing as you expected, uncertainty increases.
So often, the game throws us curves - or, more befitting because of the populous of the DL, beanballs - that we can't possibly be prepared for all of them. Just be thankful when the things you can't control take care of some uncertainty for you.
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