Prime Lineup Position Battles: Royals and Reds

The higher the position a player is in a lineup, the better their fantasy stats will be at the end of the year. The player will get more PAs and therefore more opportunities for counting stats. Also, the team’s best players are grouped together at the top of the lineup and will create more RBI and Run chances. The key 5 spots for hitter to see a jump in their Runs and/or RBIs are the 1 to 5 spots. Today, I will look at 2 such battles on decent run scoring teams, the Royals and Reds.

Royals #2 Spot

Last season, Melky Cabrera thrived batting second for the Royals. He scored 102 times and had 87 RBIs on the league’s 10th highest scoring offense. This off season he was traded to the Giants, so the position has reopened for the Royals to fill.

With left-handers Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer entrenched into the #1 and #3 spots and Ned Yost’s love for mixing up like handed batters, a right handed bat will likely be used in the 2nd spot. Ned Yost has already put out a projected lineup with Johnny Giavotella in the #2 spot. This would be a huge boost to his value if he was able to keep the position for the whole season. Projection systems have him near a 0.280 AVG, 15 SBs and less than 10 HRs in about 500 PAs. If he is able to put up those kind of numbers in a 150 game season, he will have around 80 Runs and RBIs. One problem I see is that Giavatella is probably not the best RHH for the #2 spot.

The player I see possibly moving into the spot is the new center fielder, Lorenzo Cain. First, Cain’s OBP looks to be about 10 points higher than Giavotella’s OBP. Also, he has a bit more pop in his bat and speed in his legs.

A dark horse candidate is Salvador Perez. Perez will have no speed, but probably has the best bat of the three hitters. He is the youngest of the 3 candidates (will turn 22 in May), so there is a nice chance for more growth.

Whoever ends up hitting in the #2 spot for the Royals, Giavotella, Cain or Perez, will get a huge boost to their fantasy value. Watch to see who Yost is putting in the spot and pick up a huge sleeper.

Reds Lead Off Spot

The Reds, like the Royals, had a good offense in 2011 (7th in the league in scoring). In 95 of those games, Drew Stubbs was the lead off hitter. The problem is that he ended up losing the spot 2/3 of the way through the season, mainly because of his league leading 205 strikeouts (an over 30% K%). Brandon Phillips moved up in to the lead off spot and a mix of Renteria, Lewis and Sappelt hit in the #2 spot. With the trio of Phillips, Votto and Bruce at the top of the lineup, the lead off hitter will have a ton of Run opportunities.

The main candidate to retake the #2 spot will be Stubbs. He has good speed (averaged 35 SBs in the past 2 years) and power (averaged 18.5 HRs). His OBP is decent because of a near 10% BB%. His main problem with be the 30% K% and how much it drives down his AVG. His fantasy value could really be helped if he was able to just get his K% into the mid-20s.

The player I see eventually taking over the lead off spot will be SS Zack Cozart. Once Zach was called up in early July, he mainly hit in the #2 spot. He was eventually lost to the season with elbow and ankle injuries. He has the speed and power combo that Stubbs process, but projects to hit for an AVG that is 40 point higher (has a K% that is half of Stubbs).

I look for the final position at the top of the Reds lineup to produce great fantasy stats. If it is Stubbs, Cozart or someone else manning that position, it doesn’t matter. The player will have plenty of extra counting stats, especially Runs.

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Jeff writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times and Royals Review, as well as his own website, Baseball Heat Maps with his brother Darrell. In tandem with Bill Petti, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

10 Responses to “Prime Lineup Position Battles: Royals and Reds”

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  1. geo says:

    The Royals will put a right-handed hitter in the 2-spot less because of Yost’s predispositions than because of necessity – other than Moustakas (who ain’t hitting second), there are only right-handed hitters in the remainder of the starting lineup.

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  2. nllspc says:

    I don’t see Stubbs starting the season in the lead off position. The Reds experimented with it last season and some how continued it into August, angering many fans. He’ll probably still get looks in that position during ST but unless he sets the world on fire, I’d look for him in the bottom half of the line up.

    Cozart will likely remain in the 2 hole where he had success in a limited number ABs (.324/.324/.500) and Phillips at lead off (.350/.417/.573) where I believe he’s stated he now prefers to bat.

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  3. Detroit Michael says:

    Prime lineup position battles can only occur with the Catcher, First Baseman, Third Baseman, or Left Fielder. Or the Number 3 or 5 spot in the rotation…..

    or the 2,3,5 or 7 spot in the batting order.

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  4. Atari says:

    To me it makes most sense to bat Cain leadoff. This maintains the whole R/L dynamic through most of the lineup.

    1) Cain (R)
    2) Gordon (L)
    3) Butler (R)
    4) Hosmer (L)
    5) Francoeur (R)
    6) Moustakas (L)
    7) Perez (R)
    8) Giavotella (R)
    9) Escobar (R)

    Hopefully Cain can come close to that .380 OBP from AAA and use his speed wisely. Dropping down Gordon to 2nd still takes advantage of his team-leading OBP but also puts him in a position to drive in more runs with his power (especially since Escobar wont be the batter directly in front of him when the lineup turns over). I might even consider dropping Perez to 9th just so that when the lineup turns over he might be on base more with Cain, allowing Gordon-Hosmer to drive them in.

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    • drewcorb says:

      With Cain leading off, you have 4 righties in a row with the 7-8-9-1 batters. The guys in the 7 and 8 holes will probably be a carousel, but I bet Escobar stays in the 9 hole most of the season. I don’t think it’ll make much of a difference either way.

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      • Atari says:

        With Cain leading off, you have 4 righties in a row with the 7-8-9-1 batters.

        Drewcorb good point on having all those righties for when the lineup turns over. Haha, I somehow overlooked that.

        I guess there are only so many ways you can arrange the lineup though to break up the 3 lefties. Really, you are trying to break up the bats so that in late game situations it is harder for the opposing manager to bring in just one specialist. I figure then you go to your bench anyways. Especially in the AL I figure most of your pinch hitters will be replacing players at the bottom of the order anyway. Either way, I figure you will more likely be pinch hitting for Perez, Giavotella and Escobar than the guys at the top or middle of the order.

        I’m just trying to get players who are better at getting on base at the top of the lineup overall and slotting the power guys in the middle to maximize the run production. I don’t really care too much about their handedness. I think the difference between #1 and #9 is about 150 PAs per year though.

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  5. Matty Brown says:

    Even though Stubbs has severe strikeout issues, he is still their 4th best hitter, and possibly 3rd best if he cuts the k% to mid-20’s. He should be hitting 1st or 2nd.

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    • Matty Brown says:

      although personally I would go:

      1. Phillips
      2. Bruce
      3. Stubbs
      4. Votto

      but Dusty would never hit Bruce 2nd

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      • J says:

        I think they should try Hanigan in the 2 spot, since he’s a high contact/OBP guy. Dusty wouldn’t ever do that either, though. I think Dusty tried Bruce at leadoff once or twice last year though…

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