Waiting For the Starting Lineup

The Value of Knowing Who is Starting

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About the Writer: In addition to a full time job as a software product manager, Alex Zelvin works part time for Fanduel.com (Zoobird on FanDuel) and co-owns Dailybaseballdata.com

Daily Fantasy MLB Starting Lineup Strategy

Starting lineups seem like a straightforward topic. It’s better to know if a player is starting than not to know. So you should check any of the starting lineups which have been posted already to make sure that none of your players have the day off. Simple.

But there’s really a bit more to it than that. The big question to consider when it comes to starting lineups is how much incremental value you should assign to a player who has already been announced as part of the starting lineup versus one whose lineup hasn’t been announced yet.

So how valuable is it to know that your player will definitely be in the starting lineup? The answer is…it depends. Basically, for any player you’re unsure of, their value is reduced by the likelihood that they’ll take the day off. If you think there’s a 1% chance of a day off, then reduce their value by 1% relative to someone who has already been announced to be in the lineup. If you think there’s a 10% chance, then reduce their value by 10% relative to someone who has been announced as a starting player that day.

So how do you determine the likelihood that a player will miss the day’s game when lineups haven’t yet been announced? There’s no science to this, but here are some typical situations that can serve as examples of how to think about the problem:

  • Superstar player hasn’t missed a game all year and is believed to be fully healthy…There’s always a chance someone has an announced injury and will get the day off. I’d reduce his value by about 1%. Of course, if your system is precise that a 1% adjustment is critical, then you probably don’t have much reason to read this article.
  • Superstar player has a nagging health issue, but is expected to play…Think Albert Pujols on Thursday and Friday of this week. An adjustment of maybe 5% seems reasonable.
  • Star outfielder is part of a deep outfield, where the manager tries to give everyone playing time…Think Carlos Gonzalez or Nelson Cruz this year. Again, an adjustment of 5% seems about right.
  • Player is a regular, but sits several times a week…Most catchers fall into this category. This is where knowledge of the starting lineups becomes very critical. Other than the catchers who are used at first base or designate hitters on their ‘days off’ from catching, you should probably be penalizing those whose lineups haven’t been announced by something on the order of 30%. That’s a huge difference, and in most cases means you shouldn’t be using the player in your lineup.

I realize that most of you probably don’t actually assign players numerical ratings, and that some of you don’t even think in terms of numbers and percentages when evaluating players for the day’s contests. To give you an idea of how the percentages above compare to other factors, here are some rough estimates:

  • 1% – Is just about nothing. The difference between facing a pitcher who strikes out 8 batters per game and another pitcher who is identical except that he strikes out 8.2 or 8.3 batters per game.
  • 5% – Is roughly equivalent to having home field advantage. Or having the lefty vs. righty platoon advantage for an average hitter vs. an average pitcher.
  • 30% – Is the equivalent of going from one of the very best hitters’ parks in baseball to one of the very best pitchers’ parks.

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