The Bopper Effect: How Batters Benefit from Hitting in Front of or Behind a Big Hitter
Back in the day, I nerded out hardcore over baseball cards. I bought these puppies, read all of the stats on the back, plugged them in protective sleeves and tucked them away safely in my room. It was dope and totally not lame at all.
As my collection started to grow, I developed a desire to get entire team sets. Specifically, the cards of my Minnesota Twins. Once I knew which players I needed, I would hunt these suckas down like nobody’s business.
Because I was trying to collect the entire team, it meant I valued certain players’ cards more than they would generally be worth. For example, ain’t nobody in these streets trying to snatch a Cristian Guzman card. His own Momma traded his card for an unsharpened No. 2 pencil. However, because of his situation, he had a higher value for me than he would for others. This is a concept we can also find in daily fantasy baseball.
The Role of Outside-Dependent Statistics
Because fantasy scoring takes into account things that are dependent on the offense in which a player plays (such as RBI’s and runs scored), two equal guys individually will have different values based on their situation. This can be either good or bad. We looked at the rul, rul bad in the lesson on how scoring differs in the National League from the American League, so now we’ll look at the oh-so delectable good.
Basically, what I wanted to see was how big of a boost players get when they hit near a dude that bleeds grossness. These are the illest of the ill, the greatest of the great, the people that come closest to being able to sniff Barry Bonds’s jock. What kind of fantasy impact do the best hitters in the game have on those around them in the batting order? Can these guys turn Cristian Guzman into at least a thin mint or some bubble gum?
Here’s the process I used to examine this. If it seems long, it’s because it was. I spent a bunch of nights shouting at spreadsheets before gently caressing them and telling them I would never leave. I, admittedly, have a weird relationship with data. If you’re DGAFing on the process, just skip down to the paragraph beginning with, “Whew.” It’s going to be exhilarating, though, so let’s ride, y’all.
The first step was finding the best individual hitters in the league. I took the hitters that finished in the top 10 in wOBA over a five-year span. I rolled with wOBA because it’s solely dependent on that independent hitter, so we can find the guys that were the best hitters in that specific year.
After finding said superb sluggers, I’d look at their split stats to see which spot in the batting order they occupied the most based on total plate appearances. In most instances, there would be a heavy favorite as teams don’t often shift around their top tater-mashers. However, there were times where it would be fairly even between two separate spots in the batting order. This could potentially skew things a bit later in our study, so it’s something to at least keep in mind. But at the end of the day, the instances in which this occurred were pretty rare.
The next step was to see how the guys around them in the order performed. For this, I used the most common spot in the lineup that the bopper occupied and then looked at the season-long stats of the positions directly in front of and behind that. For example, if Andrew McCutchen most commonly hit third, I would look at how batters who hit second and fourth for the Pittsburgh Pirates fared. This would be any plate appearance that occurred at the two-spot in the order, no matter who took it, resulting in 162 games for each team at each spot in the order.
This means that we’d be checking out a couple of different spots in the batting order. As you probs (I hope? Maybe? Nah?) know by now, different spots in the batting order average a different number of points per game. Problem!
To cancel out the impact of this, I tried to create an expected points per game for a player batting in front of a bopper. This expected point total was weighted based on how many times a certain spot in the batting order appeared. So, if a position (second, for kicks) was the position in front of one of the big-sluggers 24 times out of 50 (it was), I would multiply .48 (the percentage of those in front of the big-hitter that hit second) times the average number of points per game number-two batters scored across the league. The point totals were based on current DraftKings scoring rules. This was then done for each spot in the order to create an expected point total with which we could compare the actual output of those benefiting from having a slugger in front of or behind them. The formula, more generically, would be W*Ex, where “W” is the weighted value out of 1 of that spot in the batting order and “Ex” is the expected points per game of that spot based on a league-wide sample over the course of five years.
Whew. That was probably confusing. If you skipped down to here from the top, welcome back. I promise you that it was all super dope, though.
Anyway, what I found was that the bopper effect is real, and it is luscious. The expected DraftKings points per game of those in front of the big bopper based solely on their spot in the batting order was 7.84. In actuality, those batters averaged 8.35 points per game. That is a larger increase than would occur if a batter were moved up to third from fourth or to fifth from sixth. In other words, homie gonna get you paaaaaaaid.
How to Value Those Surrounding Big Hitters
What does this mean? It means you can value a player that’s hitting in front of a big bopper a decent amount more than you would value a guy hitting in front of some regular bro. A full half point is significant and actionable. So, if a guy is hitting second and a monster moves up to third in the order, the dude hitting second just got a whole lot Gucci-er, and you should adjust your valuation of him as such.
This is also true for the batter behind the bruiser, though to a lesser extent. Based solely on position in the batting order, this person was expected to score 7.71 DraftKings points per game. But when you slide one of the top hitters in the league in front of them, this steps up to 7.95. This is about half the increase that those in front of the slugger saw, but it is still significant. If a player moves from a spot lower in the order to bat directly behind a top-notch hitter, you should give him a bump both for the increased plate appearances and for the bopper effect.
This difference in those batting in front of and behind a guy with a big wOBA means you need to track lineups with those hitters like a dawg. Let’s say a guy is hitting fifth, behind a big-bopper. If he gets slotted up to third, he gets the bump from additional plate appearances, but also an up-tick for hitting in front of as opposed to behind of a slugger. Dude just hit the jackpot.
Of course, in this instance, the reverse is also true. When brudduh gets moved behind the big slugger, he gets fewer plate appearances, and he loses a good chunk of said slugger’s fantasy-inflating phattitude. He ain’t gotta leave, but he gotta get the heck up outta my lineup, especially if pricing has already adjusted for the inflation he gets from the man behind him.
The other time where this is especially true is if the top hitter is out of the lineup for the day. It makes sense that this would lower the team’s expected run total, but it may be enough to make you avoid the lineup all-together. If a guy who is average for that spot in the batting order fills that void, then you are losing a full half expected point from the guy in front of him and a quarter of a point for the guy behind him. That’s sub-optimal and likely something you’ll want to avoid.
In summation, this means that I was justified in my search for Cristian Guzman baseball cards. Was that the only reason I wanted to look at this? Pretty much, yeah. Little Jim has been vindicated, and it feels so good. Players in the right situation, specifically batting in front of or behind a league-leading hitter, have much higher value than those surrounded by mediocrity.
Just like you should deduct value from guys batting in front of wretchedness, you should add value to those followed by mashers. This is also true for those behind, just less so. They see about half the bump of those in front of the boppers, so their value spikes less in these situations.
This should just advance the thought that you need to wait until a good number of lineups are in before fully diving into your lineups. If you build a stack on a team that has a crazy-good hitter, and then he ends up not being in there, then you’re up poop creek without a plunger. Additionally, the value of the other hitters varies radically based on where they are in relation to the top gun, so it makes sense to at least give yourself time to make adjustments in case something funky goes down.
All of this has helped me realize that, instead of a No. 2 pencil, I could totes get an Airhead or a pack of Gushers at the lunch table for good ol’ Mr. Guzman if he’s surrounded by yumminess. If you take away that yumminess, though, you’d be lucky to net the half-eaten apple that Billy left out to oxidize during