View Full Version : Lineup fun

03-04-2008, 12:35 PM
food for thought from Sheehan at BP

The thing is, lineups arenít supposed to matter, with the difference between the best and worst reasonable ordering of players worth maybe a win a year. That conclusion has never set well with me, not when I see teams routinely doom their best hitters to batting behind hitters with .330 OBPs, and more critcially, perfectly predictable .330 OBPs. The guidelines for an effective lineup are simple, and they havenít changed in about 35 years, since offensive levels came back out of their valley:

* Get your best hitters the most plate appearances
* Guys who get on base should bat in front of guys who hit for power
* Within reason, separate same-side hitters, to make life hard for platoon-centric managers

Thatís pretty much it. There are a number of less-important guidelines, some of which run counter to conventional managerial wisdom. For example, just about everyone inside baseball thinks speed is one of the most important qualities for a leadoff batter. In fact, because middle-of-the-lineup batters are generally the ones most likely to hit the ball a long way, speed isnít that critical. Add in that the cost/benefit of a stolen-base attempt is worst when a good hitter is at the plateóthe out costs more, the base means lessóand speed is actually not that important in the top two lineup spots. Speed and stolen-base attempts both have more value in the fifth and sixth spots, in front of the worst batters in the seventh through ninth slots, who are more likely to make outs and less likely to pick up extra-base hits.

Many calls, however, arenít close. The Cubs, to pick one example, have the potential for a disastrous lineup in play. A couple of weeks ago, Lou Piniella indicated that he would lead off with Alfonso Soriano and Ryan Theriot, who possess two of the lowest projected OBPs in the Cubs lineup, while batting Kosuke Fukudome fifth. It would be hard to assemble a worse lineup given the talent available; Soriano is simply not a leadoff hitter, possessing the power and OBP of a #4 batter. Theriot, despite 28 steals last season, is at best a #7 batter, and best-suited for eighth. Fukudome will hit for average, OBP, and doubles power, and is a good #2 or #3 hitter depending on the players around him. To Piniellaís credit, he has been batting Fukudome in the #3 spot so far in the Cactus League. Then again, it just puts the lack of understanding into relief; batting Theriot second and Fukudome third is one of those things that is a bit hard to make sense of.

What has happened is teams, and even managers such as Lou Piniella, have been trained to regard secondary offensive characteristics as more important than primary ones. Speed is a secondary offensive characteristic, and it always has been. Contact rate is a secondary characteristic. The primary ones are the ability to get on base and the ability to hit for power. How well a player does those two things should determine his lineup spot.

However, on the field you can see speed and you canít really see OBP, so speed gets elevated above OBP, to the detriment of a team. Play Strat, though, and itís the opposite: OBP is capitalized and bolded, speed is tucked into a couple of spots atop the card, and the cards donít run. Play some games, and you come to realize quickly that getting the guys on base is much, much more important than how quickly they move when they get there.

Remember, the vaunted secondary effects of speed, the ones that would be present in a real baseball game, have been shown to be illusory at best. Batters hit poorly when a steal is attempted while theyíre up, for one, and despite all of the talk about how speed messes with the defense, thereís no research that shows it to be true. Thereís no evidence that teams with more speed perform better than ones with less, and in fact, speed has often been a contraindicator of success (speed teams often lack the primary characteristics).

This isnít to dismiss the value of speed, but to put in its place. When constructing a lineup, you have to focus on the primary characteristics and the guiding principles first, then use things like relative speed to break ties.

Chip R
03-04-2008, 12:38 PM