Justin Spiro of the Detroit Sports Net is reporting that Ivan Rodriguez has decided to join the Mariners, and the details that need to be worked out are simply technicalities.
Not that I question the integrity of the great Justin Spiro, but I’ll say flat out that this is just not true. If Rodriguez is still available when Sasaki is officially released from his contract, I would be surprised if the Mariners didn’t talk to him. But, to say a deal at this point is anywhere near done is so far from the truth that, well, I can’t believe it was printed. To borrow a phrase, this is journalistic irresponsibility.
So, Bob Melvin is pondering some line-up changes. Peter White over at Mariners Musings already gave his two cents. I’m still not sure what to make of the Box’s comments, and, considering the value usually derived from quotes at functions like this, maybe we shouldn’t care at all.
However, it got me thinking. Assuming the M’s spend their new found box of gold on a pitcher or two and leave the offense in tact, how should the M’s construct their line-up? Most people agree the clumping method is most effective, stacking your good hitters together to create rallies and letting your out-machines to hack their way out of the 7-8-9 spots. However, there are some more subtle advantages that can be gained by positioning people in the line-up to maximize their skillsets. I believe one of Melvin’s biggest mistakes so far has been getting hung up on an individual players abilities and ignoring the big picture. He does not want to consider Ichiro in center field because he considers him “the best right fielder in the game”, and I think we all know he means defensively. So, rather than considering the possible benefit of acquiring a right-fielder who would have been a vast improvement over Randy Winn offensively, we get to keep Winn in center to best utilize Ichiro’s individual skill package, even if he was more helpful to the team in a more challenging position.
Rather than breaking down the line-up by “who best fits the preset criteria for this spot”, the M’s should evaluate their nine man offense as a whole and look for ways to compliment each players strengths. Ichiro is the best option the M’s have for leading off, but he’s also the best option they have for hitting second. Edgar is the best option for hitting 3rd, 4th, or 5th, because he’s the best hitter on the team. Obviously, choices have to be made, and rather than slotting a player into what you feel his best spot is, match it up with the abilities and limitations of his teammates. So, in that sense, here is how I would roll out the line-up on opening day.
1. Randy Winn, CF, Switch
Ideally, I’d like a higher OBP from my number one guy, but the M’s don’t have the luxary. John Olerud was given consideration for the spot, but I felt that his base-clogging would impede Ichiro’s ability to run, which is a significant part of his value.
2. Ichiro Suzuki, RF, Left
As Peter noted, Ichiro has dramatic splits with runners on base. There are several theories for this, but the most obvious explanation is that he benefits from the giant hole that comes on the right side of the infield while the first baseman is holding a runner. Maximizing his at-bats with runners on base is important, and getting him one step away from the bottom of the line-up should help that.
3. Edgar Martinez, DH, Right
Boone could make an argument for this spot as well, but I prefer the high OBP preceding the high SLG rather than the other way around. Both Martinez and Boone kill left-handed pitching, which will discourage teams from bringing in a high-leverage ace lefty reliever to go after Ichiro. I know Ichiro doesn’t have a platoon split overall, but 25 of his 29 career home runs have come against right-handed pitching. I’m more comfortable with him facing a tough righty than a tough lefty in crucial game situations.
4. John Olerud, 1B, Left
This is about maximizing Olerud’s abilities against RHP’s, though I realize it puts a weak hitter into a typical power hitting spot. Olerud was still a force against RHP’s last year, hitting .281/.392/.422 against them. While the SLG isn’t great, he gets on base at a good enough rate to keep the rallies alive. By putting him behind Edgar and in front of Boone, he’ll face a minimal amount of left-handed relievers, and should be able to get a majority of his at-bats against pitchers he still has a chance against.
5. Bret Boone, 2B, Right
Ideally, you’d like to have your second best hitter higher in the order than this, but Boone’s high SLG fits well behind Martinez/Olerud. His lefty-mashing prowess protects Olerud to some degree, and he’ll still get a significant amount of at-bats with runners in scoring position. He’s the best guy to hit behind the base-cloggers, since he’s the most likely to allow them to trot home on a longball.
6. Raul Ibanez, LF, Left
Not my favorite #6 hitter in the American League, but he wins the battle of 30+ mediocrities, especially when playing at home. Hitting behind Boone should assure that a right-hander will usually be on the mound when he comes up late in games. If the opposing manager wants to bring in a lefty to go after Raul, then you live with it, and hope he can come through. Not ideal, but as our readers know, we don’t consider his acquisition ideal either.
7. Rich Aurilia, SS, Right.
Like Boone, Aurilia is a certified lefty-masher. If a team brings in the LOOGY to go after Ibanez, they’re likely only in for one batter, and those strategies can wear down a bullpen rather quickly. Most of Aurilia’s production comes from driving the ball rather than getting on base, so having him lower in the order should maximize his skill set.
8. Scott Spiezio, 3B, Switch.
He could theoretically flip-flop with Ibanez in the six spot, depending on which one proves they can’t hit first. He couldn’t hit lefties last year, but that could have been sample size noise. Either way, sticking him behind Aurilia (and, more importantly, keeping him and Ibanez seperated) is a guard against a lefty ace reliever mowing through several batters and ending rallies.
9. Ben Davis, C, Switch.
By the way, Ben Davis sucked eggs last year. Just thought I’d mention that we’ve noticed, since we stumped pretty hard for him to get more playing time. A .140 second half average? Yech. Anyways, whoever is catching will be the worst hitter on the team and you want to limit their AB’s as much as possible. Sticking them in the ninth spot is the easy call.
The main key would be to make sure that the Box doesn’t simply play cut and paste when regulars are taking the day off. Just because Randy Winn hits leadoff doesn’t mean Quinton McCracken should, just because both have CF penciled in as their position. And, in the end, I’m a bit worried that Melvin’s new professed love for tinkering is going to lead to some overmanaging, but setting the line-up the right way could eek a few extra runs out for a team that will need every single one they can get.