Open letter to McLaren on lineups

DMZ · June 18, 2008 at 11:02 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

I know you said you’ve given up on reading things on the net, but I wanted to offer something beyond criticism in the hope that you’ll be able to use it. It’ll help your team score runs, and I think you’d agree that you should always take runs where you can find them. Please at least consider this.

There’s been a lot of research done on lineup construction. The most recent is the chapter in Tango’s “The Book” and there’s a good chapter on this in Baseball Between the Numbers (“Was Billy Martin Crazy” by James Click, now with the Tampa Bay Rays). The work they’ve done sits on research done since the early days of Bill James and Pete Palmer, but I’ll spare you the lineage.

But it’s not just a bunch of computer people running simulations: much of this comes from validating the philosophy of the best baseball managers, like Earl Weaver.

James Click found that the difference between the worst possible lineup and the best possible lineup (Click’s example is in an NL lineup, batting the pitcher first and the best hitters at the bottom) produced a difference of 26 runs. The difference between a major-league standard lineup (speed, OBP at #1, contact and bunting at #2, best hitter #3, 2nd best/power at #4, and so on) and the best possible one was about ten runs, but the details of how that works should be left to the book.

Here’s the thing. You’re running out a lineup that is close to that worst-possible one: you’re regularly batting a pitcher in the top spots. This is an easy fix you can start making Friday, and you can do it by applying a couple of easy principles that research has found. You can check out those two books, or I’ll try to summarize it really quickly.

The best hitters should go first. As the game goes on, each extra at-bat goes to those guys. Over the course of the season, that’s a significant number of plate appearances you can direct to your best hitters bu putting them at the top. Normally this isn’t a huge deal, but the difference between getting Raul an extra 20 at-bats this year instead of Vidro is runs on the board.

Stack by on-base percentage as much as possible. Not creating outs is the most important thing a hitter can do. I know you’re not going to want a slow OBP guy up top, and I’ll get to that.

Here’s how this applies to the Mariners. It might be helpful to think of this like a draft board. You’ve got your starting lineup and you want to pick the best available hitter with each pick, taking only as much consideration for handedness and skill as you have to.

I’m going to assume it’s a right-handed starter, so Reed’s in center.

Bat Ichiro first. He’s a great leadoff guy, you’ve got him stealing like crazy, it’s great.

Second, the pure OBP play here is Ibanez, but I’ll suggest that you play Beltre. You’ve seen him, he’s taking walks, hitting for a decent average, spraying line drives around even if they’re not dropping in.

Or take Reed. Like Ichiro, has some speed, can run the bases, takes his walks. The downside is you’ve got two lefties at the top of your lineup.

Lopez would be a decent third choice, but he’s not taking the walks you want out of a guy that high up in the order.

Let’s say you take Beltre for L-R. Then #3, you take Ibanez, he’s your best hitter and you’ve got two good on-base threats ahead of him.

#4, Beltre if you passed him up at #2. if you didn’t, and you’re determined to take a rightie here, go for Lopez or Betancourt. Seriously: they’re hitting for average and some power, you’ve got three good threats to get on-base ahead of them, and if Ichiro led off, he’s probably in scoring position by now.

If you’re willing to take a lefty, take Clement.

#5, take Clement if you passed him up at #4. He’s the best hitter on the board at this point no matter how you got here.

#6-7, you take Lopez or Betancourt if you didn’t pick them at #2 or #4
#8, you take Sexson, assuming Sexson’s playing first
#9, you put Vidro

And now a word on Vidro. He’s done. You must see this. If you have to play him, and I obviously don’t know your reasoning behind it, he’s the worst hitter on the squad, and batting him high in the order hurts the team. And the fans. Don’t do it. He’s not hitting for average, he’s not getting on base, he has no power. For whatever reason, he’s the worst hitter in the American League right now. Don’t hit him high in the order. Put the best lineup order you can out together, and that’ll push him down.

So here’s what you get going through this exercise v RHP, assuming you want to alternate handedness:

Or, if you don’t want to bat Beltre at #2 and still want to alternate handedness

And you can see how the same method works when building the anti-LHP lineup.

This simple change to how you’re ordering lineups is probably worth five, maybe even ten runs over the rest of the season. Ten runs is an extra win. Five runs over the course of the season is huge on its own. And it doesn’t require you to change players, positions, or anything. It’s absolutely worth doing.

If you can, I highly recommend checking out those two books. Baseball Between the Numbers is available used right now for $1, which may make it the best pure value in modern baseball research, and it’s full of information you can use to make the team better. Or drop us a line, and I’ll mail you my copy, compliments of USSM.

But if you can’t, at least consider using these well-known principles of how to construct a lineup to help your team out. And if you’re interested, there’s a whole set of fixes like this you can use to improve the team from here on out. Just let me know, and we’ll keep writing them up — and we don’t even have to make a big deal out of it, or be acknowledged, and we won’t mention you’re listening. I’m serious: I’m willing to back criticism with research and ways to make things better. Drop us a line.


12 Responses to “Open letter to McLaren on lineups”

  1. Benne on June 18th, 2008 11:16 pm

    Well done. I doubt Mac will notice, but the Felix open letter worked, so it’s worth another shot.

  2. SequimRealEstate on June 18th, 2008 11:22 pm


  3. Jeff Nye on June 18th, 2008 11:27 pm

    I second the recommendation of Baseball Between The Numbers.

    It is a seriously awesome book which does a great job of using specific situations to demonstrate general principles.

  4. Milendriel on June 18th, 2008 11:32 pm

    [not the thread for that]

  5. KR on June 18th, 2008 11:44 pm

    Thanks for this, Derek. After watching McLaren muck things up all year, I had completely forgotten how a proper lineup should be put together.

  6. westcoastseattleboy23 on June 18th, 2008 11:55 pm

    [you know, this is not the place]

  7. DMZ on June 18th, 2008 11:58 pm

    I’m trying to offer something constructive here. If everyone could please just not vent their frustration about the team and McLaren here, in this one thread, that’d be great. We have like ten threads a day for that.

  8. Milendriel on June 18th, 2008 11:58 pm

    Earlier joking aside, I have a couple questions… while a pretty good lineup can be made by ordering OBP best to worst from top to bottom, are there any insights about how power should be distributed in a lineup? And just how valuable is alternating handedness, anyway?

  9. JasonAChurchill on June 19th, 2008 12:00 am

    If the club makes the right choice, or even a decent choice in their search for a new GM, McLaren is not going to be here next year, anyway.

  10. DMZ on June 19th, 2008 12:03 am

    Come on Jason, you too? This isn’t about that.

  11. wcf51 on June 19th, 2008 12:09 am

    What do the statistics and calculations say about hitting the pitcher eighth instead of ninth?

  12. Walrus on June 19th, 2008 12:14 am