Some Intelligent Commentary on Batting Order

Dave · May 18, 2012 at 9:58 am · Filed Under Mariners 

With so much attention being paid to the team’s batting order right now, I’ve decided to just stop talking about it. By and large, line-up order just doesn’t matter very much, and we all need a break from the insanity of who-should-hit-where. But, if you’re really interested in batting order philosophies, this interview with Manny Acta (and Cleveland baseball ops guy Mike Chernoff) is a must read.

“The main thing is scoring runs, so you need to stack up your best hitters up front. You forget about trying to put a guy in the second spot just because he can hit-and-run and bunt. After the first six hitters, you should put your best hitters in front of the [lesser] hitters. The bottom of your order should be the bottom. I’ve never been a big believer in the idea of having a second leadoff hitter. I don’t like putting a guy in the nine-hole who should be hitting in the seven- or eight-hole. To me, you have to maximize at bats. Your better hitters should have a shot at getting that extra at bat.”

The Cleveland Indians replaced Eric Wedge with the guy that said that. Also, check out his final paragraph on bunts. Yes, the game is changing – slower at the field level than the front office level, but it is changing, and changing for the better.


17 Responses to “Some Intelligent Commentary on Batting Order”

  1. GarForever on May 18th, 2012 10:14 am

    Thanks for this, Dave. It’s almost if the game…has…passed…our…manager…by (?)

    I will say, in his (very limited) defense, aside from not playing Jaso more regularly against righties until he was forced to, I’m not sure how Wedge might translate Acta’s smart philosophy to the collection of stiffs on the Mariners, at least the way they’re hitting right now. If we simply put the *ahem* “best” hitters together at the top of the lineup, I’m not sure how that looks, or how it looks much different (aside from the short-lived Brendan Ryan in the two-hole experiment; watching that was unto death). But I’m willing to try almost anything at this point to stop the team hitting below the Mendoza line with RISP. I wish Wedge felt similarly…

    Suggestions, anyone?

  2. dogkahuna on May 18th, 2012 10:15 am

    Yeah, I’m tired of reading about it. I like the idea of having your best hitter hit first, second-best hit second, and so on through the whole lineup. Why mess with putting better hitters in the 3-4 spots–they’ll get fewer ABs over time.

  3. Westside guy on May 18th, 2012 10:28 am

    It may be just random chance, but the past couple of games Wedge seems to have been following Acta’s advice.

    Also, we have to remember that the Mariners’ best hitters aren’t necessarily all good hitters, when you look at them objectively. They’re just better than the other Mariners. Ackley, sure. Ichiro, even now he’s better than a lot of guys. Saunders? Well, compared to the other currently available options…

  4. GarForever on May 18th, 2012 10:30 am

    Good point, Westside: everything is, I suppose, relative.

  5. Dave on May 18th, 2012 10:34 am

    Yeah, I don’t really think Wedge has done a bad job with the batting order. Hitting Ryan second was dumb, but that didn’t last long. For the most part, the batting orders have been fine. The team’s problem isn’t who should hit where, but who should hit at all.

    I’m obviously not a big fan of Wedge’s management philosophies, but that has a lot more to do with talent evaluation and understanding probabilities than line-up construction. I just linked to this so that people who want to keep on beating this dead horse would see that it’s not just nerds with spreadsheets who support “good hitters up top, bad hitters at bottom, everything else is subjective”.

  6. eponymous coward on May 18th, 2012 10:39 am

    The team’s problem isn’t who should hit where, but who should hit at all.

    This. And to be honest, Wedge does good things (realizes Ryan’s defense wins more games than his bat loses) to go along with bad things (aaarghFigginsaaaarghOlivoarrrrgh).

    All told, he’s somewhere in the “does enough stupid things to be a detriment” to “is pretty much a non-factor on balance” murk as a manager. The problem is that having someone who, at best, isn’t always an impediment to your organization’s goals of winning games isn’t the way you build an outstanding organization. Mediocre people yield mediocre results.

  7. Leroy Stanton on May 18th, 2012 10:59 am

    If I had to pick one thing about Wedge that bugs the most, it would be his playing favorites/doghouse tendencies. Last year’s bullpen, Jeff Gray, Miguel Olivo, Jack Wilson, Casper Wells, John Jaso, Hisashi Iwakuma… it’s a long list.

  8. Mariners35 on May 18th, 2012 11:49 am

    Is there value in running out a set lineup every day for a couple weeks to get some routine for them, then? Ignore handedness of pitchers or hitters, have the only variance be pinch runners or backup catchers when needed?

    I think that some of these guys are still inexperienced enough that their splits against individual pitchers really don’t matter (inasmuch as such splits matter for any batter). And I wonder if lefty-righty matchups are sometimes overvalued or overused in general.

    A young hitter isn’t going to learn much by getting yanked out of the lineup against against one particular handedness of pitcher, as if facing them is like being presented with kryptonite… are they? I don’t know how they build confidence if their manager is doing everything possible to keep them from certain situations, pitchers or lineup roles.

    At what point can Wedge say “look, guys – just play. Don’t worry about lineups and playing time, or playing a certain way when you’re in a certain spot in the batting order. You’ll only get yanked if you do something boneheaded; otherwise, lineups and roles won’t change for a couple weeks. Just get back to what got you to the big leagues in the first place and play.”

  9. Mid80sRighty on May 18th, 2012 12:45 pm

    Awesome fangraphs interview. Very cool to see that managers working with the (advanced)stats department is starting to come about. I expect in the not too distant future we’ll start seeing managers with laptops, or ipads, in the dugouts. Maybe some already do that I don’t know about.

    And I do like the part where Chernoff is talking about bunts and that sometimes on field circumstances can basically overrule an expectancy chart. I’m completely on board with everything sabermetric, but there are times when the defense is basically giving you a hit.

  10. greymstreet on May 18th, 2012 12:48 pm

    I wonder what Geoff Baker is going to write about next… (I could write this after every post on USSM)

  11. tres_arboles on May 18th, 2012 12:58 pm

    The bunt thing is interesting. I’m down with expectancy stuff and run probabilities with zero, one, etc outs. But the game as it’s being taught at the pre-prep, pre-collegiate level still emphasizes offensive versatility. And kids who can’t bunt don’t get meaningful college shots or drafted on the first day unless they have a very good power tool. And as long as the guys who teach are listening to the guys who recruit or draft, this will remain a reflection of the game from the higher levels downward. So for now, the pro-game still clearly values the ability to bunt.

  12. Westside guy on May 18th, 2012 12:59 pm

    Thank you for posting this, Dave. Not only because we get to hear from a “real baseball guy”; but also, it’s great that your cohorts at FanGraphs got to interview these guys at all!

    It seems like the sabermetric community is slowly gaining more legitimacy among the traditional media and also with the clubs. It’s also been great that ESPN regularly includes material written by FanGraph staffers as well.

    I don’t think I’m the sort of person who automatically discounts the insights or thoughts of traditional baseball insiders; it’s just that I take some of their seemingly more absurd catechisms with a grain of salt. I do believe people inside the game can have certain insights that aren’t apparent to us outsiders.

  13. Gormogon on May 18th, 2012 1:51 pm

    Frankly, I would like to use the batting order as a competition for players on the roster for every single game. That way you try to shame players at the bottom into becoming better players. I think if you incentivize it, players may perform better.

  14. justinh on May 18th, 2012 2:29 pm

    Personally I think Wedge has done a pretty good job. Yes, he has made some moves I question, but sometimes you have to change the lineup a bit and see if you can’t find lightning in a bottle.

    Obviously we all want to pull our hair out when it comes to Ryan’s offense, but early in the year he had a couple nice games in the #2 hole. So I do understand why Wedge tried him in the #2 hole again. Though his average is atrocious, his OBP is almost .300. If Ryan can bring his average up to .220 with an OBP of .325, he is an average MLB SS.

  15. Paul B on May 18th, 2012 2:54 pm

    In addition to the Ryan 2nd experiment, there was also the Figgins as lead off hitter experiment, and the batting Olivo cleanup last year thing.

    But yeah, other than something like that which is really dumb, I’m on board with the lineup order not being a big thing. When you have a group of guys that only get a few hits every game, unless you can somehow predict who will actually get a hit that game, it really doesn’t matter, they aren’t going to score many runs regardless of the order.

  16. hawgdriver on May 18th, 2012 3:07 pm

    Isn’t it obvious how to optimize a line-up?

    Begin with the distribution of 1st batters by inning, by position in lineup. Because each game begins with your #1 guy in the lineup, you expect the 1st batter by inning distribution has a mode of the #1 guy in the order.

    Then, optimize your lineup to create the maximum expected runs according to that distribution, based on the players available and the projected opposition (pitching/defense).

    This would expose poor construction based on an optimal 1-2-3 that leads to low-expected run 2-3-4s and 3-4-5s, 8-9-1s, etc.

    Why is there even a need to discuss?

  17. Flaco on May 18th, 2012 7:06 pm

    Just go in numerical order because with this team it doesn’t matter who bats where.

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