Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Making the Best Lineup


                                                                                        (photo credit: usatoday.com)


Hitters, like all humans, love to be comfortable. Hitters especially like to settle into a specific spot in the lineup, unless it's the eight or nine-hole, that is.

According to the old standard of lineup construction, the fastest guys bat lead off and the two-hole is some average hitter who can bunt and has a linear, push pattern swing so he can manipulate the ball and "advance runners." Times, they are a changin'.

Any coach with both eyes open should have read by now that there is a more intelligent way to build a lineup, one that literally, figuratively, sabermetrically and even in video games...will score more runs per game.

While many may shun sabermetrics as baseball math for those who have never played the game, those who have played the game and aren't afraid of change are realizing that the hitters with the highest OBP and OPS should hit as many times as possible every single game.

If you don't believe me, check out this article or this one from Beyond the Boxscore. And here's a specific example of Jim Leyland building a better lineup.

If you heard about SS Troy Tulowitzki's trade to Toronto, you may need to check out his first box score here. He went off tonight. And by the way...Tulo, a lifetime MLB three-hole hitter, hit in the lead off role for, presumably, the first time in his career. Despite a lifetime OPS of .885, he was 0 for his last 20 ABs in Colorado. Then he went off tonight in the lineup spot! Thank God he was comfortable!

Let's ignore exactly why he may have started with such a flurry (pun intended) in Toronto, and focus on the concept of being comfortable in a lineup position.

So many hitters believe that they are better hitters in four-hole than the two-hole. Many will claim they don't feel comfortable moving to a different lineup position. But comfort doesn't always equal success. The belief that comfort equals success is a problem for those making out the lineup. "Should I move my best player to a different position in the lineup that he hasn't hit in before? What if he doesn't know how to approach that role?"

What's truly problematic is that many talented three-hole and cleanup hitters would assist in their team scoring more runs if they took their 200 ABs from the lead off or two-hole.

Rather than college and high school coaches feeling hand-cuffed by egocentric hitters who believe they have to hit in the lineup positions they are most comfortable in, let's challenge them to get comfortable as part of the process.

Every intrasquad, every competitive BP and every scrimmage against another opponent, move your lineup around. Play with it. Explain to your hitters what your intent is. Explain to them how the team's lineup construction matters, and explain to them what an ideal lineup looks like and how your team can score more runs by utilizing said lineup.

The Toronto Blue Jays are one of the most forward-thinking major league clubs. They aren't afraid to weigh what is statistically superlative against the emotion and feeling of a player being comfortable. And I bet they've communicated how and why to their roster in an effort to improve the results of their statistical boon of a lineup.

In case you haven't looked at that box score, go check it out. Notice that the bottom of the cellar, noticeably ancient-thinking Philadelphia Phillies are hitting the atrocious Ben Revere lead off. Again.

Revere can flat roll. He's a speed demon. Yet he holds only a .711 OPS.

Sure, he's on pace for 38 stolen bases. Let's not pretend that he's the next coming of Vince Coleman.

The Phillies' 2-hole hitter is Freddy Galvis, he of the .670 OPS. PEOPLE! Five of the seven hitters after Galvis in the lineup have a higher OPS!

This lineup construction only further impairs the ability of the Phillies to win a game. As if they needed help this season!

Don't be afraid of the truth. And, remember, beliefs are not truths.




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