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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The 2009 Lineup

Thinking outside the box. It worked for the A's and general manager Billy Beane. He created a competitive powerhouse with a sub-50 million dollar team in league with the likes of the New York Yankees who spend over $100 million dollars annually.

A couple of months ago, I mentioned The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball a few times. I decided that I wanted to read this book shortly after finishing Moneyball. One chapter in The Book is devoted specifically to the batting lineup and evaluating ways to maximize its potential. I became extremely interested in the lineup prior to reading any books on baseball when (for whatever reason) I started thinking about whom exactly Ryan Howard drove in the most. This search eventually turned into "which batting slot" rather than whom due to injuries (J-Roll). I posted on July 15th on my findings (the excel attachment I used has been lost?). What I came to find after examining all of this was that Howard knocked in Shane Victorino the most up to that point last season. Victorino, batting second and possessing a worse OBP than Utley, must have been in a more ideal spot than the one spot (Utley) prior to Howard. Prior to that time, and certainlty thereafter, I announced that I thought Burrell should bat between Howard and Utley if for no other reason than to break up the lefties. Manuel did bat Utley second for a portion of last season, and this would certainly fit my ideal lineup, as well as the proposed lineup in The Book.

With new personnel on the Phillies this year (tear), I have decided to re-visit The Book and come up a with a proposed lineup for the 2009 season. Where the authors of The Book differ from conventional wisdom (all of their findings were statistically based) and agreed with my blind suggestions, is that the best hitters in the lineup should be the 2 and 4 hitters, closely followed by the leadoff hitter. Baseball is currently set up in a way that suggests the 3 and 4 hitters be the best, and the 2 hole batter be someone with great control of the bat and the ability to bunt. Statistically though, this should not be the case.

The authors of the book have drawn together many stats, and used a combination of things to put together the ideal situations in a team's lineup.

1. The avaerage number of plate appearances/ game that any 1 lineup spot experiences in both the AL and NL (AL PA/G higher due to absensce of pitcher).

2. The average count and percentage of PA/G each spot in the lineup comes up with men on base, as well as the number of runners on/ game.

3. There are 24 baseout states (man on 1st/0 out, nobody on 2 outs, etc.) that can occur at any point of a baseball game.

4. The run value of each lineup spot's outcome to a team's overall run output in each of the base/out states.

The final result of the combination of these things came out to be a table that listed "run values, By event and batting order (modified by PA). I have listed an excel file of my re-created version of their table at the bottom of this post.

While it would be extremely tough to break everything down on this site, the main gist is that while certain events yield higher run values for the 3 hole hitter than the 2, these are mitigated by the extra PAs experienced by the player in the 2 hole. So, according to the book, and my logic of splitting up the ever important bats of Utley and Howard, the first things in the lineup I have decided are to freeze Utley batting 2nd and Howard batting 4th.

SIDE NOTE: Howard possess interesting traits that would suggest flopping their order, but these effects are suggested to be ignored when building a starting lineup because the overall difference is not much. Howard, a frequent strikeout victim, would be better suited in the 2 hole due to the fact that there is often 1 man on base with fewer than 2 outs for the 2nd batter. A strikeout in this slot is preferred to other types of outs in this scenario to avoid hitting into double plays. Utley on the other hand does not strikeout as much, and thus makes more contact, which makes him more desirable in the cleanup spot due to the fact that this spot in the lineup frequently comes to the plate with men on 2nd and/or 3rd where "other types of outs" could advance a runner to third or score. Again, these potentials are small, and can be ignored.

With Utley 2 and Howard 4, this prevents unfavorable situations late in games. While Utley's career OBP is higher against lefties, this is almost certainly not the case late in games when opposing teams bring in lefty specialists (aka LOOGYS, left-handed one out guys). I can physical remember numerous times where Utley and Howard struggled back to back late in games when facing said LOOGYs.

With the 2 and 4 holes out of the way, the 1,3,5 and 6 slots will be occuppied by some order of Rollins, Ibanez, Werth, and Victorino. I decided to come up with the average stats (1B, 2B, 3B, HR, NIBB, HBP, RBOE, K, and other out) number for these 4 players based on their career averages. I calculated these number for each per PA, and then multiplied by 600 PA (assumed per season). I then fit their 600 PA numbers with the run events for each batting lineup, and came up with two possible solutions.

Scenario 1: 1. Rollins, 2. Utley, 3. Werth, 4. Howard, 5. Ibanez, 6. Victorino OR
Scenario 2: 1. Werth, 2. Utley, 3. Rollins, 4. Howard, 5. Ibanez, 6. Victorino

After receiving the statistical data to come up with these lineups I thought more about how feasable each of these actually are. (Note: when running these numbers, I prohibited Ibanez from being the 3 hitter which would result in 3 consecutive lefties which is a terrible strategy.)

Benefits of Lineup scenario 1:

1. Rollins has been leadoff man for this team for a while, and has done his job well.

2. Werth is very proficient against left handed pitchers which would seriously hurt the opposing manager's strategy to bring in a lefty for Utley as he would then either have to let the lefty face Werth, OR change to a righty for Werth and let the righty face Howard, OR make 2 consecutive pitching changes.

3. Werth has proven he can steal bases. While managers may be hesitant to steal with Howard up, this could ultimately force pitchers to throw Howard more fastballs.

Benefits of Lineup scenario 2:

1. Werth has had a consistently higher OBP than Rollins which is desirable of the leadoff man.

2. Rollins breaks up the lefties (but isn't as dangerous a threat for the lefty reliever theory).

3. Rollins can also steal bases (probably a better overall stealer than Werth), which again could cause pitchers to throw Howard fastballs.

While both of these lineups would please me, I don't see it happening. The statistics are there, but we know about old men and statistics. These two lineups do still have 2 lefties in a row (Howard and Ibanez), but Ibanez is more of a power threat than Victorino, and this probably outweighs the L,S,L ordering. If I had to choose at this point, I would pick the lineup with Rollins as leadoff. Ideally, these lineup changes can yield around 15 runs/ season. While this isn't an INSANE amount, it certainly makes a lot of sense, and why do something that's clearly contrary of logical.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention Feliz and Ruiz. You can just throw them on at the end of the lineup.

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