Law and Batting Order

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One of the most discussed topics in Royals internetland for the last couple of weeks is the inability for Ned Yost to get out of his own way on something as simple as lineup order based on common sense.

There have been many takes, and opinions offered as to what and how the roster SHOULD look (Here, here and here)…but it seems for the most part, even when dealing with numbers as a basis, everyone still cannot agree. This is because no matter how hard people wish to base a lineup on numbers, there still remains a fair amount of subjectivity in so much  as  to WHICH numbers are the ones that matter. How much does past success play into the decision? What about how hot a player is over the last week….month…year?

The list goes on and on.

The one constant in most everyone’s analysis, however, is that Alex Gordon should not be batting fifth in the order.

Alex Gordon has been on a tear. Over the course of the last month, he has hit .340/.470/.585 with 6 home runs. To go along with the fact he is currently sitting as the best Royals hitter, he also has a track record for being an above average hitter over the course of his career.

So now the fun part. Where SHOULD Alex Gordon bat?

To begin, I think the importance of the batting order often gets overblown. While it stands that it could make a difference over the course of a year, the difference in a months time is almost inconsequential. As the previous link shows, an optimal lineup vs. a simply average one over the course of a season will amount to at most a 15 run differential. This doesn’t speak to what the difference would be with a BAD lineup, but still….its not like we are talking about 2 extra wins a week here.

The other problem with this logic is what, exactly, to base the “optimal” lineup on. While it would be nice to look at the end of the season totals and then go back and fill up lineup cards, Doc Brown has yet to return from the past to fetch this information for us. Also, what IS an optimal lineup? By which standard? There are multiple schools of thought on the subject, and often it seems we ultimately end up with a blend. While arguments will abound between two sides, it often becomes hypocritical of the saber community when they themselves fall into the same trap of applying subjective thoughts to a statistical approach. “Alex Gordon hits the best in leadoff” is one that I myself have said from time to time, but in the world of statistics, there is no correlation between a comfort level for a batter in a certain situation. Sabermetrics do not account for the ability of a hitter to alter or master a different approach. While it would be easy to just tell Alcides Escobar to do exactly what he has been doing and apply it to hitting second in the order, he has yet to prove able to do so.

Coincidence? Maybe, but the mind is a fragile thing.

As Rany Jazayerli points out, the MOST important thing to keep in mind in lineup construction is keeping a balance of left/right/left so as to not provide an opportunity for a bullpen to overmatch a number of batters in succession. With this in mind, as well as looking at where the majority of run production comes in a lineup, it would appear that the best spot for Alex Gordon would be batting fourth. While it would be ideal to have your highest on base guy in the leadoff role, it seems counterproductive if that player is also your teams power hitter. Gordon also does not have elite base stealing ability (though he is still an above average base runner). Hitting Gordon fourth puts him in the position to do the most damage, provided there are people on base for him to hit home. With that in mind, it would seem to be more productive for Gordon to bat fifth than leadoff as well, though this spot would bat less overall than the 4 hole.

Cain/Aoki/Perez/Gordon/Butler/Hosmer/Infante/Moustakas/Escobar

This is a lineup that would most likely not please either group of traditionalists or sabermaticians, but provides an adequate balance of on base with speed  at the top of the order  and power in the middle. Cain does not necessarily fit the mold for a leadoff hitter, but with his speed and hot bat would be an excellent option there while he is in his hot streak. While Aoki is certainly not ideal at the top of the order, his previous track record as capable of getting on base as well as being left handed lend him as the best option at number 2 given how poorly much of the lineup is at finding their way to first base.

The choices of Cain and Perez in the top is based almost entirely on ability to get on base compared to the futile attempts of others such as Hosmer and Infante.  Mike Moustakes deserves to hit twenty third in the lineup, but he must hit somewhere.

Escobar and Infante could probably be flipped at 7 and 9, but Escobar at 9 would provide a nice compliment to the top of the order with him and Cain being solid back to back hitters later in a game. However, if basing on conventional wisdom, it would be better served to have the better hitter of Infante and Escobar higher in the order.

While its nice to hypothesize the optimal lineup, it must be remembered that the overall difference it would make would be quite minimal…..and the Royals have  about as stubborn a manager imaginable in Ned Yost, so don’t look for any real change of consequence any time soon.

 

 

photo credit: chrisswann26 via photopin cc

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