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Lineup Shifts

So as you all know, Ned Yost came out with a new lineup last night for the Royals that shifted everybody to a new position, but Mike Moustakas and whoever was playing catcher. Yost has impressed upon both the media and the fans that he’d like to have a set lineup, and the fact that he’s made two fairly major lineup shifts during the season indicates against that, but I do sort of agree with the concept of what he did. I’m not sure I completely agree with the movement, but that’s a matter of opinion for the most part. I generally think Yost is the best manager the Royals have had in quite some time. Yes, that’s damning with faint praise, but it’s a fact that remains true. He’s past the honeymoon point, though, as many fans have entirely repressed the thought of Trey Hillman and his goatee managing the Royals at all, so they don’t remember the sheer stupidity that accompanied him.

Ultimately, lineup construction doesn’t mean much from game to game and even week to week. What does matter about lineup construction is that you want to have your best hitters bat more than your worst hitters. As an example, in spite of Alcides Escobar coming off about the hottest road trip I can remember from a Royals hitter, you still know that he’s one of the worst hitters on the team (for now). For that very reason, you don’t want him batting first. Each lineup spot gets something like 30 more plate appearances throughout the season than the spot below it, so it’s important to have your best hitters first.

Traditionally, a lineup is constructed thusly:

1. Fast guy who can get on base and wreak some havoc on the bases
2. Guy who can handle the bat, maybe has a little speed and can really bunt
3. Best hitter for average and power
4. Best power hitter
5. 2nd best power hitter
6. Good hitter for average and power, but not great by any stretch
7. Sort of a light version of the #6 hitter
8. Guy who maybe isn’t so great offensively
9. Sort of a combo of the leadoff and #2 hitter, but not nearly as good as either

Well that thinking has changed somewhat, the basic tenets of that have remained the same. There’s some advocates that your number three hitter is not, in fact your best hitter but rather your leadoff hitter is, but for the most part there’s not a ton of change here.  I plugged last night’s lineup into the lineup analysis tool and found that last night’s lineup could be expected to produce about 4.5 runs per game. Considering that just four American League teams are averaging that many runs per game this season, the lineup seems to have some merit. And of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that using the lineup analysis tool has some serious flaws in it. It doesn’t take into account anything regarding sample size, so Mike Moustakas, for example, has the numbers he has, but the computer has no way of knowing if he has those statistics in 10 at bats and 300 at bats or 1,000 at bats.

The interesting thing to me when playing around with this is to see what they think the best lineup would be based purely on the numbers. Obviously, there’s no real world implications when you’re looking only at numbers, so they’re to be taken with a grain of salt. For example, the best Royals lineup according to runs per game and the statistics has Billy Butler leading off. While I wouldn’t be terribly upset if the Royals tried that at some point, I don’t think it would be a good idea. The analysis tool has no idea that Billy Butler runs like he’s dragging a grand piano, and while I don’t subscribe to the notion that the leadoff hitter absolutely has to have incredible speed, it would be nice if the leadoff hitter could score from first on a double routinely. Butler cannot do that.

With all that said, here is the lineup that the tool indicates would score the most runs at 4.671 per game.

1. Billy Butler
2. Alex Gordon
3. Mike Moustakas
4. Melky Cabrera
5. Eric Hosmer
6. Jeff Francoeur
7. Bryan Pena
8. Alcides Escobar
9. Chris Getz

With Matt Treanor in the lineup, things change a little bit:

1. Billy Butler
2. Alex Gordon
3. Chris Getz
4. Melky Cabrera
5. Mike Moustakas
6. Jeff Francoeur
7. Eric Hosmer
8. Alcides Escobar
9. Matt Treanor

Of course, the generator doesn’t know that Mike Moustakas and Chris Getz couldn’t be farther from the same player in spite of their statistics being similar. It doesn’t know that in spite of Matt Treanor’s .350+ OBP that he might be a worse runner than Butler. Like I said, there are flaws to using this, but it’s fun to take a look at things. The two “optimal lineups” should score about 4.670 runs per game, which compared to the lineup that was trotted out there last night is an improvement. The first thought many have is that it’s about a tenth of a run per game more, but it’s much more than that. Over the course of a 162 game season, it would give the Royals about 24 more runs. Generally, ten runs is worth a win. This year it makes no difference. A year in contention, though, it makes a big difference. I’d sure hate to finish the season two games out of first because lineup decisions were a problem.

Overall, I liked what Ned Yost did to shake things up. I was a big fan of Gordon in the leadoff spot, but I can see the need to get him into a run producing spot and take advantage of his power. The biggest problem I had was who he chose to lead off with. Melky Cabrera ended up having a great game, but a guy with an OBP that close to .300 should not be the person to start things off for a team. Now, I could be totally wrong and his OBP was a result of his approach from the second spot in the lineup, but I’m not sure that I’ll believe that considering his career OBP is just .327. What I did like a lot was Hosmer in the second spot. He’s been slumping big time and last night didn’t change that, but I like the idea of finding a way to get him going while keeping his confidence. I also am impressed that Yost dropped Francoeur in the order.

This lineup will continue to be a work in progress as long as the best team in the organization isn’t on the field at Kauffman Stadium. I’m of the belief that adding Giavotella and Lorenzo Cain to the lineup  will give Ned Yost much more to work with, although he still would not have a true leadoff hitter. I think the Royals were hoping that Alcides Escobar would be a little quicker to come around with the bat and he could take that role, but I don’t see that happening too soon. Their other hope was that Lorenzo Cain could be a leadoff hitter, but he’s now looked at as more of a middle of the order guy because of his strikeouts. I think the answer in the short term will be Giavotella, but for now it’ll be a mix and match fest. The Royals could go out in the off season and see about getting a leadoff hitting second baseman, but the only one who remotely fits the bill is Kelly Johnson, and he’s so wildly inconsistent from season to season that he’s probably not worth blocking Giavotella or Colon. I like the new lineup, but I don’t like the new leadoff hitter. I’m interested to see what transpires.

  1. Daniel
    June 23, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    I prefer to eschew the “traditional” lineup logic in favor of something simpler:

    1 – Makes fewer outs
    2 – Makes fewer outs
    3 – Makes fewer outs
    4 – Makes fewer outs
    5 – Makes fewer outs
    6 – Makes fewer outs
    7 – Makes fewer outs
    8 – Makes fewer outs
    9 – Makes fewer outs


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