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“The Book” on Lineups

“The Book” on Lineups
Mark Reynolds (Photo: TimesUnion.com)
December 15, 2012
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Most of us who find ourselves at this site, also find ourselves considered by friends and family as “baseball fans”. Baseball fans views of the game, their favorite team and their favorite team’s efforts to put together a winner fall in many camps along several different continuum: Traditional or Sabermetric? Prospects or Proven talent? Offense or Defense first? The list goes on and on.

Suffice to say, anyone who likes to engage in these types of debates is a true fan and, at the very least, has a great understanding of their view and good enough of an understanding to argue against the other side! Regardless of which camp you happen to sit in, it is likely that you have at least heard of the famous (infamous) book by Tom Tango, appropriately called: “The Book”.

In “The Book” many time-honored beliefs about the game are rigorously studied from a statistical standpoint. One such study is related to the oft-debated topic of lineup construction. The basic question is simple: given a set of nine players with varying skills, what is the optimal way to order them in order to score the most runs over the course of a season?

The basic premise of the study is to analyze how often a certain position in the batting order gets up to bat and when that position does get up to bat, what is the frequency and type of base-runner/out combination that they inherit? Given those scenarios, certain offensive outcomes (walk, single, double, fly ball, home run, etc) are worth more than they might be in other situations. The final layer is obvious, but needs to be stated: the #1 hitter gets up to bat more than the #2 hitter. The #2 hitter gets to hit more if the #1 hitter makes fewer outs (read: gets on-base more). So on and so on down the lineup….

Intuitively, we know the above is true. Lineups matter because a batter who hits 20 homers over a season in the #9 spot is less likely to have multi-run home runs than someone who hits 20 homers out of the #3 spot. The same way that a guy who hits .300 and gets on base 40% of the time but never hits a home run is really valuable as a leadoff hitter, but will be less effective as a cleanup hitter than someone who hits lots of doubles and home runs.

Ok, if you didn’t understand what we are talking about before reading this, and you kind of understood after the small lead-in, you definitely understand the example above all making the point that “The Book” is trying to make. Certain skills belonging to players have relatively more value than others given the situations those players face.

Indians in 2013

Ok, horse sufficiently beaten; what does this mean for the Indians in 2013? The question of lineups is especially pertinent when the Indians have recently acquired a player who is an extreme example of possessing one talent at the expense of several others. Mark Reynolds is just such a player.

Mark Reynolds hits home runs and does little else. His defensive liabilities will be masked by moving him to first base and having him as the designated hitter a fair amount of the time, but we are talking offense my friends. Mark Reynolds has hit .221 the past two seasons, which is significantly below league average, while posting an OBP right at .330 which is merely slightly below league average and has struck out in over 33% of his at bats which competes with Adam Dunn for worst in the Majors. However, like Adam Dunn, Mark Reynolds hits a lot of home runs. In fact, he hit 60 in the last two seasons despite whiffing so frequently.

Where does a player like Reynolds best fit into a lineup and how can the Indians fit their current pieces into the best possible lineup? Obviously, we want the few times that Reynolds does make contact to come with men on base, but also understand that he will almost never “set the table” for hitters behind him. Basically, he clears the bases, he never loads them.

Using Bill James 2013 projections courtesy of www.fangraphs.com, I have placed them in a “traditional” batting order that one might expect Terry Francona to utilize this upcoming season (*barring any future trades, which is funny because I have run this analysis twice already given the Stubbs trade shortly after the Reynolds acquisition!):

Name

Position

AVG

OBP

SLG

Michael Brantley

LF

274

344

379

Jason Kipnis

2B

274

351

429

Carlos Santana

C

261

383

476

Mark Reynolds

1B

231

336

463

Asdrubal Cabrera

SS

277

341

430

Drew Stubbs

CF

250

320

390

Lonnie Chisenhall

3B

262

310

433

TBD

RF/DH

250

310

400

TBD

LF/DH

250

310

400

Expected Runs Per Game

4.834

(Note: I am assuming that Aviles, Canzler, McGuinness, Carrera, etc, etc ultimately end up filling the last two positions in some capacity at a 250/310/400 level. Feel free to assume away as much as you’d like and be sure to add it in your comments!)

If the above is our traditional view, and we are aware of a “non-traditional” view that exists; how best do we fit the Indians current roster into our new form of thinking? Utilizing the lineup optimization tool from www.baseballmusings.com, we are presented with a different possible lineup to trot out each day. I merely propose the following, but am really looking for others to chime in and see what the community thinks.

According to “The Book’s” way of thinking: here is the Indians optimal lineup:

Lineup #

Batter

Rationale

1

Carlos Santana

Santana is the team’s best overall hitter with most potent OBP/SLG combination. This spot sees a decent # of AB’s that have runners in scoring position, but also is setting the table for 3/4/5.

2

Asdrubal Cabrera

Strong hitter, but not the best OBP or best SLG.

3

Drew Stubbs

Obviously, this is only because Chisenhall, LF and DH are all 250/310/400 hittters and highlights just how unimportant the #3 is when compard to #1, #2 and #4!

4

Mark Reynolds

Overall, Cabrera and Reynolds have similar offensive value with the bat in their hands; however, Reynolds goes 4th because he derives that value with his big-time power and Cabrera does it with a little more OBP and a little less power.

5

Jason Kipnis

Looking at Cabrera and Kipnis’ projections, you would assume that Kipnis would be placed ahead of Cabrera. However, the numbers show that Kipnis’ will see enough extra chances to drive in runs that it overcomes the fewer AB’s he will see hitting three spots later.

6

Lonnie Chisenhall

Better than internal DH options/back-up position player options and not a high OBP guy. He wouldn’t be as helpful in front of the top of the order.

7

DH/RF

Assuming a 250/300/400 replacement player/platoon situation

8

DH/RF

Assuming a 250/300/400 replacement player/platoon situation

9

Michael Brantley

Brantley is a leadoff-type hitter who is the 2nd best leadoff hitter on the team. His lack of power moves him down to the bottom and he sets the table for the top two of your order which is now populated with your best hitters.

Expected Runs Per Game

4.903 runs/game

This is a gain of about 0.07 runs per game, which if extrapolated over the course of a season is worth about one win. That isn’t that important when you are talking about going from 68 to 69 wins, but is extremely important when you start getting in the mid-80s range and considering how many seasons have come down to just a game or two, can make all the difference in the world.

As an aside, if anyone was wondering about potential player change scenarios facing the Indians:

Swisher signsProjection: .356/.362/.458

Santana, Swisher, Cabrera, Reynolds, Kipnis, Chisenhall, Stubbs, DH, Brantley

Expected Runs Per Game: 5.072

Cabrera Traded, Swisher Signs: No Major League Position players acquired, Aviles Starts 

Santana, Swisher, Stubbs, Reynolds, Kipnis, Chisenhall, Aviles, DH, Brantley

Expected Runs Per Game: 4.996

Cabrera Traded:

Santana, Reynolds, Stubbs, Chisenhall, Kipnis, Aviles, LF, DH, Brantley

Expected Runs Per Game: 4.815

This last scenario could be interpreted to support the case of dealing Cabrera for young pitching. The basic reasoning is: you don’t hurt the team THAT much offensively by starting Aviles (0.1 runs/game) and you get the dual benefits of shedding $16.5 million in payroll over the next two years that could be used to entice Swisher (showing a 0.9 run increase over the initial lineup) while simultaneously acquiring the young arms that will be required to make all of this lineup tinkering worthwhile in the first place and actually get the Indians in the marginal area of 85+ wins where +/- 1 game actually matters.

What does it all mean?

As we can see, as the offensive talent drains from the big league club, the ‘optimal’ lineups change greatly. Reynolds as a #2 hitter is completely counter-intuitive until you realize that beyond Kipnis, nearly every hitter is barely above replacement level given their current projections. Reynolds elite power wins out over his low OBP and is given the opportunity to bat a few more times over the course of the season and hopefully get another home run or two by batting that much more often.

In the end, lineups make a difference at the margins and the real key is to have great players at every position, not arrange mediocre players in some magical order. I sincerely believe that both Chisenhall and Brantley will perform significantly better than their predictions this season and will justify their likely batting spots in the top-five of the order. I am optimistic on Drew Stubbs to outperform both last year and the .250/.320/.390 projection assigned to him.

As a final note, please remember: this discussion is meant to be academic and showcase the value of getting differently skilled players onto the same roster in order to maximize their talents and overall have a better team.  After all, no possible lineup construction will make the starting rotation any better. Though Trevor Bauer very likely will!

User Comments

Tony
December 17, 2012 - 8:49 AM EST
Discollama, I'll just leave it as I think the Indians absolutely should not settle on any deal to dump Perez just to save a little money. I'm just not a fan of picking up a bat that is only here 1-2 years. To me it is a lateral move, and perhaps a step back. Perez is not expendable as with him the Indians have one of the best bullpens in baseball. You know he can close. You know Pestano can setup. You know Smith can be a 7th/8th inning guy. And you know you have tons of depth and upside to pitch the 6th/7th inning. But you take away Perez, and now you have Pestano closing who you do not really know about (I think he will be just fine), Smith in a higher profile setup role, and then tons of questions marks behind him with a lack of proven guys to be the 3rd-7th options in the pen. I think they can survive and have a solid pen without Perez.....but only if they considerably upgrade the team in other areas in the short and long term. I say keep him if they are not bowled over, and then consider dealing him in July.
Aaron
December 16, 2012 - 5:41 PM EST
I'm not suggesting we should have kept Choo, but I wondered what we could have if we would have kept him and added swisher with reynolds.The simulation says we could have scored 5.07 runs per game with this lineup: Choo, Swisher, Cabrera, Reynolds, Santana, Chisenhall, DH, Brantley and Kipnis. Note: I took their career averages and the league average DH last season. That is fun!
Discollama
December 16, 2012 - 12:26 PM EST
Rich: Morales shattered his ankle in 2010, and missed all of 2011 because of it. outside of that very serious injury, he's never played fewer than 100 games in a season. You have to be encouraged by the fact that he missed a year and a half but still had the endurance to handle 134 games last year and played more as the season wore on playing more games in Aug-Sept/Oct than any other 2+ month grouping and he got better as he posted his two best wRC+ marks of the season during that time frame.

Tony: Again, I completely understand where you're coming from, I guess I just see Perez as expendable right now, and with his previous attitude issues (justified or not), I just don't see any reason for the FO to feel any loyalty towards him. We just don't need him now, and most likely won't miss him terribly in 2014. But, we do need another bat in the lineup and we have guys more capable of handling the closer's job.

I'm also a big fan of the rotating DH spot, and trading for Morales would make that almost impossible, but, isn't that kind of a good problem to have? Too many good bats on your roster? You could still use Morales as a platoon with Reynolds vs some righties to get some of the other fielders a break on occasion. If you could get him and sign a FA like Swisher (which I would have to think that showing a greatly improved lineup would only help that cause) then that lineup, and it's composition, is really good. In fact, that lineup is mostly made up of switch hitters with good amounts of power, I only see one guy who probably wont reach 10+ HR, but even Brantley has gap power with 37 doubles last year. And unless Morales returns to his 2009 form, Boras won't get a ton for a guy who is almost exclusively a DH and missed over a year with an ankle injury.

I still don't think that the Angels pull the trigger on that trade considering that they have a fairly strong BP with Madson, Frieri, Downs, Burnett, and Jepsen.

RP's just have so little trade value in the off season, however, there is another DH type that could become available this off season that I haven't seen a single Indians fan mention: Michael Morse. If the Nationals resign LaRoche like they think that they will, then Morse becomes completely expendable. Again, he's only got one year left, and he's older, but he's represented by ACES (so no Boras concerns) and will probably be cheaper to resign regardless. Even after missing so many games last year due to injury, Morse still managed nearly 20 HR. He's RH, but doesn't show a significant platoon split, .860 OPS .200 ISO vs LHP, .830 OPS .195 ISO vs RHP. The Nationals might let him go for a song.
Tony
December 16, 2012 - 9:26 AM EST
I think the idea is that if the Indians can get a bat to plug into the 3rd spot in the order (Swisher, Ross, Morales, Soriano etc).....that the Indians would go with a lineup something like this: Kipnis, Cabrera, FA/trade, Santana, Reynolds, Brantley, Stubbs, Chisenhall, DH/RF.
Rich
December 16, 2012 - 7:41 AM EST
Let me remind everyone that Brantley hit .227 when hitting leadoff last year. When hitting in the 5-8 positions he hit .324. The improvement in performance when he was dropped in the order was huge.

With nobody on base Brantley hit .282/.697. With runners on he hit .296/.814. I rest my case.

Moralys is interesting because he's a DH who can hit, but there are a couple of problems. One, he failed to play more than 57 games in four out of the last six seasons. Is there a more chronically injured player in the majors? Secondly, he may be a switch hitter but he can't hit lefties. His BA against lefties over the last three years is .218 versus .293 against righties. He has to be considered as a chronically injured left-handed hitting DH. Hey, didn't we just have a guy like that?
Tony
December 15, 2012 - 9:47 PM EST
Discollama, I think the Indians penny pinching ways have ingrained itself into our thinking. The Indians don't need to dump Perez to save money to sign anyone. That's what I think a lot of people are missing. The can sign a FA or trade for a player and keep him and Asdrubal and whoever else is making some money. They can even sign or trade for two players. When it comes to dealing Perez, they want a player or players in return that are young and controllable and help this team not just for 2013, but for several more years after. It is why a Perez-Morales deal makes little sense. Now, if you want to talk Joe Smith and Morales, I can see it.
camfrommaine63
December 15, 2012 - 9:15 PM EST
Masterson
Jimenez
Bauer
McAllister
Carrasco
huff
tomlin
camfrommaine41
December 15, 2012 - 9:13 PM EST
Grady Sizemore update outta curiousity?

*Brantley,cabrera,Santana,reynolds,KIPNIS, SWISHER.**,chisenhall,dh ,stubbs
Aussie Tribe
December 15, 2012 - 8:00 PM EST
Surprised no one has mentioned that when a base runner is a steal threat, the batter will ( should ) see more fastballs in that at bat. I'd rather have Santana & Reynolds facing fastballs with men on base.

My line up for what it's worth ( nothing )
Brantley
ACab
Kipnis
Santana
Reynolds
RF
Chiz
DH
Stubbs.

Guessing rf to be Ross & DH to not be much.
Keeps the 3 left handers apart so a little harder to match up on late in games as well.

Have loved the site and the mass amounts of great information on here for a few years, but seems like a few of the negative fans have found they're way here too lately!

AT.
Dennis
December 15, 2012 - 7:08 PM EST
Charlie,.. interesting conceptual piece for the IPI sight.. I believe you said the site for the lineup optimization tool is www.baseballmusings.com?... It looks like shy has determined that Kendrys Morales as an example could be a guy the Indians are going to kick the tire on in regard to a potential trade target that could possibly fill one of you current .250 slots you've cowardly failed to fill in. For the rest of us we'll view not claiming who your think will be starting lineup as you being open minded... At the very least, there will be a chuckle or two, quietly about it..

But back to the subject at hand.. Yes. Lineup construction is a vital part of the Indians coming season. So far, the loss of Choo is going to hammer the lead off spot for this lineup. By comparison, he flat out got on base. That will be one of the biggest skills the Indians are going to miss with his departure. So, a strength in the lineup goes to a weakness.

Putting Santana at lead off takes a good run producer away from run producing segments of the lineup. Santana can't set the table and clean it off, so, this solutions is truly a major problem. IDK which would be worse, moving Kipnis to lead off and sacrifice some of his run producing education or lose Santana to that role. If ONLY Drew Stubbs could use that combination of speed, power and contact ability to get on base more. Then that might be an option that would turn the Cyber Valuation on its EAR !!.. For every permutation, there are at least 504 potentially better solutions?... Now how did I come up with 504?

discollama
December 15, 2012 - 6:35 PM EST
I see where you're coming from Tony, two years of Perez after his impressive 2012 campaign for one year of Morales doesn't seem like a fair trade, but even at his best, you're getting two years and a total of 1.6 WAR from Perez for what? $15 million (estimated $7.2 mil in arbitration by MLBTR for 2013, should make at least $8m in 2014)?

Morales on the other hand, was worth 1.8 WAR last year after missing a year and a half due to his ankle injury. While he's still a risk, you could also argue that the further away he gets from his injury the strong and better he'll be, and he'll only cost the Indians around $3 million.

Perez is at a position of extreme depth for the Indians and Pestano over the last two years has been worth almost as much as Perez has been over his entire career. With the savings that the Indians would net from dumping Perez's salary, they may be able to put the needed cherry on top to get one of our top FA targets.

So in the end, you'd only get one year of Morales, but you'd be dumping a near replacement level RP who is costing you too much because he gets saves for a guy that could really help spark the offense of this club and right the awful lineup composition.

I just don't see why LAA does it.
The Closer
December 15, 2012 - 5:47 PM EST
It really doesn't matter who the Indians acquire until they do a better job drafting and evaluating talent. When will the organization clean house of all the under performing so called baseball experts. I guess if we can't do any better than picking up the players that other teams don't want then why should we expect more from the organization from the top to the bottom. Need an owner who truly wants to win NOW!
Tony
December 15, 2012 - 5:37 PM EST
Shy, I have zero interest in Morales for Chris Perez. No way. There would have to be a lot more in that deal. Morales has one year of control and is a Boras client, and has not been the same player he was since 2009 because of the injury. He'd be a solid pickup, but not for Perez. The Indians would have to get a lot more, or they would have to give up much less than Perez.
Billy Beane
December 15, 2012 - 5:28 PM EST
So, basically, the idea is to get the best OBP guys at the top.....and then a free swinging HR guy in the middle. I can understand that....but I think it is too by "the book". Baseball is a feel game, and while I agree that stats and all those measurements should be used, I think it should be combined with feel to more accurately put a lineup together. Combine the two.
Shy
December 15, 2012 - 4:52 PM EST
Anybody here anything about Kendrys Morales? Supposedly there is a deal in the works w the Angels for Chris Perez. I wanted the Indians to get Morales to play 1b last year but Antonutti went w Kotchman. I don't know if Morales can play in the field anymore, and I don't know if he can run but he is an excellent hitter and should be even better this year than last after a long layoff. Perez has to go, my first choice w be Kieschnick from the Giants, but Sabean is playing hardball w him although they are as desperate for a closer as the Indians are for a DH. Morales, I would do that if the terms are right and he can still run faster than Travis Hafner anyway
Ron Vollmar
December 15, 2012 - 3:50 PM EST
I did a lineup a few days ago and had stubbs at the 9th position.

The speed of 9th through the third batter makes the speed on the bases attractive. Brantley, Kipnis and Cabrerea.

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