Over the last few days, in the course of seeing various comments on the Jays batting order, I began to look into some of the assumptions about line-up and the hitters the Jays had available to fill theirs.
Here are some of my conclusions that might surprise you:
1. I had resisted the notion of Overbay hitting #2 because I was sure he had struggled in that role even before his injury in 2007, but when I checked that out it turned out not to be true. I was also uncomfortable with someone that relatively slow at the top of the order, however, having checked out everything I can, I have to concede that Overbay at #2 vs RH makes sense. As much as I have an "old school" urge to have speed at the top, he fits there.
The thing is, Rios also fits there equally well.
One of them as #2 and the other as #5, simply in terms of swinging the bat, there's not much difference. Overbay spiked to .949 vs. RH in 2006, but that's above his career curve in that split by 100 points or so.
Rios has just pushed above .800 but I think most expect that to continue to rise. Let's also acknowledge that the guy who hits five is gonna probably collect more RBI, but I think it's a reasonable possibility either hitter will hit in the mid-800's (vs. RHP of course) in either role and will drive in about as many as the other would have.
So, what's the tiebreaker? For me it's this: either player will get about the same number of RBI in either spot, but Rios will clearly steal more in the #2 spot, than he would at five or that Overbay would at two. So I'm going to go with the line-up that gives him that chance.
If you are married to the idea of Overbay hitting #2, I won't quibble with you....just flip-flop the two in your mind.
2. Vernon Wells needs to hit #6 vs RHP. Over his last 4 healthy seasons, his OPS is .812 vs. RHP, its over 150 points higher vs LH. I know that flies in the face of his having the "franchise contract" but the truth is, not only does he have issues vs. RHP, but over his career, he hits better in the #6 slot than he does in the #3 by 70 points of OPS, though obviously in far fewer plate appearances. I think the fans' instinct that his ego will be bruised by that slot might be mistaken. Given the arguments for other players in the other potential slots, which I won't detail as I assume they are obvious, the sixth slot is a natural fit for Wells in the lineup versus righties.
3. When Barajas must play, it needs to be vs RH. His OPS in that role is little different from Zaun's, however Zaun splits much stronger vs. LH. This one likely didn't surprise anyone.
4. A case can be made for McDonald starting against all lefties, not because he hits them well (he did in 2007, but its a huge outlier to the rest of his career) but because Eck is equally hapless against lefties and that means Mac's glove wins out, and furthermore, it solves the conflict of who leads off between Johnson and Eck.
5. And most surprisingly - or at least I assume so since I haven't seen anyone else suggest it - Rolen needs to be your regular #3 hitter. Assuming health (as I always do) he's far and away best suited. In his last three healthy season ('06, '04, '03) he hit a combined .912 vs RH and .977 vs LH
So, here's what I think is an optimal lineup each way:
BTW, that lineup vs LHP features hitters in the 2-6 spots all of whom can be reasonably expected to break .900 vs LH.
Will Gibby and the Jays give any thought to Rolen hitting third? I doubt it, but it's the best place for him if he's his old self.
[disclaimer - Johnny notes accurately that Overbay has hit much better over his career at #4 than at any other spot. I discount this factor simply because it is inconceivable that it will ever occur to John Gibbons to remove Thomas from the clean-up spot in favor of Overbay. Hitting #5 is the next best option.]