Friday, 15 February 2008

A Fine Line(up)

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:


1. Eckstien
2. Rios
3. Rolen
4. Thomas
5. Overbay
6. Wells
7. Stairs
8. Hill
9. Zaun/Barajas


1. Johnson
2. Rios
3. Rolen
4. Thomas
5. Wells
6. Hill
7. Overbay
8. Zaun
9. McDonald

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.]

-- WillRain


Jonathan said...

Honestly, any time someone mentions player X bats better in a certain lineup position, I roll my eyes. Maybe (maybe!) the lineup around him could have a significant effect, but the idea that some guys thrive because they like certain numbers beside their name is just silly to me. Half the time it comes down to small sample size, and the rest it's cause and effect- like Lyle being on fire with the Brewers and winning the cleanup role.

I like Rolen at 3 if he's his own self. Wells at 6 is right, but probably not going to happen. To me the Overbay/Rios thing comes down to which you think is more important at the top of the lineup OBP or SB? (And wasting a few Rios HR with the bases empty). I lean towards OBP but it probably doesn't make much of a difference and who knows how they'll do in that respect next year anyway.

Jonathan said...

Oh and what about McDonald 8th, and Zaun the OBP machine (for the bottom of the lineup) last for "second leadoff" like they should probably do with pitchers in the NL?

The Southpaw said...

It's not an argument I normally reach for, but in the case of Overbay his scorching hot cleanup numbers come in about 330 PAs, which is no small sample size. He's also a plus bat hitting 5th (and cruddy pretty much everywhere else), which leads me to believe that in his case at least there's a certain comfort zone to hitting in that part of the lineup. I remember last offseason when all the Boston papers were over the moon for JD Drew and his .464? OBP hitting 5th. Didn't work so well for the Bosox last year, but this sort of argument has been used in the past.

In any event, I think we can all chink our beer glasses over the wrongness of ever going 1. Eck, 2. Reed...

Johnny Was

Jonathan said...

You know, come to think of it I totally buy that some of his early season struggles last year were because he was trying to do something different in a "new role". But I still think otherwise the breakdown is largely the result of the seasons he was having (and thus where he was batting), and not the other way around. I may be a little over sensitive about this one because people ALWAYS get excited about the lineup spot thing (like last year when Vernon went on fire for like a week and that was obviously because he was batting leadoff) and it's a perfect example of a stat that might not mean anything. (Wait! Frank Thomas hits like a hall of famer when he's batting third!! What are we thinking?! :))

All I'm going to say about the second thing is UGH. And that it'll probably happen sometime because Reed can bunt, or something. UGH.

The Southpaw said...

jonathan said:

Oh and what about McDonald 8th, and Zaun the OBP machine (for the bottom of the lineup) last for "second leadoff" like they should probably do with pitchers in the NL?

I've often gravitated to moving the worst hitter to #8 in order to get to a simulation of top-of-the-order effectiveness sooner - though I had usually applied that reasoning to Hill rather than Zaun.

As far as the discussion of Overbay - I had an impression that turned out to be wrong which I cut out of my post for the sake of length - that Overbay struggled at #2 before he got hurt. but when I checked the boxes, it turns out that he only struggled there the first few games of the season. On May 18 he was returned to the #2 slot and had his best stretch of the season right up until the injury - hitting over .800 in OPS.

I had to admit I was wrong about his work at #2.

Jonathan said...

Dear god...forget Eck-Reed. Hear the one about Rios-Eck? Shoot me in the face.