Just Shut Up About Batting Order Already

Any more rosterbation and I might go blind. That said, this comment on last week’s second Phillies lineup session was too much to pass up:

Dann M. says:
January 27, 2011 at 11:47 pm
If they break camp as expected with Schumaker, Theriot and Punto in the starting lineup (David Freese not ready and Allen Craig primarily used in a platoon role with Lance Berkman), I think that he’d be justified batting Adam Wainwright 6th every fifth day.

Love. This.

Obviously, there’s some humor in his assertion. The Book says that batting the pitcher sixth would cost a team .03 runs a game or 4.86 runs a year, and although that’s a small number, it’s not a positive one.

But it’s also a calculated snark strike. Tony La Russa has famously featured optimized lineups with the pitcher batting eighth, and has garnered some notoriety for tinkering with his lineups. Yes, that chart shows that La Russa has averaged over 100+ lineups per season this decade. Perhaps he could actually sneak one in with the pitcher sixth.

Saying that batting Adam Wainwright sixth would cost the team about five runs a year assumes that the batters Waino would leap past were ‘typical.’ Those typical wOBAs (per Table 60 in The Book) hover above .300 (.326 for the typical sixth-hitter to .298 for the typical ninth-hitter when the book came out). In terms of the triple-slash, sixth-hitters last year put up a .260/.327/.418 number. Is this pitcher really the best option here?

He actually swings a respectable bat for a pitcher – .223/.254/.332 in 337 PAs to date – but a .254 wOBA wouldn’t normally ascend to great heights in a batting order. Then again, as the commenter pointed out, this team will not break camp with a good bottom of the order. Nick Punto has a .292 career wOBA, Ryan Theriot bottomed out last year with a .286 wOBA, and Skip Schumaker joined the sub-.300 crew with a .299 wOBA last year.

With what looks like three #8 hitters in the lineup, it’s actually kind of reasonable to wonder about batting the pitcher sixth. Against lefties, Wainwright even gets on base at a .269 clip and has a .337 slugging percentage, making it that much closer. He’s practically Ruthian. Batting Waiwright sixth would be even more reasonable if he were actually Carlos Zambrano, who has put together a .313 wOBA over the last three years (214 PAs).

But it shan’t be. Waino’s work against lefties came in a mere 115 PAs and heavy regression to the pitcher’s mean probably won’t treat it well. And though the bottom of the St. Louis lineup is about as bad as it can get for a contending team, we cherry picked the sub-.300 wOBAs. Aside from Punto (projected by Bill James to put up a .292 wOBA), they should bounce back a little next year. Schumaker is projected for a .321 wOBA by James, and Theriot a .307 number. All should be comfortably better than the pitcher most nights.

That doesn’t mean that the comment wasn’t a piece of brilliance. Just goes to show, there’s always someone out there that knows something better than you do. Sometimes that thing is snark attacks on the bottom of the Cardinals batting order.




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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


25 Responses to “Just Shut Up About Batting Order Already”

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  1. Andy Beard says:

    The scary thing is that one of Schumaker or Theriot is bound to lead off. So much for optimizing lineups.

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    • Jason B says:

      Yeah, really. There’s just no way to optimize much with such mediocre-or-worse hitters in so, so many slots in the order. Or, rather, I guess you *can* optimize but you’re going to be optimizing some pretty meager output.

      The best optimization for this lineup this offseason would have probably involved making a run at some players would could actually…you know, hit.

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  2. Lance W says:

    By The Book, isn’t batting Pujols third basically the worst lineup decision of all time?

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  3. phoenix2042 says:

    i know most cardinals fans would disagree, but i think that the cards should not extend pujols unless it’s for as cheap a deal as he has now. they are already fielding a team of mostly scrubs outside of pujols and holliday (and wainwright and carpenter). now imagine pujols making 30mil a year instead of 17 and wainwright’s contract is up so he makes more and then carpenter gets extended for more… and all of a sudden, it kind of feels like ryan theriot is too rich for their blood. the cards are having IMMENSE difficulty fielding a contending team with pujols, holliday, wainwright and carpenter making what they are now. now imagine pujols makes 10mil more a year, wainwright gets a 5mil bump and carpenter gets a big extension as well. can they really field a better team around these guys when those 4 can take up say $70+ mil (conservatively) by themselves? can they even field a good team around them now? maybe giving pujols 30mil a year is the worst thing that can happen to the cards for the next 8-10 years.

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    • Greg Z says:

      This makes for an interesting ’11 for Carpenter if Pujols extends. It seems the ideal situation for the Cardinals would be for him to have a decent season, decline his option and offer arb (they can do that, right?), collect the two draft picks, and fill the void with Lance Lynn or Mark Buehrle. Or, decline his option and negotiate a two-year deal at a lower AAV, but I don’t see that happening if he’s having a good enough year to warrant the extension.

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      • gnomez says:

        The greatest myth in baseball is that the Cardinals are a mid-market team.

        The last time St. Louis finished below 4th in home attendance was 2004. The only year I have TV ratings for was 2009, but the Cardinals were 9th. Combine that with the fact that the Cardinals ownership owns nearly all the parking within reasonable walking distance of Busch, and you have a team that really has no discernible reason to have a lower payroll than Minnesota other than gross profits.

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      • phoenix2042 says:

        what is their payroll? i was under the impression that it was sup 100mil but i could be wrong. but again, when everything is said and done, they can have holliday making 20 (how much is it exactly?), pujols making 30, carpenter making say 18 and wainwright making 20. so that’s 88mil to 4 players. now it could end up anywhere from 70-90mil on those 4 players once everyone is extended at market value (basically unless someone gives them a huge discount). theyre lucky to end up with 70mil to the 4 players… how can they field a competitive team with that kind of commitment?

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      • Greg Z says:

        Let’s say 30 to Pujols, 17 to Holliday, and 18 to Wainwright after 2012. So 65 to three players, and if Carpenter’s going to make 18 million as a 37 year old pitcher it won’t be with the Cardinals. In fact, I don’t see how he’d fit onto the team in any way unless he turns in a strong season and has his option picked up. It’s getting ahead of ouselves, but there are just too many cheaper alternatives that come with draft picks and less risk.

        And, even with the savings of Carpenter off the books the team is in financial trouble. Even if ownership increases payroll to 110 mil, which is a reach, they’d be forced to field a team around their top three paid players with less money than they are now. If the stars and scrubs formula is failing St. Louis now, and they resign Albert, then the team is in big trouble in a couple of years.

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  4. mister_rob says:

    Im assuming theriot will probably be leading off. but you can add Benie Molina to the bottom portion of the lineup
    Lets say they have Molina, Schumaker, Punto, Pitcher, Theriot all in a row. Is there another team this century who has had 5 hitters so unlikely to hit an extrabase hit right in a row?
    Its like a dead ball era lineup

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    • Choo says:

      Sadly, Bengie Molina would have been considered too morbidly obese to play in the Deadball Era. The opposition would have bunted him to death – literally. Bunt. Lunge. Wheeze. Plop. Cardiac Molina.

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    • Samuel says:

      Punto is supposed to be a utility guy. Freese and his 20 HR power should be getting the majority of at bats at third, although his track record so far means I should probably qualify that statement with an “ideally” or some other such term.

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    • matt w says:

      The Pirates’ opening day lineup in 2010 featured, starting with the 5 spot (2010 slugging in parentheses):

      Lastings Milledge (.380)
      Jeff Clement (.237)
      Andy LaRoche (.287)
      Zach Duke (.104) (pinch-hitters Ryan Church [.352] and Delwyn Young [.414])
      Ronny Cedeno (.382)
      Akinori Iwamura (.250)

      …which somehow peaks higher than the Cardinals lineup you put up, where Skip Schumaker has the best 2010 SLG at .338. Gog damn. Fear Ronny Cedeno!

      The great thing is that somehow the Pirates scored 11 runs that day.

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      • matt w says:

        Though there was at least one day when they strung together Clement-LaRoche-pitcher-Bobby Crosby (.298 SLG)-Iwamura for five straight batters with under .300 SLG, which is pretty impressive. OTOH they didn’t know that those guys were all going to be so bad, and have now dumped them all. The Cards are doing this on purpose.

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    • fredsbank says:

      “its like a deadball lineup…”

      almost as good a the comment which inspired this very article

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  5. Samuel says:

    So… what would it cost to trade for Jose Reyes again?

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    • phoenix2042 says:

      i doubt the mets will trade him. hes not even 30 yet and had a pretty good year, even with the injuries. hes good for 15-20 homers, 40 doubles and double digit triples with a .280 BA, nevermind the 30-50 steals hes likely to have. then you have to consider that he is one of the very very few shortstops that can both hit and defend. he should be extended, and if he isn’t, then he is going to get a monster contract. the cards cannot afford another player making close to 20mil. i mean then you could be talking about the possibility of almost 100mil tied up in 5 players! only two teams can afford that: the yankees and the red sox.

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  6. Mark says:

    Yikes. That would be fun for the world outside of Fangraphs (WOOF) to discuss it ever came to be. For now the WOF did a good job breaking out the hypothetical.

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  7. Dave says:

    I know tinkering with lineups yields very little change, but what about polar opposite ideas:
    On a team with 4 strong/5 weak hitters….which would be better?

    alternating bad/good or clustering your 4 good in front of your 5 bad?

    Does it matter? If you alternate them, they bad players will have much better RBI totals, but the good ones will have fewer. They’ll have fewer runs as well…perhaps fewer walks.
    If you cluster them, the leadoff strong player has poor RBI stats, but should score a ton and walk, too. The 2nd and 3rd strong hitters should have strong stats across the board, and the last good hitter, batting 4th, would have fewer walks and runs, but a ton of RBI. The bad players would just have low stats across the board, with the 5th batter having more RBI than normal.

    But which is best and does it matter?

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    • you’re being too simplistic. there are more factors at play than merely ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ hitters

      there are factors like speed, contact etc.

      that said, aren’t the Cards a fascinating offensive team? They really could do what you’re suggesting – alternating ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ guys like a little league lineup…

      good stuff

      -w

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  8. highrent says:

    Yeah kind weird according to book putting pujols 3rd trumps almost everything. I don’t unstand the snark because even the book has proven hitting the pitch 8th isn’t actually a bad idea its just that the edge is so slight its not a big difference. Its puzzling consider almost no major league manager uses anything the book is trying endear. Larussa’s stunt actually got people thinking to be more creative. I don’t agree with his constant lineups changes but most of the changes have to do with not really having the right pieces for the so called conventional approach. The Cardinals continue to have no obvious leadoff man. The best qualified to leadoff at this point according the book is David Freese.

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  9. Mojowo11 says:

    …and then, 9 months later, the Cardinals led the NL in runs scored.

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