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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.