Out of Order in Detroit

During last night’s 2-1, extra innings classic between Detroit and Kansas City, something surprising jumped out at me. Well, it jumped out at me after I recovered from Doug Fister somehow putting up four wins above replacement this season, being perfect through six, and having a thrilling duel with the Royals’ Jeff Francis. (By the way, a belated HAPPY FRANCIS DAY to my fellow Royals fans. Or is it MERRY JEFFMAS?). Delmon Young was hitting third. And it wasn’t just a one game thing, or even a platoon strategy with the Tigers facing a lefty. Nope, it’s been happening every game since the Tigers acquired Young from the Twins earlier this month. Seriously, has Jim Leyland become the real Motor City Madman?

Yes, I know: batting order doesn’t matter that much. But it does matter. I should give Leyland some credit, for he at least seems to have some sensible platoons going, e.g., with Brandon Inge and Wilson Betemit at third base. That is better than many managers do.

Nonetheless, hitting Delmon Young third is still just… wrong. One doesn’t even have to hold to the lineup optimization principles of The Book to see how wrong-headed this is. Where a player should hit is relative to the other players in the lineup, of course. At first I thought the Tigers were having Young hit third for the lack of better options, but a moment’s reflection corrects that misconception. I’m fine with Miguel Cabrera hitting cleanup, let’s leave him there. But you don’t even have to look at projections to see that the Tigers have a number of better options among the players in the lineup last night for hitting in front of Miguel Cabrera: Alex Avila and Victor Martinez spring to mind, and those aren’t the only two options.

As for Delmon Young himself, he’s particularly ill-suited for the third spot. The third spot of the batting order is a good place for a home run, since usually he’ll get the most plate appearances with two outs and none on. Young has a .097 ISO this season. (Again, I only use present-season stats because I assume that’s what most managers use, we’d prefer to use projections, and even then, Young doesn’t project for many homers.) Moreover, the third spot usually sees the most double play opportunities, and Young has a tendency to hit into a lot of those.

One might argue that Delmon is a good choice hit third versus lefties. As I mentioned above, however, he’s been hitting third every game since coming to Detroit. Moreover, his platoon split isn’t all that big for a right-handed hitter. If you’re going to pick a platoon #3 hitter on that basis, you’d be better off going with Ryan Raburn. The Tigers might want to use the (bad) excuse of Young hitting well since he’s come to Detroit. I suppose his current .296 wOBA is superior to his .291 wOBA prior to joining the Tigers.

Look, I could go into a long discourse about the proper way to put together a batting order, using simulations, looking at projections, and properly estimating platoon skill. However, having Young hit third doesn’t even pass an initial smell test when you look at the hitters that are getting fewer chances for plate appearances every game than Delmon Young. Victor Martinez and Alex Avila being the two most obvious examples.

I’m sure Jim Leyland has his reasons. After all, it’s not like he’s putting on-base machines at the top of the lineup in front of Young every night, anyway (Austin Jackson and Magglio Ordonez were the featured top two last night). Maybe he figures that Delmon won’t have too many double play opportunities with those guys up top. Leyland’s crazy like a fox! I guess that sequence “works” for those purposes, but at least put it further down in the order.

The Tigers are winning the American League Central by five games as a type this, so I guess whatever Leyland has been doing is “working.” So maybe I’m the one who is out of order. As I finish this post, Demon Young is hitting third yet again against a right-handed pitcher with a legendarily popular name. The Tigers are winning 2-1, and Delmon Young had a sacrifice fly in the first inning. In my face.

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

51 Responses to “Out of Order in Detroit”

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  1. Griffin says:

    Doug Fister seems like a pretty darn good pitcher. Doesn’t walk many, gets a lot of weak ground balls. Seems like he has a bright future.

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  2. DudeYerGettinADelmon says:

    Probably a confidence thing to bat him 3rd. Probably a stupid thing also.

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  3. Philley118008 says:

    “since usually he’ll get the most plate appearances with two outs and none on.”

    Really? Is this because this situation is most likely to happen in the first inning more then other innings? Seems to me that situation would happen more in the bottom third of the line-up, more specifically the pitcher’s spot.

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    • Ian R. says:

      I’m sure the third spot gets the most TOTAL PAs in that situation, just because the #3 spot gets more plate appearances overall than the #9 spot. But yes, the percentage of PAs fitting those criteria is probably higher in the bottom of the lineup, thanks to the presence of worse hitters who make more outs there.

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    • test says:

      It’s because the Third spot is the only spot in the lineup guaranteed, once a game, to have a shot at hitting in that situation without a home run needing to be hit( only the leadoff spot is guaranteed a leadoff every game). It’s also higher in the lineup, so the extra 1/2 AB a game makes a big difference over the ninth spot for these sorts of things.

      None of these differences are huge though. I’m not sure if the differences are counts or percentages either.

      Maybe the Tigers are pulling a perfect setup for Cabrera, filling pitchers with overconfidence before they face a good hitter the first time. It’s a trap!

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  4. Brad Johnson says:

    A couple notes.

    VMart was acquired to “protect” Cabrera. Regardless of how much data we gather to the contrary, anybody who plays baseball and isn’t a statistician is never going to be convinced protection (especially from the rear) isn’t ultimately that important. Similarly, you can show with data that protection works better from the front than the rear and these same people will tell you are wrong. So basically, VMart is going to continue protecting Cabrera.

    As for the rest of the Tigers lineup, well it’s tough to figure it out when they don’t have any players who really fit in as a leadoff or #2 hitter. After all, if you threw a high OBP guy like Avila in the top, he’d just clog the bases.

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  5. Ian says:

    Leyland’s lineups are a constant source of irritation for Tigers fans. It is shocking that at least one of Avila, Peralta and Martinez haven’t moved permanently into one of the top three spots in the lineup in front of Cabrera. It is probably more shocking that Jackson has managed to remain atop a fairly competent lineup ALL SEASON despite posting a .311 OBP (22 points below the team average OBP). I understand that the standard lineup models tend to indicate a win, at most, difference between the worst and best configuration of 9 guys, but intuition tries really hard to convince me that the standard model is less applicable when Leyland rolls OBPs of .311, .282 and .284 in front of one of the game’s top three hitters.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      It is shocking that at least one of Avila, Peralta and Martinez haven’t moved permanently into one of the top three spots in the lineup in front of Cabrera.

      They’re performing fine where they are in the lineup.

      If it ain;t broke ….

      *big grin*

      For old-school managers (and Leyland is very old school), speed trumps OBP at the top of the order … and occassionally the ability to foul off a lot of pitches also trumps OBP.

      This seems to be one of the things that non-saberists really struggle with, that “speed at the top isn’t as important as getting on base”.

      I’m more positioned in the “you can’t steal 1st base” camp, and really appreciate the walk, and would align myself more with Earl Weaver than Whitey Herzog.

      I think managers and fans see fast guys get on base, advance with their speed, and then score on a hit and think “they manufactured a run”, without ralize that big boppers in the heart of the lineup would have probably driven the runner in any way.

      Austin Jackson seems like a GREAT #9 hitter to me. When he gets on, his speed is on base for the top of the lineup and really opens up some options. If he doesn;t get on … well, he hits before the leadoff hitter (who should be a guy that gets on base).

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      • The Nicker says:

        You hit it on the head, Jackson would be a great 9 hitter.

        This is not the only time Leyland has made fans furious with his lineups. As you correctly note, he does the platoons well. He also is extremely OCD about defensive/offensive replacements. Basically, if you’re not Cabrera or Martinez, it’s not assured that you will play the whole game.

        As for Delmon Young, before he got there we’ve seen steady doses of Magglio Ordonez and Don Kelly in that spot all year, so screw it, he is an upgrade. Tigers fans complain about this a ton, but it really doesn’t make a huge difference in the long run, so I try to forget about it and focus about how he still plays Raburn on the infield.

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  6. TartanElk says:

    Excuse me Mr. Klaasen, the Tigers currently hold a +5 run differential, thank you very much.

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  7. Chris S says:

    If memory serves, The Book more or less says that your 5th-best hitter should bat 3rd. If that’s the case then it’s clear that Avila needs to be somewhere in the top 3 (rather than 6th), but I’m not sure Young is necessarily out of place where he is.

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    • Ian R. says:

      Well sure, but The Book also advocates having your best hitters batting 1st, 2nd and 4th (depending on their particular mix of SLG and OBP.) Other than having Miguel Cabrera in the number 4 spot, Leyland clearly isn’t following that model. In a “traditional” lineup, the best hitter bats 3rd, and that is clearly NOT Delmon Young. No matter how you slice it, DY is out of place.

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      • Jack says:

        Leyland was also convinced that Maggs was still a legitimate power hitter and refused to move him until he had to this year.

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  8. CKrome says:

    Remember, too, that Brennan Boesch has been out of the mix for a couple days now because of a thumb problem … that limits Leyland’s flexibility.

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  9. Choo says:

    This reeks of the classic, old school baseball philosophy. With Miguel Cabrera in the on-deck circle, Leyland probably figures Young will get a higher percentage of fastball strikes, which is a good thing for Young – but that’s a good thing for any hitter. Besides, most major league pitchers have an off-speed pitch they can eek over for a strike when they fall behind an undisciplined fastball hitter like Young.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      You’re probably right.

      Leyland probably thinks that Cabrera behind Young will get Young more pitches that Young can hit.

      To be fair to Leyland, he sees A LOT of teams IBB Cabrera, even when they “shouldn’t” … so he is aware of the “Cabrera Respect” aspect of the situation. This may or may not come through in Young’s numbers, and the rest of the year is probably too small of a sample to make any conclusion.

      Albert Pujols has performed worse than his career average since Holliday was acquired (and hits behind AP5). I’m not sure any conclusion can be drawn from this. Do pitchers go after Pujols more in the strike zone so they don’t walk him in front of Holliday? I find that unlikely.

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  10. GoTigers says:

    So if I’m using the correct analysis from Tango et al. “The Book”, third spot in the order will see most situations with two outs (as mentioned above) and second most PAs with one out. I believe third in the order also has second highest PAs with runners on base, which kind of puts that spot in the lineup in a strange position of importance and futility. This may lead the authors to come to their suggestion of putting the top three batters in #1, #2, and #4 positions, then next best in #3 and #5.
    I think Leyland (who I’m assuming isn’t a big saber guy), is trying to leverage Jackson’s speed at the top of the order as per traditional lineup mechanics. Though Jackson isn’t a top three batter, I’m not sure there’s a better speed/wOBP guy in this spot. Here’s what I’d do:
    1 – Jackson CF wOBA 299
    2 – Avila C 391
    3 – Peralta SS 363
    4 – Cabrera 1B 417
    5 – Martinez DH 354
    6 – Boesch RF 347 assuming he’s healthy
    7 – Young LF 296
    8 – Betemit/Inge 3B 345/225
    9 – Rayburn 2B 292
    Not the production out of corner outfielders that you want, but I think that’s what sparked the move to get Young in the first place…

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    • James says:

      With Cabrera being their offense, I would think they would be best served moving him up to 3 to maximize his ABs. I would also consider moving Jackson to 9, and having Peralta or Boesch leadoff.

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      • GoTigers says:

        In some ways, the Tigers are in a situation similar to the Cards, where they’ve got three hitters to work around: Cabrera, VMart and Avila (a la Pujols, Berkman, Holiday). When Holiday was out in June it seemed like Berkman hit 4th behind Pujols. Last night they went 2-3-4 Berk-Pujols-Holiday. Maybe Peralta-Avila-Cabrera-VMart? I don’t know the right answer….It’s like having a pitching staff with one really good pitcher….

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  11. tigerdog1 says:

    Leyland puts out some clueless lineups. He seems to have no regard for getting hitters on base ahead of the best RBI man in the game. He has weird stereotypes about having a speedy center fielder leading off. He refused to take Ordonez out of the 3 slot all year despite overwhelming evidence that his power was long gone and his hitting ability was vanishing rapidly.

    Leyland came right out and said what he thinks in January, at Tigerfest. He said “on base, on base, on base. Everybody talks about on base. I like the guys that drive em in.” Then, he proceeds to put out brainless lineups. The Tigers have had five guys most of the year that have been in the top 30 or so in OPS in the league, and they’ve gotten enough offense from them to overcome the rest of the lineup and a very mediocre rotation. They’re the best of a bad bunch in the AL Central.

    Further, Leyland is obsessed with lefty on lefty match ups for pitchers, and he seems to think that Don Kelly batting left vs any RHP is an advantage. He puts Ryan Raburn at 2B, although he is THE worst defensive 2B in the league for the past five years. It’s just plain ignorant.

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  12. DD says:

    How about this:

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    • Cloud Computer says:

      its R A B U R N

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    • Ian says:

      This is pretty much exactly what the lineup should be, in my opinion. Lots of LH/RH back to back, Jackson batting 9th, and lots of baserunners for Cabrera, along with some guys behind him to drive him in. Personally, the only thing I’d change would be to swap V-Mart and Avila – Avila has more power at this stage, and is more likely to be able to drive in the brutally-slow Cabrera in from 1st, and he’s also more likely to score from 2nd on a single by Young or Betemit.

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      • The Nicker says:

        Cabrera is not that slow on the bases. At least, compared to V-Mart, who’s now Billy Butler slow

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  13. jeff says:

    As a Detroit fan, I have been complaining about Leyland’s lineups for years…

    All that matters to him is speed, RBI’s, and lefty/righty matchups… nothing else…

    His entire managing of games is only based on platoon matchups.. playing a righty against a lefty and so on…

    I know a manager only makes maybe a 5 game difference over the course of a season but I have to believe that Leyland costs the Tigers 5 games minimum each year through his dumb moves…

    Best manager in the game at keeping a happy clubhouse… Worse manager in the game at actually managing a game…

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  14. Grebe says:

    I find it funny that despite Leyland’s lineup machinations and a top of the order that doesn’t get on base, the Tigers are still 5th in the AL in runs scored. That tells me two things.

    1. AL lineups just ain’t what they used to be (ain’t what they used to be).
    2. Miguel Cabrera is awesome.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      If Cabrera played on a sabermetric-friendly team, the attention given to him would be obnoxious.

      41 WAR
      8 full seasons
      He’s 28yo.

      Would love to see how many players had 40 WAR by age 28, and what % of them made it to the HoF.

      IMO, Cabrera is going to start suffering from Pujols Disease (insert joke here) in that Cabrera puts up the same season every year so regularly that it often gets taken from granted. 4 top 5’s in MVP.

      This dude needs a Joe Mauer Special, a season where he doubles his HR/FB rate, or an insane BABIP year (Hey look, Josh Hamilton) to actually win an MVP award, because the standard ho-hum .315-35-110 Cabrera season isn’t extraordinary enough to win an MVP.

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    • W0lverine says:

      Cabrera has more runs scored than RBI, that should tell you everything you need to know about how retarded Leyland’s lineups have been all season.

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      • The Nicker says:

        My personal favorite was, about a month ago ago, somebody intentionally walked Avila, the 9 hitter, WITH 2 OUTS, to face Austin Jackson, the leadoff hitter.

        What does that tell you about how stupid the lineup is when the other team’s manager would rather bypass the 9 hitter to face the leadoff?

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  15. john says:

    Tired of all the talk on here about Raburn being such a stud after he went off last August. Yes, Young shouldn’t be in the 3 spot, but Raburn has been atrocious. Sure he’s picked it up in August, but if you’re going off that, why not plug in Avila in the 3? Avila .391 wOBA on the year, .499 in August. Raburn .292 wOBA on the year, .378 in August.

    Don’t even want to hear about how Raburn “at least has value as an average defender”. Don’t really care what any defensive metric says, Raburn is terrible in the field.

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  16. My echo and bunnymen says:

    Somehow when I went to Comerica Park, recently, Alex Avila was batting 8th. Then when I enjoyed a full 3 game series at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, he was STILL in the 8th spot. Jim Leyland is not a madman, he’s a moron.

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  17. Mattdeflip says:

    In a perfect world, DY hits 7th or 8th, Avila hits 3rd and Peralta is #2. Or, if you prefer, you could try this set up and see what happens:

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  18. Mattdeflip says:

    My apologies… Insert Young in the Raburn spot

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  19. Flip says:

    Not long ago people were complaining about Peralta and Avila being on a MLB roster. Now they complain that Leyland isn’t getting enough out of them. Funny stuff.

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    • ToddM says:

      That’s just not true — about Avila, at least. Peralta was a mid-season acquisition I expected very little out of. Sometimes you catch a break.

      Peralta’s turned it around big time after leaving Cleveland. His slow fade has turned into a steady burn.

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      • Griffin says:

        I listened to plenty of fans complain about Avila all off-season and for the first week of this year. Funny how fast they forget/change.

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      • Flip says:

        The Alex Avila type comments:
        “Al’s son should be batting 9th in Toledo”
        “The only reason he’s in the majors is because of his daddy”.

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    • Elwin says:

      To be fair, Avila hit .237./327/.383 in his previous MLB experience and Peralta was coming off two poor seasons in a row. No one saw either of their 2011 seasons coming.

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  20. well says:

    Easy response to the question of why Leyland constructs his lineups as he does–he’s not the sharpest of knives in the kitchen.

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  21. Griffin says:

    The only team in the American League behind the Tigers in wOBA (a lineup order independent number, mind you) who actually has more runs than them is Toronto. That tells me a lot of you are making a mountain out of a mole hill.

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  22. rea says:

    I suspect Leyland’s thinking goes something like this:

    (1) Peralta and Avila have hit better than expected this year while lower down in the order–why mess with that?

    (2) We want Young to be the Young of 2010, rather than the 2011 Twins’ Young, and our wish, to a large extent, is coming true. Putting him 3rd is an expression of confidence in him, and not unjustified on the basis of how he’s played for the Tigers, as opposed to the Twins, this year.

    (3) Jackson, we got because we wanted a speedy guy at the top of our lineup. Last year that worked out well–this year less so. But he’s a young guy with a lot of talent, and we don’t want to mess with his head. And, anyone else we could put in that slot would be slow, slow, slow.

    (4) The whole reason we got Martinez was to bat behind Cabrera, so that he would occasionally have at bats where he wasn’t intentionally walked. Not going to mess with that.

    (5) Boesch, at this point is not a factor–he needs thumb surgery before he can play regularly again. He might be usable as a pinch hitter in the playoffs if we’re very lucky, but he’s not in the lineup.

    Once you understand that Leyland’s lineups are constructed on the basis of psychology as much as anything else, they make more sense. By “make more sense,” I mean that you can discern Leyland’s reasoning, even if he’s objectively wrong. Leyland is the best at handling his players, although below average on in-game strategy–but maybe these two facts are not unconnected.

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    • Tigersfan!!! says:

      I agree with rea. I am puzzled by Leyland’s lineup construction and all the strategy but I do believe that he gets as much as he can out of his players. I think it mostly averages out. This team is not great and is in first place. As long as they don’t have another September swoon, Leyland deserves some credit for the team’s success.

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  23. the fume says:

    w.r.t. Jackson, he’s been about a .335 OBP since the first month, which was about the time people really started clamoring that he be moved. so short of 1 of the 3 slowest people in baseball to leadoff (and wasting their power once a game) he’s been the best option.

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  24. the fume says:

    Also, Leyland may not put the proper guys at the top of the lineup, but he does cluster well still, with the 4-7 OBP being .432, .370, .390, .355. Betemit will often bat 8th when he plays, with his .351 OBP.

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