Pujols Bats Fourth

National attention is required anytime the best hitter in baseball moves down in the lineup. Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday’s lineup swap is getting more play, though, because St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Bernie Miklasz originally suggested it in his column. Merely hours later, the flip showed up on the lineup card. Miklasz’ argument is simple and to the point. Holliday is going through a bad stretch hitting with runners on, and while there’s every reason to believe Holliday will snap out of the funk, why not swap them in the meanwhile and allow Pujols to bat with someone on base.

In The Book, the most important slots in the lineup are found to be the leadoff position, second, and fourth. This combats conventional wisdom a bit, since the number two hitter is generally thought of as someone who can ‘handle the bat’ – i.e. bunt, move the runner over, etc. – and the three hitter is your best or second best hitter. The reason that the fourth slot is more important than the three slot is because more often than not, the three hitter comes up with nobody on and two out, whereas the four hitter begins innings. Plus, the difference is about 18 plate appearances over a given season, not enough to dismiss the idea because it would mean less Pujols.

Tony LaRussa is a fascinating manager for numerous reasons — his bullpen management, batting a pitcher eighth, and having pitchers field and fielders pitch being the most obvious. He’s not always correct, but he usually is entertaining. What he’s doing here isn’t radical and it shouldn’t be brow-raising. It’s smart and defensible. Other teams across the league are implementing similar strategies, too. Tampa Bay’s Joe Maddon pencils Evan Longoria in as his clean-up hitter most days, Alex Rodriguez mans the position for the Yankees, and even Kansas City has begun batting Billy Butler fourth.

LaRussa can proclaim innocence if accused of starting the fire. As to whether this was inspired by Bernie Miklasz or not, well, who knows. Both men should be commended for evaluating the lineup as rational agents rather than slaves to conformity and tradition.

Now watch LaRussa do something really crazy. Like bat Pujols leadoff.




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17 Responses to “Pujols Bats Fourth”

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  1. don g says:

    Then why not bat Holliday 2nd? Pujols at 4th is OK, but he may get one less at bat every so often. Rasmus-Holliday-Pujols-Ludwick wouldn’t be a bad front 4.

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  2. gorillagogo says:

    “The reason that the fourth slot is more important than the three slot is because more often than not, the three hitter comes up with nobody on and two out, whereas the four hitter begins innings.”

    I hope you’re just using a common figure of speech here than actually suggesting that the number three hitter comes up to bat with 2 outs and nobody on more often than he comes up in all other situations combined.

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    • James says:

      I think he meant when the first slot leads off an inning, but even then I think it’s only about 40% of the time the third slot would be up with two outs.

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      • delv says:

        This general idea about the #3 hitter coming up more often w/ no one on base needs to be evaluated relative to the specific team in question. While it may hold true for the #3 hitter on the Royals, a Yankees 2010 Opening Day lineup with Jeter and Nick Johnson batting 1-2 and each getting on 40% of the time is going to render the #3 hitter’s PAs much more valuable.

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      • Patrick says:

        @delv

        Even if you assume a *very* anemic .300 OBP for both the one and two hitters you find that the third hitter will only come up with empty bases 49% of the time. So no, it’s not even true for the lowly Royals.

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  3. Bill in Vegas says:

    You quote The Book regarding the importance of various spots in the order. However, if I remember correctly, that was an AL-only analysis.

    Am I mistaken?

    If I am not, I’m sure we’d all agree that the analysis in the NL (where, obv, the pitcher has to bat) could yield significantly different conclusions. Has The Book or anyone else done that analysis?

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    • joser says:

      The original analysis in The Book, like everything else (such as Run Expectancy) was done based on data for all of baseball in the 1999-2002 seasons. That’s since been expanded in some (all?) cases, but I don’t know that any data was restricted to AL-only (any DH analysis aside, obviously). Tango posts at Fangraphs when he has time so he may stop by to elaborate.

      And I’m not sure that looking at the NL alone would yield all that different of an outcome. The pitcher’s spot in the lineup is where the worst hitter on an AL lineup goes, and while they might not bunt quite as much I wouldn’t expect the men-on/outs game state to be vastly different when the lineup turns over. At least, not enough to change the outcome of this analysis (over enough games to be meaningful). But it would be an interesting thing to test, obviously, because you clearly have a different intuition than I do.

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    • Matt says:

      I believe The Book looks at both NL and AL in this regard. I know it came to the conclusion that the 8th spot is the best spot to bat the pitcher, so it isn’t AL exclusive.

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  4. chuckb says:

    I’ve been an advocate for Pujols in the 2 hole for a while. La Russa’s always liked Pujols in the 3 spot b/c he likes to guarantee him a PA in the first inning, when pitchers are often still trying to find their way. Putting him in the 2 spot takes advantage of his OBP and gets him more PAs throughout the course of the season. Failing that, the 4 spot is the next best spot in the order for Albert.

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  5. adam says:

    I long for the day that Mauer bats second, Cuddyer third, and Morneau fourth. It’ll never happen, of course, but a man can dream.

    At least Gardenhire has stopped filling out the lineup card by position, mostly. Nothing like having your AAAA journeyman all-glove-no-bat backup catcher hitting third because Joe is getting a day off.

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  6. mike says:

    I have no major issues with hitting AP 4th but do think that 3rd is a better spot for him but that requires that the 1 and 2 hitters be OBP proficient. Not “damage” per se in the 2 hole, which TLR loves so much, and not “speed” in the leadoff spot, which so many managers and fans love so much.

    With major league average OBP guys hitting 1 and 2, then 4th is probably going to get AP more ABs with runners on base even with the reduced number of ABs. But with above average OBP producers, hitting 3rd is best.

    Of course no one can really protect AP, not even Matt Holliday on a streak really, and a single “big bat” behind AP isn’t enough to get AP good pitches. However, having the 1 and 2 hitters on base will go a long way to getting AP pitches to hit. Then, if is he pitched around, the likes of holliday, rasmus and ludwick ought to be enough to clean up after he is also put on base.

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    • joser says:

      Since this came up in the context of The Book, we should probably refer to what it says about pitching around batters and “protection.”

      In short, protecting a star hitter appears to accomplish very little. He indeed gets fewer walks; however, there is no evidence that he gets more hittable pitches, since the pitcher always avoids pitching to a good hitter when the situation would call for an intentional walk.

      …and…

      If a pitcher is trying to avoid pitching to a hitter, the hitter is significantly more likely to draw a walk, and moderately more likely to strike out. Specifically, a good, unprotected hitter in a good intentional walk situation is about 25% more likely to walk than the same hitter in a bad intentional walk situation, as well as about 10% more likely to strike out. Even an average hitter, with an average hitter on deck, is 20% more likely to draw the walk if the situation is a common one for intentional walks, and about 5% more likely to strike out. However, if the ball is hit into play, the pitcher’s approach (pitching to him, versus pitching around him) has no significant effect on the hitter’s statistics.

      Only with a lineup of several Pujols might the first one see more good pitches.

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  7. joser says:

    Isn’t it possible that LaRussa mooted this idea to Bernie Miklasz with a wink and a nudge even as he was planning to do it so that he would have the rationale out there to prepare the fans and reduce the number of questions he’d have to answer?

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  8. Anthony says:

    i don’t see any reason why the no. 4 spot shouldn’t have evolved into a platoon by now, by which i mean you fill it with whoever’s the hottest week-to-week. Rasmus and Freese could have taken a turn for STL already: probably Molina too.

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  9. bowie says:

    my HS baseball team played against Brooks Kieschnick’s team in the Texas playoffs in 1990. I remember that he batted leadoff for them, even though he was a huge HR threat (and he did hit a leadoff HR in the game). His coach’s reasoning was that he wanted Kieschnick to get more ABs than everyone else. All the other hitters on the team were average so there didn’t seem to be much advantage gained by having him come up after certain other hitters. It was so brilliant and simple.

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  10. Bill in Vegas says:

    I was referring to Chapter 5 in The Book, entitled “Batting (Dis)Order.”

    Table 46, on Page 124, is expressly based on AL-only data. I believe that the rest of the chapter also uses AL-only data.

    Joser, thank you for your thoughful response. Yes, I do have a very different intuition than yours. It is certainly no more than my intuition.

    I find batting order analyiis to be fascinating. Any links to top-notch analyses would be appreciated.

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