Top of the Phils (Batting Order)

Judging from this ESPNinsider piece by Buster Olney, it’s about time for a yearly piece of rosterbation when it comes to the Phillies’ lineup. With such a veteran lineup, the question really boils down to the top two spots. The three veterans that could fill those two roles are all above-average, strong players, but that doesn’t mean that the team can’t get it wrong. In fact, it’s possible they’ve been getting it wrong for a while now.

Much of this discussion revolves around the decline of Jimmy Rollins, but not all. He’s been a negative with the bat the last two years, and his sub-par wOBAs came in about half a season last year. The rule of recency might make us over-rate how far his athleticism has fallen, but if we focus on his career rates, we see that he’s always been below average when it comes to getting on base (.328 career OBP, average is about .330 most years; 7.4% career walk rate, average is about 8.5% most years).

In fact, one of the best aspects of his bat is his power, which, while waning, is still above average overall (.163 career, average is about .150-.155). He also avoids the strikeout well (12.7% career, average is around 20% most years). These are the qualities of a hitter lower in the order according to most lineup optimization work I’ve seen. He could be a decent five or six hitter, as he has that pop, doesn’t strike out much, and can steal some bases in front of the singles hitters at the bottom of a lineup. Well, that’s too bad. Rollins has spent 91.2% of his plate appearances in the first or second spot.

Though Chase Utley can get on base and still has some speed himself, he’s got heart-of-the-order pop and has spent most of his time in the third spot. And while pairing him with Ryan Howard in the middle of the lineup has led to some LOOGY high-jinx, it’s hard to imagine that Rollins (or Placido Polanco) is the guy to split the two. So leave the two best hitters in the three and four spots despite their handedness, most likely.

That leaves Polanco and Shane Victorino as the other possible men for the top two roles. One thing that they both own over Rollins is prowess in getting on base. The 35-year-old Polanco has a .347 OBP that has fallen to the .330s in the past two years. The 30-year-old Victorino has a career .342 number that bottomed out at .327 last year. The 32-year-old Rollins’ career .328 OBP has dropped significantly from a .349 peak in 2008. In 2009, he even spent 700+ plate appearances putting up a sub-.300 OBP.

Clearly, when seen through the prism of OBP and age, Shane Victorino looks like the most deserving leadoff hitter. The team hasn’t gotten it completely wrong – Victorino has spent 76.7% of his plate appearances in the top two spots. Since Rollins was hurt so often last year, Polanco spent 82% of his plate appearances in the second spot, too. The team isn’t far off.

But this still leaves three decent men for two important spots. If the loser is not Rollins – and recent history suggests that this will be the case – then the loser will be the Phillies. Last year in the NL, the leadoff hitter averaged .56 PAs per game more than the sixth hitter, or 90.72 over the year. Using the Bill James projections, the difference between Rollins (projected for a .329 OBP) and Polanco (.342 OBP), would mean 1.18 extra baserunners over the course of a year.

Getting it wrong, indeed.




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


50 Responses to “Top of the Phils (Batting Order)”

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  1. BubbuChuck says:

    interesting…Manual is not going bat Ruiz first some of the time, but that seems from a purely numbers POV a logical choice.

    Victorino was an out machine last year, Rollins can’t stay healthy, should be interesting seeing all the different line up cards this year.

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  2. mister_rob says:

    To me getting ones self in scoring position is the most important job of a leadoff man. Rather than worrying about a guy getting on base a couple more times per year, you should look at how many times a guy cxan get himself into scoring position
    I saw Hubie Brooks rack up 100 RBIs one year despite hitting about 250 with about 15 HRs. The reason? Tim Raines was CONSTANTLY in scoring position. when you add 70 SBs to 40 2bs and 10 3bs, all Hubie had to do was hit singles or sac flies to get himself an rbi

    So imo, take those 3 guys and add up their doubles, triples, and SBs. Whoever has the most should be the leadoff man

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    • Mark says:

      Disagree. In certain cases this may be correct, but in a lineup with such a potent middle of the order, getting on is far more important than getting into scoring position for the top two hitters. In fact, the value of basestealing ability and the ability to get oneself into scoring position can be negated if its directly proceeding elite power, as in Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Those guys are far less likely to need runners in scoring position to create runs for their team. In many situations, basestealing ability can be better leveraged at following the big power hitters, who also get themselves into scoring position via XBH or clear themselves via HR. Hitting 5th or 6th, a speedster can then set up the lighter hitting bottom-of-the order for more run production.

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    • williams .482 says:

      Great point, Mark.

      Also, If Tim Raines had a .330 OBP in 1985 (the year you mention), he would not have those 70 stolen bases.

      my math:
      .405 OBP: 268 times OB, 70 SB.
      .330 OBP: 219.45 times OB, 57 SB

      so that is 13 times sitting in the dugout instead of on second base, which works out to a loss of about 11 runs, JUST from those lost times on base when he would have stolen a base (around 25% of the time that year). the stolen bases themselves made up about 3.25 of those runs.

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  3. Nik says:

    Seriously all those talk and not a mention of SBs? Would you rather have Polanco with a slightly higher OBP but who wont even score on a double or Rollins who can manufacture a 1st inning run all by himself.

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    • filihok says:

      “He could be a decent five or six hitter, as he has that pop, doesn’t strike out much, and can steal some bases in front of the singles hitters at the bottom of a lineup.”

      Batting in front of Utley and … Howard the Phils don’t need someone who can manufacture runs all by himself.

      Batting in front of Ibanez, Francisco/Brown & Cole Hamels the Phils need someone who can manufacture runs all by himself

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      • Eno Sarris says:

        agreed. do you want someone thrown out at second with Utley or Howard at the plate?

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      • don says:

        Rollins and Victorino have career success rates of 82% and 81% respectively, though, so an attempted steal from either of them is a good bet in situations it wouldn’t be for guys with average success rates.

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  4. Nik says:

    For what its worth, Manuel was using Victorino leading off even when Rollins came back from the DL. It also coincided with the tear they went on in August and September. I’d be very surprised if Rollins went back to leadoff.

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  5. Evan says:

    Ruiz had a high OBP last year that was due to a career year and an inflated BABIP (especially considering he is a catcher and as slow as you’d expect). He will not match that next year, though he has decent discipline at the plate and will get some walks, especially if he is in front of the pitcher.

    I’d play out the order

    Victorino
    Utley
    Polanco
    Howard
    Ibanez/Fransisco
    Rollins
    Cooch
    Brown

    I think its clear that Rollins doesn’t belong at the top of the order. I hope Brown plays every day and Ibanez is in a platoon with Fransisco. I’m sure some extra rest would help Ibanez and Brown needs the at bats to become the everyday outfielder of the future.

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    • Nik says:

      I believe its “Chooch”.

      Here’s my lineup against lefties
      Victorino, Polanco, Ultey, Howard, Francisco, Brown/Ibanez, Rollins, Ruiz

      If Rollins starts off well, I’d flip him with Francisco at that point. I would not split up Utley and Howard, Utley hits lefties as well as he hits righties.

      Either way I expect Francisco to get regular playing time against lefties whether its in left or right field.

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      • williams .482 says:

        I personally would try Ruiz third.
        According to Tom Tangos work., the three spot is not as important as most people think, in fact letting Utley hit second would be a better lineup already. Ruiz also splits up the lefties. As you mention, Utley is good against lefties, but making the other manager go Joe Maddon with his bullpen will probably help you latter on. and is much better, even with the inevitable decline, following his career year, at getting on base in front of Howard. And its not like clogging the bases is a remotely sane argument given the “Speed” next guy.

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  6. bill says:

    Part of the problem is that Victorino had horrible L/R splits last year. He just struggled a ton hitting lefty, and part of that was BABIP. His lefty BABIP was .247, while his right-handed BABIP was .341.

    Rollins just doesn’t walk enough to lead off.

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  7. shibboleth says:

    Pardon my ignorance of these things, but exactly how bad is 1.18 runners over the course of a season? To my untrained ear it sounds negligible, but certainly not optimal.

    Agreed, Rollins always seemd like more of a middle/late in the order hitter. Never understood why certain types find their way to the fore (Rollins, Granderson).

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    • Burt Lavallo, friend to all says:

      I had the same reaction. All this and the difference is only 1.18 baserunners? To me that says it doesn’t really matter that much if Rollins leads off, but maybe I’m missing something.

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      • Azmanz says:

        It doesn’t matter THAT much, but why would you sacrifice the 1.18 baserunners, you might as well try to maximize what you have?

        If you went to a casino and had an option to play 2 games, 1 game you win 48.7% of the time, the other you win 48.6%, would you ever choose the 48.6%? No. So why would you play the lineup without the 1.18 baserunners?

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      • Eno Sarris says:

        1.18 baserunners does not equal 1.18%, but you’re right that it’s some advantage. Others are right to point out that the OBP advantage is probably negated by the power difference, too. Major takeaway is that 1.18 baserunners per season is not a big deal.

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      • Joe says:

        To answer the casino question… If the %’s were that close I would choose the game that was more fun or use other criteria to make the decision (For the lineup question this means look at attributes other than OBP… speed, power, lineup balance, etc).

        Now if I were a degenerate gambler playing that game 16hours a day it might matter, but if all it added up to was the equivalent of ~1 baserunner per season, I’d consider other criteria and not be a slave to one specific statistic.

        And what if the casino question was 48.70% vs 48.69%? I would be curious for someone to define how much of an advantage 1.18 baserunners is per year. How many wins is this? (Or maybe I should say how far below 1 win is this?) You can argue better, but better needs to be put in context…. if it was .05 extra baserunners per year should you do it? How about .2? .5?

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  8. Joe says:

    Now that AA dealt Wells to the Angels, I’m wishing Amaro had given Tony Reagins a call. The Phils could have gotten rid of Ibanez and freed up some payroll. Hell, I’d even take Juan Rivera straight up over Ibanez as a) there’s no way he’s worse defensively and b) now that he’s healthy he could balance the lineup.

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  9. Erroneous says:

    You use OBP to decide that the Phillies are punting ~1 baserunner over the course of the season but then ignore that Rollins is projected for a ~.330 wOBA and Polanco projects for ~.320. That’s worth about .7 runs per 90 at bats. Rollins has been a slightly better baserunner over the last few years as well although Polanco was good himself as recently as 2008. Either way, you can’t assert that the Phillies are wrong by cherry-picking OBP and ignoring wOBA.

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  10. Jason B says:

    “would mean 1.18 extra baserunners over the course of a year.”

    That…doesn’t seem right. 118 (no decimal) maybe?

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    • don says:

      The calculation is in the article.

      (.342-.329) [OBP projections for Polanco and Rollins respectively] * .56 [average PA per game difference between 1st and 6th in the lineup] * 162 [games obviously] = 1.18 extra baserunners over the course of the season.

      The construction isn’t optimal but it follows the general theme that unless your lineup construction is deliberately atrocious it doesn’t make a tremendous difference.

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  11. grandbranyan says:

    Using 770 plate appearances for a leadoff hitter I get a difference of about 10 baserunners per year between a .329 OBP and a .340 OBP.

    770 x .329 = 253.33
    770 x .340 = 263.34

    The 1.18 figure is correct for the extra 90.72 plate appearances but I’m not sure why you would discount the other 679.28 plate appearances.

    For a site about baseball statistics I can understand the minor copy errors here and there but you’d think an editor would catch some of the errors made on the mathematical side of things in both methodology and execution.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      I was focusing on the difference in batting order. Rollins and Polanco will both still get on base at their respective clips and will both be in the batting order all year. So you get both of those people on base – but the person who bats first will get 90 extra plate appearances.

      So, if the Phils keep both guys in the lineup, they’ll get X baserunners. If they keep Rollins in leadoff over Polanco, for example, they’ll get X-1.18 baserunners.

      It’s not a big deal.

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      • Lee says:

        Yea. Was the parting line tongue in cheek? I mean, I was expecting the number to be bigger than 1 baserunner. I guess that’s what most lineup optimizations tell you – it doesn’t really matter a whole lot.

        TBH, it probably more matters who is the better/smarter baserunner, L/R splits, and other intangibles. Because 1 extra dude on base… doesn’t really matter a whole lot.

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      • Eno Sarris says:

        I mean, grandbranyan here is right, too – Polanco over Rollins would mean 10 extra baserunners in front of Howard/Utley, and sequencing does matter.

        But 10 runners! Plus 1.2 lost runners! It’s still a small number. I think the tongue-in-cheek last line still holds.

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      • grandbranyan says:

        Ok, so the six spot gets about 91 fewer PAs than the leadoff spot on the year.

        679 x .329 = 223.39
        679 x .340 = 230.86

        A Rollins 1/Polanco 6 construction would net about 484.19 baserunners vs. a Polanco 1/Rollins 6 construction which would net about 486.73 baserunners for a difference of 2.54 on the year.

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      • Eno Sarris says:

        Your 775 number is incorrect, so that flows down to your different number at the bottom.

        Using the actual B-R numbers:

        Leadoff: 4.97 x 162 = 805
        Sixth: 4.41 x 162 = 714

        805 x (.342) + 714 x (.329) = 275.31 + 234.91 = 510.22
        805 x (.329) + 714 x (.342) = 264.85 + 244.19 = 509.04

        and… err… that’s 1.18.

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    • TK says:

      Both guys are still in the lineup. You only have to consider the difference in PAs between the 1st and 5th or 6th spot, which I’m guess over the course of a season is about…

      90.72?

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    • grandbranyan says:

      Eno, as Kurdt would say, All Apologies.

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  12. really says:

    No mention of BABIP. This from one of the leading sabermetrics sites on the web. Pathetic.

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  13. Jimmy says:

    Cliff Lee.

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  14. Dave S says:

    I was frankly STUNNED to learn it was only 1.18 extra baserunners a SEASON. All the blathering about who hits where is just so much ado about nothing… and that really puts a fine point on that. Thanks Eno!

    I agree that Victorino seems a more “logical” leadoff batter (vs. Rollins). And Rollins hitting profile now (marginal to bad OBP with some pop, and some speed as a bonus) is more typical of a 5 or 6 spot in the lineup.

    But… Jimmy prefers to bat leadoff. And its hard to deny he brings a swagger to the lineup… and it’s immediate when he is batting leadoff.

    If the “cost” of that is ONE baserunner a season… I say make Jimmy happy and let him bat leadoff.

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    • Jon says:

      Like it says in one of the replies above, it’s 1.18 extra baserunner per season, but also 10 baserunners reaching at the top of the order ahead of the big hitters instead of at the bottom of the order where they’re less likely to score.

      It’s still just a few runs’ difference, but it could be worth a win, which conceivably could be worth a playoff spot.

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      • Dave S says:

        I don’t think it would be worth a win. There is no way that moving 10 baserunners from the top of the lineup to somewhere in the middle should cost a win. Otherwise the stats we collect would need to take batting order into account for them to “work” properly… and we don’t. (as far as I know…) Batting order really doesn’t seem to matter that much.

        But lets say it did.

        Jimmy Rollins LIVES to bat leadoff. For better or worse, he is a driving force on this team. I am a Phillies fan, and I am NOT a big JRoll fan… but he clearly is a leading figure on this team. He is the “straw that stirs the drink”. I feel he is too emotionally labile at times, but for the most part he is a strongly positive leader on this team. He clearly adds a braggadocio and a swagger that this team might otherwise lack. He exudes CONFIDENCE. He welcomes pressure.

        I want him happy. I see no reason to piss him off by not letting him bat leadoff… especially as we have no obviously better alternative.

        Unless it will incur a clearly damaging cost… I see no reason to deny him his wish to bat leadoff.

        Now… if tanks to start the season, I also have no trouble shoving him down the order until he gets his butt back in gear.

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  15. bflaff says:

    Rollins doesn’t appear to want to vacate the leadoff spot, which probably explains 85% (or more) of why he’s still in the leadoff spot.

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  16. WARio says:

    Other teams won’t be scoring runs against the Phils, so none of this matters.

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  17. Robbie G. says:

    I’d like to see the Phillies buy low on Chone Figgins, who would solve their top-of-the-order problem, which I consider to be a major problem. Moving Joe Blanton and his salary to a team that needs a solid, reasonably priced #4 starting pitcher frees up the money to absorb Figgins’ salary. Blanton is a major luxury as a #5 starting pitcher. I don’t think any team needs to be spending very much money on a #5 starting pitcher because a) all teams move to a four-man rotation in the playoffs and b) nearly all teams’ #5 starting pitchers are mediocre, at best, so if Philly trots out some relatively inexpensive mediocrity every fifth day, it’s not like they’re really losing anything.

    After making this move, I’d like to see the Phillies move Jimmy Rollins down to the bottom of the order, where his statistics from the past couple of seasons suggest he belongs. I’d also like to see the Phillies trot out a set lineup vs. LHPs and another set lineup vs. RHPs. Here would be my two proposed lineups:

    Lineup vs. RHPs

    1 RF Domonic Brown
    2 CF/3B Chone Figgins
    3 C Carlos Ruiz
    4 2B Chase Utley
    5 1B Ryan Howard
    6 LF Raul Ibanez
    7 CF Shane Victorino/3B Placido Polanco
    8 SS Jimmy Rollins

    Lineup vs. LHPs

    1 RF Chone Figgins
    2 C Carlos Ruiz
    3 CF Shane Victorino
    4 2B Chase Utley
    5 1B Ryan Howard
    6 LF Raul Ibanez
    7 SS Jimmy Rollins
    8 3B Placido Polanco

    My rationale:

    1) I like Domonic Brown’s speed at the top of the lineup but only against RHPs. His numbers suggest that he will struggle big time against LHPs.

    2) Carlos Ruiz was putting up monster OBP numbers during the second half of the 2009 season, as well. Look it up. Ruiz was wasted at the bottom of the Phillies order last season.

    3) Shane Victorino is a monster against LHPs; not so much against RHPs. Victorino needs to be in the heart of that lineup against LHPs.

    4) Chone Figgins’ versatility is a huge plus for any veteran team as he allows many of his veteran teammates to take the occasional day off. Figgins’ ability to play 2B is also a huge plus for the Phillies since Chase Utley spends a fair amount of time on the DL.

    In any event, I am offering this solution because I find the current top-of-the-order options unacceptable.

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    • Preston says:

      There is no buying low on Chone Figgins at this point. Even if you don’t have to give anything up to get him and they eat some money that’s a lot of years and a lot of risk. Especially when it’s blocking a young talent like Dominic Brown.

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  18. Erik says:

    Well I was going to write and say that a more interesting article would have been to compare the effect of optimizing the 1-2 spots vs breaking up the LOOGY potential of Utley/Howard. And then I looked it up (career wOBA):

    Utley: vs R: .337 vs L: .390
    Howard: vs R: .424 vs L: .329

    Is there LOOGY potential here that I’m missing? It looks like this was alluded to briefly in the comments here (http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/the-jayson-werth-problem/), but without much detail. Is the problem that vs. LOOGY !=vs. L?

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    • Dave S says:

      Re LOOGYs and the Phils lineup:

      Utley is consitent vs. L in his career to date. (exactly equal OPS)

      Ibanez loses ~ 100 pts of OPS vs. L

      Howard loses ~ 300 pts!!! of OPS vs. L

      Brown? I would guess will struggle some vs. major league LHP as a rookie.

      What RHB Phillie player scares you?
      Victorino, Polanco, Rollins, Ruiz? Francisco? (if Manuel platoons someone)

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      • Erik says:

        I was focusing more on this: “And while pairing him [Utley] with Ryan Howard in the middle of the lineup has led to some LOOGY high-jinx…” Since Utley doesn’t show a disadvantage against LHP, why should we care about him and Howard hitting back-to-back?

        Any reason to prefer OPS to wOBA? (looks like I pulled the 2010 wOBA for Utley vs RHP–his career is wOBA vs RHP is .382)

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  19. Dave S says:

    Erik… I was being lazy! I had the OPS in front of me, and not the wOBA.

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