## A Review of Lineup Optimization in 2013: AL

At some point in time, maybe you’ve complained about the lineup your favorite team’s manager used. Maybe you’ve heard of or considered the concept of lineup optimization. Maybe you’ve heard that an optimized lineup, over the course of a full season, wouldn’t make that big of a difference.

It really doesn’t, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting.

In elementary school I spent precious class time attempting to optimize kickball lineups. I suppose that was my first foray into the world of sabermetrics and general baseball nerdiness.

Now, I tend to visit BaseballPress on a daily basis to check the lineups of every team, just because. Even more now, I am writing a long post regarding lineup optimization in the MLB.

Sky Kalkman wrote a great piece on his interpretation of The Book’s findings on lineup optimization. He summed it up with this:

“…we want to know how costly making an out is by each lineup position, based on the base-out situations they most often find themselves in, and then weighted by how often each lineup spot comes to the plate. Here’s how the lineup spots rank in the importance of avoiding outs:

#1, #4, #2, #5, #3, #6, #7, #8, #9

So, you want your best three hitters to hit in the #1, #4, and #2 spots. Distribute them so OBP is higher in the order and SLG is lower. Then place your fourth and fifth best hitters, with the #5 spot usually seeing the better hitter, unless he’s a high-homerun guy. Then place your four remaining hitters in decreasing order of overall hitting ability, with basestealers ahead of singles hitters.”

Following the conclusion of the Major League Baseball regular season, I took to the task of finding each team’s most common starters and lineups, hypothetically optimizing them and comparing the results by which team theoretically cost themselves the most runs by straying from optimization.

I sorted each team’s hitters by plate appearances, made sure there was a representative of every position and used Baseball-Reference’s batting order archive to find the most common order those eight/nine players appeared in to find each team’s hypothetical “most common” lineup.

Then I plugged that lineup into Baseball Musing’s lineup optimization tool, along with their 2013 OBP and SLG to find the optimized lineup for each team.

It’s far from a perfect science, especially with teams like Oakland who often change their lineup by utilizing platoons, but it’s good enough and I wanted an opportunity to tell people much smarter and more qualified than me how to better do their job.

Behold, the results (where rpg is runs per game, season difference is the amount of runs “lost” from a season’s worth of theoretical lineups to optimized lineup, and rank is the most optimized to least optimized lineups):

Boston Red Sox

Common rpg: 5.448. Optimized rpg: 5.547. Season difference: -16.038 runs.

Rank: 10th AL, 24th overall

2013 OBP SLG Optimal OBP SLG
CF Ellsbury .355 .426 LF Nava .385 .445
RF Victorino .351 .451 DH Ortiz .395 .564
2B Pedroia .372 .415 RF Victorino .351 .451
DH Ortiz .395 .564 1B Napoli .360 .482
1B Napoli .360 .482 C Saltalamacchia .338 .466
LF Nava .385 .445 SS Drew .333 .443
C Saltalamacchia .338 .466 CF Ellsbury .355 .426
3B Middlebrooks .271 .425 3B Middlebrooks .271 .425
SS Drew .333 .443 2B Pedroia .372 .415

Oh, man. Off to a rocky start. Bear with me, folks, they aren’t all this jarring. This is probably the wackiest one that got spit out. The Red Sox obviously would never hit Dustin Pedroia ninth. The Book likes the nine-hitter to be a high OBP, low SLG guy so the top-of-the-order hitters have guys on base when they come to bat. And to be fair, Dustin Pedroia pretty much had the batting profile of a slap-hitter this season. He had the lowest SLG on the team, and his ISO puts his power production below guys like Brandon Crawford and Chris Denorfia. While his great .372 OBP is likely being put to waste in this lineup, Pedroia’s 2013 numbers fit the bill of an optimal #9 hitter when the rest of the lineup is this good.

Tampa Bay Rays

Common rpg: 4.689. Optimized rpg: 4.779. Season difference: -14.580 runs.

Rank: 8th AL, 17th overall

2013 OBP SLG Optimal OBP SLG
CF Jennings .334 .414 2B Zobrist .354 .402
DH Joyce .328 .419 RF Myers .354 .478
2B Zobrist .354 .402 DH Joyce .328 .419
3B Longoria .343 .498 1B Loney .348 .430
1B Loney .348 .430 3B Longoria .343 .498
RF Myers .354 .478 CF Jennings .334 .414
LF Johnson .305 .410 SS Escobar .332 .366
C Molina .290 .304 LF Johnson .305 .410
SS Escobar .332 .366 C Molina .290 .304

I always like Joe Maddon’s lineups. He mixes things up a lot and isn’t afraid to push the envelope. He’s batted catchers high in the order. He’s led off Ben Zobrist, an excellent – but unconventional – leadoff hitter. For a while this year he batted Evan Longoria second, which is quite smart and probably never would have been considered a decade ago. However, Desmond Jennings isn’t an ideal leadoff hitter with a .330 career OBP and Matt Joyce‘s .252 BABIP left him with the lowest OBP of his career. Zobrist is the Rays best leadoff hitter and Wil Myers, arguably the Rays most productive hitter, should be higher in the order.

Baltimore Orioles

Common rpg: 4.724. Optimized rpg: 4.814. Season difference: -14.580 runs.

Rank: 9th AL, 19th overall

2013 OBP SLG Optimal OBP SLG
LF McLouth .329 .399 LF McLouth .329 .399
3B Machado .314 .432 1B Davis .370 .634
RF Markakis .329 .356 SS Hardy .306 .433
CF Jones .318 .493 CF Jones .318 .493
1B Davis .370 .634 3B Machado .314 .432
C Wieters .287 .417 DH Flaherty .293 .390
SS Hardy .306 .433 2B Roberts .312 .392
DH Flaherty .293 .390 C Wieters .287 .417
2B Roberts .312 .392 RF Markakis .329 .356

Chris Davis started the season out as the Orioles #5 hitter, because no one yet knew he would transform into some sort of robot humanoid. Once the transformation was well underway, Buck Showalter continued batting Davis fifth and a struggling Nick Markakis third, likely because “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and the idea that moving a hot batter to a different spot in the order could somehow throw him out of his groove. It took the Orioles until the middle of August to move Davis into the three-hole and by then Davis’ low spot in the order relative to his production likely cost them a handful of runs. Given the disparity of his OBP compared to his teammates, he’s even better suited for the two-hole.

New York Yankees

Common rpg: 3.978. Optimized rpg: 4.077. Season difference: -16.038 runs.

Rank: 1th AL, 25th overall

2013 OBP SLG Optimal OBP SLG
CF Gardner .344 .416 CF Gardner .344 .416
RF Suzuki .297 .342 2B Cano .383 .516
2B Cano .383 .516 1B Overbay .295 .393
DH Hafner .301 .378 DH Hafner .301 .378
LF Wells .282 .349 SS Nunez .307 .372
1B Overbay .295 .393 RF Suzuki .297 .342
SS Nunez .307 .372 3B Nix .308 .311
3B Nix .308 .311 LF Wells .282 .349
C Stewart .293 .272 C Stewart .293 .272

This isn’t the Yankees lineup we’re used to after the last couple months, or really after the last decade. But as Yankees fans well know, it is the lineup we saw for the majority of the season. Sorry you had to see this again, Yankees fans. The Yankees did hit Robinson Cano in his more deserved second-position for a period of time, but it was basically out of necessity as they had no other real hitters to work with. Instead, Ichiro Suzuki spent the majority of the time in the two-hole seemingly on reputation alone, despite being the third-worst candidate for the spot on a team full of Jayson Nix, Eduardo Nunez and Lyle Overbay‘s.

Toronto Blue Jays

Common rpg: 4.791. Optimized rpg: 4.914. Season difference: -19.926 runs.

Rank: 14th AL, 29th overall

2013 OBP SLG Optimal OBP SLG
SS Reyes .353 .427 SS Reyes .353 .427
LF Cabrera .322 .360 DH Encarnacion .370 .534
RF Bautista .358 .498 CF Rasmus .338 .501
DH Encarnacion .370 .534 RF Bautista .358 .498
1B Lind .357 .497 1B Lind .357 .497
C Arencibia .227 .365 3B Lawrie .315 .397
CF Rasmus .338 .501 LF Cabrera .322 .360
2B Izturis .288 .310 C Arencibia .227 .365
3B Lawrie .315 .397 2B Izturis .288 .310

Like the Rays and Yankees, the Blue Jays experimented for a bit this season and batted Jose Bautista #2. Like the Rays and Yankees, this was very smart. Like the Rays and Yankees, they inexplicably stopped their experiment and reverted to a more traditional lineup. Melky Cabrera was not a good hitter this year, yet there he sits in the most important spot of our hypothetical lineup, while the Blue Jays have three great #2 candidates in Edwin Encarnacion, Bautista and even Adam Lind, who was basically “slow Jose Bautista” this season. Burying Colby Rasmus‘ .500 SLG in the seven-hole also didn’t help. And, no, that isn’t a typo. J.P. Arencibia really finished with a .227 OBP this year.

Detroit Tigers

Common rpg: 5.375. Optimized rpg: 5.510. Season difference: -21.870 runs.

Rank: 15th AL, 30th overall

2013 OBP SLG Optimal OBP SLG
CF Jackson .337 .417 DH Martinez .355 .430
RF Hunter .334 .465 3B Cabrera .442 .636
3B Cabrera .442 .636 2B Infante .345 .450
1B Fielder .362 .457 1B Fielder .362 .457
DH Martinez .355 .430 SS Peralta .358 .457
LF Dirks .323 .363 CF Jackson .337 .417
SS Peralta .358 .457 C Avila .317 .376
C Avila .317 .376 RF Hunter .334 .465
2B Infante .345 .450 LF Dirks .323 .363

OK, this one is actually kind of genius. Although OBP is far more important than speed in regards to a leadoff hitter, speed still kind of matters. You probably don’t want your slowest player batting leadoff, especially if you have a burner in the two or three spot. But the Tigers already have the slowest team in baseball, by far, and Miguel Cabrera is their ideal two-hitter. Since Victor Martinez won’t be holding Miggy up on the basepaths, putting his .355 OBP in front of Miggy is actually really smart, especially considering Miggy hits a first-inning homer like half the time anyway. Austin Jackson‘s baserunning ability is better suited towards the bottom of the lineup for singles hitters like Alex Avila, Torii Hunter and Andy Dirks. Because of this wildly unconventional lineup, the Tigers ranked last in the study, and I would really love to see this lineup actually get played out.

Cleveland Indians

Common rpg: 4.456. Optimized rpg: 4.509. Season difference: -8.586 runs.

Rank: 2nd AL, 7th overall

2013 OBP SLG Optimal OBP SLG
CF Bourn .316 .360 C Santana .377 .455
1B Swisher .341 .423 2B Kipnis .366 .452
2B Kipnis .366 .452 LF Brantley .332 .396
C Santana .377 .455 1B Swisher .341 .423
LF Brantley .332 .396 SS Cabrera .299 .402
SS Cabrera .299 .402 DH Reynolds .307 .373
DH Reynolds .307 .373 RF Stubbs .305 .360
3B Aviles .282 .368 3B Aviles .282 .368
RF Stubbs .305 .360 CF Bourn .316 .360

As an Indians fan who was constantly frustrated by Terry Francona’s lineups, their rank in the study surprised me. However, the Indians problem was more with player selection, not lineup order, which isn’t reflected in the study. The Indians best statistical hitter, Ryan Raburn, amassed only 277 PA’s and didn’t make the cut. Yan Gomes, the Indians second best hitter, eventually began receiving his well-deserved playing time, but still finished with just 322 PA’s and missed the cut. To start the season, the Indians buried Carlos Santana‘s great OBP in the six-hole and wouldn’t move Asdrubal Cabrera‘s putrid OBP out of the top of the order. But Francona fixed his mistake early enough for it not to be reflected in the years end most common lineup. And in that lineup, the Indians did a good job by having their top five hitters be their highest OBP guys. Michael Bourn was not the leadoff hitter the Indians thought they were signing, and was actually a pretty bad one with a .316 OBP. Santana and Jason Kipnis are much more deserving choices to lead off, though in real life I would likely flip-flop them, considering speed.

Kansas City Royals

Common rpg: 4.094. Optimized rpg: 4.204. Season difference: -17.820 runs.

Rank: 13th AL, 27th overall

2013 OBP SLG Optimal OBP SLG
LF Gordon .327 .422 DH Butler .374 .412
1B Hosmer .353 .448 1B Hosmer .353 .448
DH Butler .374 .412 LF Gordon .327 .422
C Perez .323 .433 C Perez .323 .433
CF Cain .310 .348 RF Lough .311 .413
3B Moustakas .287 .364 SS Escobar .259 .300
RF Lough .311 .413 CF Cain .310 .348
2B Getz .288 .273 3B Moustakas .287 .364
SS Escobar .259 .300 2B Getz .288 .273

Despite performing poorly in the study, the Royals two lineups were actually pretty close, and theoretically they could have earned themselves a handful more runs by simply swapping Billy Butler and Alex Gordon‘s spots in the lineup. I have always loved Gordon as an unconventional leadoff hitter, but this season he stopped taking walks and getting hits on 35% of his balls in play, leading to a pedestrian .327 OBP after posting marks of .376 and .368 the last two seasons. Butler had a weird year, too, as he started walking all the time and lost all his power, posting a lower isolated slugging percentage than David Lough. But Butler is one of the slowest players in baseball and Eric Hosmer is a pretty good baserunner, especially for a first basemen, so swapping their orders in the optimized lineup might make more sense.

Minnesota Twins

Common rpg: 4.301. Optimized rpg: 4.379. Season difference: -12.636 runs.

Rank: 5th AL, 12th overall

2013 OBP SLG Optimal OBP SLG
2B Dozier .312 .414 LF Willingham .342 .368
C Mauer .404 .476 C Mauer .404 .476
LF Willingham .342 .368 DH Doumit .314 .396
1B Morneau .315 .426 1B Morneau .315 .426
DH Doumit .314 .396 2B Dozier .312 .414
3B Plouffe .309 .392 3B Plouffe .309 .392
RF Arcia .304 .430 SS Florimon .281 .330
CF Thomas .290 .307 RF Arcia .304 .430
SS Florimon .281 .330 CF Thomas .290 .307

Blame slugging percentage for this one. Joe Mauer should really be the Twins leadoff hitter. But, since slugging percentage is flawed in its attempt to represent power by including singles – something Mauer hits a ton of – Mauer has over 100 points of SLG on Josh Willingham, leading the generator to believe Willingham is a more ideal leadoff hitter despite Mauer’s .404 OBP. We all know that Willingham is more of a power hitter than Mauer, which is why we should always use ISO to measure power, where Willingham edges Mauer .159 to .156 even on a down season. Other than the mistake of batting Brian Dozier leadoff, though, the Twins real-life lineup does a pretty great job, with their OBPs falling in descending order after Dozier. If this lineup generator used ISO instead of SLG like I wish it would, flip-flopping Mauer and Willingham at the top would likely be the optimal order for the Twins.

Chicago White Sox

Common rpg: 3.950. Optimized rpg: 4.030. Season difference: -12.960 runs.

Rank: 6th AL, 14th overall

2013 OBP SLG Optimal OBP SLG
CF De Aza .323 .405 CF De Aza .323 .405
SS Ramirez .313 .380 RF Rios .328 .421
RF Rios .328 .421 3B Gillaspie .305 .390
1B Dunn .320 .442 1B Dunn .320 .442
DH Konerko .313 .355 LF Viciedo .304 .426
3B Gillaspie .305 .390 SS Ramirez .313 .380
LF Viciedo .304 .426 DH Konerko .313 .355
2B Keppinger .283 .317 C Flowers .247 .355
C Flowers .247 .355 2B Keppinger .283 .317

Alejandro De Aza isn’t a great leadoff hitter with a .323 OBP, but when you have the fourth worst team OBP in baseball, .323 will do. The main problem with the White Sox order is their two-hole, as is the problem with most MLB lineups. Alexei Ramirez‘s offensive skill set is basically the exact one that MLB managers are beginning to move away from in the 2-hole, with his .313 OBP, complete disappearance of power and newfound penchant for stealing bases. Contrary to conventional wisdom, good base stealers are better suited for the 6/7 spots in the lineup. Risking outs with your best hitters at the plate, who are more likely to drive you in with extra base hits anyway, is not a good idea. With that aside, the White Sox did well by choosing the correct leadoff hitter and keeping their worst hitters at the bottom of the order.

Oakland Athletics

Common rpg: 4.933. Optimized rpg: 4.989. Season difference: -9.072 runs.

Rank: 3rd AL, 8th overall

2013 OBP SLG Optimal OBP SLG
LF Crisp .335 .444 3B Donaldson .384 .499
SS Lowrie .344 .446 SS Lowrie .344 .446
CF Cespedes .294 .442 DH Smith .329 .391
1B Moss .337 .522 1B Moss .337 .522
3B Donaldson .384 .499 C Norris .345 .409
DH Smith .329 .391 CF Cespedes .294 .442
RF Reddick .307 .379 LF Crisp .335 .444
C Norris .345 .409 RF Reddick .307 .379
2B Sogard .322 .364 2B Sogard .322 .364

Surprise! The Oakland Athletics scored well in a SABR-slanted study. And this doesn’t even take into account how well the A’s optimize their lineup on a daily basis by correctly utilizing platoons. But either way, in this theoretical lineup, the A’s do a good job by getting their second and fourth hitters correct. Though breakout player and MVP-candidate Josh Donaldson is better suited to lead off, Coco Crisp was still a good option. And whether incidental or not, Yoenis Cespedes‘ low OBP in the three-hole doesn’t hurt them too much, as OBP isn’t as important in the three-hole as conventional wisdom would tell you. The A’s do well in this study with the lineup provided for them, and do even better in real life by putting the right guys on the field every day.

Texas Rangers

Common rpg: 4.481. Optimized rpg: 4.582. Season difference: -16.362 runs.

Rank: 12th AL, 26th overall

2013 OBP SLG Optimal OBP SLG
2B Kinsler .344 .413 2B Kinsler .344 .413
SS Andrus .328 .331 3B Beltre .371 .509
RF Cruz .327 .506 1B Moreland .299 .437
3B Beltre .371 .509 RF Cruz .327 .506
C Pierzynski .297 .425 C Pierzynski .297 .425
1B Moreland .299 .437 CF Martin .313 .385
LF Murphy .282 .374 DH Profar .308 .336
DH Profar .308 .336 LF Murphy .282 .374
CF Martin .313 .385 SS Andrus .328 .331

Ian Kinsler is another guy who doesn’t scream “prototypical leadoff hitter,” basically in the sense that he’s not a speed-first centerfielder, but he is a pretty great one and easily the Rangers best option. So you have to give them credit for sticking with him instead of going to the more conventional, “easy” choice of Elvis Andrus or Leonys Martin. However, the Rangers lose a lot of value by keeping the speedy Andrus in the two-hole, a spot he really wasn’t suited for this season with a career-worst .327 OBP. Adrian Beltre is the perfect fit for the Rangers #2 hitter, and Andrus is better suited for the bottom of the order. With Andrus’ basestealing abilities, I think it would be wiser to switch his spot with Jurickson Profar‘s in this optimized lineup, giving Andrus the opportunity to attempt steals with the 8th and 9th hitters up, rather than the 1st and 2nd.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Common rpg: 4.864. Optimized rpg: 4.945. Season difference: -13.122 runs.

Rank: 7th AL, 15th overall

2013 OBP SLG Optimal OBP SLG
LF Shuck .331 .366 C Iannetta .358 .372
CF Trout .432 .557 CF Trout .432 .557
1B Pujols .330 .437 RF Hamilton .307 .432
RF Hamilton .307 .432 1B Pujols .330 .437
DH Trumbo .294 .453 2B Kendrick .335 .439
2B Kendrick .335 .439 SS Aybar .301 .382
3B Callaspo .324 .347 LF Shuck .331 .366
C Iannetta .358 .372 DH Trumbo .294 .453
SS Aybar .301 .382 3B Callaspo .324 .347

This one is similar to Detroit’s, but unlike Detroit’s, this one probably only works in theory. When Miggy is batting second and the entire team is slower than molasses in an igloo, I think you can get by with a slow-running, high-OBP guy like Victor Martinez leading off. When your #2 hitter is Mike Trout, you’re probably costing yourself extra bases on would-be Trout doubles and triples by having Chris Iannetta on first in front of him, likely having just drawn a leadoff walk. If Iannetta weren’t so slow and Trout weren’t so fast, Iannetta would actually be a pretty great leadoff hitter. Of all players with 350+ PA this season, only Joey Votto posted a higher BB% (18.6) than Iannetta (17.0). The Angels did do the right thing by putting Trout where he belongs in the two-hole, though. A .432 OBP is great for leadoff, but when you hit for more power than Giancarlo Stanton and Adam Dunn, some of those extra base hits go to waste leading off.

Seattle Mariners

Common rpg: 4.382. Optimized rpg: 4.439. Season difference: -9.234 runs.

Rank: 4th AL, 9th overall

2013 OBP SLG Optimal OBP SLG
SS Miller .318 .418 3B Seager .338 .426
2B Franklin .303 .382 DH Morales .336 .449
3B Seager .338 .426 RF Saunders .323 .397
DH Morales .336 .449 1B Smoak .334 .412
LF Ibanez .306 .487 LF Ibanez .306 .487
1B Smoak .334 .412 2B Franklin .303 .382
RF Saunders .323 .397 C Zunino .290 .329
C Zunino .290 .329 SS Miller .318 .418
CF Ackley .319 .341 CF Ackley .319 .341

The Mariners began the season with Dustin Ackley at second base and Brendan Ryan at shortstop. By the beginning of June, Ackley had hit himself back to AAA and not much later, the Mariners cut ties with Ryan’s offensive deficiencies in favor of rookies Brad Miller and Nick Franklin. Both held their own with the bat from the get-go, earning themselves the top two spots in the Mariners everyday lineup. However, despite holding their own, neither are really top of the order hitters with sub-.320 OBPs and just average power. Better suited for the top spots are the Mariners best player, Kyle Seager and most productive hitter, Kendrys Morales. Still, the Mariners performed well in the study, likely due to the similar profiles of most of their hitters.

Houston Astros

Common rpg: 4.133. Optimized rpg: 4.176. Season difference: -6.966 runs.

Rank: 1st AL, 3rd overall

2013 OBP SLG Optimal OBP SLG
LF Grossman .332 .370 LF Grossman .332 .370
2B Altuve .316 .363 C Castro .350 .485
C Castro .350 .485 2B Altuve .316 .363
1B Carter .320 .451 1B Carter .320 .451
DH Pena .324 .350 3B Dominguez .286 .403
RF Martinez .272 .378 CF Barnes .289 .346
CF Barnes .289 .346 DH Pena .324 .350
3B Dominguez .286 .403 RF Martinez .272 .378
SS Villar .321 .319 SS Villar .321 .319

The Astros place third in the study basically by default. It’s not hard to identify your best players and construct a near-optimal lineup when you’ve only got two league-average bats. Just put your best hitter, Jason Castro, in the two-hole, bat Chris Carter fourth to drive in runs and lead off your next highest OBP guy, who believe it or not is a one “Robbie Grossman” and the rest basically doesn’t matter because none of them are very good. Robbie Grossman is actually the most deserving leadoff batter on a real team in the Major League of Baseball. #Astros

Coming soon: Part 2, with National League lineups and conclusion.

Print This Post

August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

Member
Member
2 years 9 months ago

This is pretty cool, but I doubt most of these lineups would actually produce as many more runs (if any) as they say they would. As you mentioned for the A’s, platoons are important, and you are generalizing for each team. Nice article though.

Guest
Tim Armstrong
2 years 9 months ago

With Oakland you should look at it as Donaldson, Crisp, Cespedes, Reddick, as everyday guys, and build 2 with the platoon batters in. Its a little weird to look at a team with 144 different line-ups and call it optimized with mixed platoon batters that would never actually be in the same lineup for this team.

Guest
subtle
2 years 9 months ago

Some of the things that the lineup analysis tool come up with vs. the advice from The Book seem to be contradictory? The Book says the lead-off guy is the best OBP guy without power, for example. That doesn’t sound like Carlos Santana to me.

Guest
Garrett
2 years 9 months ago

This is literally one of the worst types of pseudo-analytical articles written.

Excessive faux precision. Poor methodology.

Platoons? L/R chaining?

This is terrible.