Changing Lineup Cards

How many different batting orders do you think the average team uses throughout a season? Go ahead, guess a number in your head right now. I will write out the actual number to hopefully deter your eyes from jumping ahead and fixating on it. Would it surprise you to find out that in 2009, the average number of different lineups used was one hundred and twenty-two?

While discussing the addition of Ryan Garko to the Mariners yesterday, a random comment passed by about manager Don Wakamatsu getting to use a different batting order every day for 2010 with all the platoon options he now has at his disposal. Out of curiosity, I wandered, figuratively, over to Baseball Reference to see how many different orders Wakamatsu used in 2009. I was shocked to find out it was 138. I checked other teams and continued being shocked, so I wrote down the number for every team.

The Cleveland Indians came the closest to that passing joke as manager Eric Wedge used 148 different batting orders throughout the season. Their most frequently used lineup went:

Grady Sizemore
Mark DeRosa
Victor Martinez
Travis Hafner
Jhonny Peralta
Shin-Soo Choo
Ryan Garko
Ben Francisco
Asdrubal Cabrera

Wedge used that order five times in 2009. Arizona ran out the next highest amount of differing order with 144. Most teams are in the low 100s. The standard deviation is 16 from the average of 122. Amazingly, the team with the fewest different batting orders used, Philadelphia, is almost 3.5 standard deviations away from the mean, and a far cry removed from any other team in baseball. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel utilized only 68 different batting orders, 29 fewer than the second fewest Florida.

Also surprising to me is that despite having one fewer player to pencil in (I excluded pitchers from the batting order), the National League averaged almost as much variance as the American League. The NL used an average of 118 different batting orders, the AL 126.

I am not claiming the number of different batting orders used to be meaningful in any way. They’re influenced by roster turnover, health, player effectiveness, the manager’s whim and a couple dozen other factors. However, if you had asked me before I had looked how many different batting orders the average team used throughout a season, I would have guessed around 60. I would have been way off.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

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Putting this into perspective….

According to Matthew, the average team sent out a new lineup 3 out of 4 games.