Baseball lineup question

I was musing about this last night at my daughter’s softball game . . .

Why do baseball teams stack the best hitters in the beginning and middle of the lineup, with the weaker hitters at the end? Would it not make more sense to distribute the weaker hitters through the lineup, so that there is more of a chance of stronger hitters being up in each inning?

No. Putting your better hitters in the beginning of the lineup gives them more at-bats.

For example, suppose during the average game, a team goes through the lineup 4.5 times (WARNING: Number made up for illustrative purposes). That adds up to your better hitters getting 80 more AB during the season, with 80 more chances for hits and runs. You always want to give your best hitters more shots at getting a hit.
Zev Steinhardt

What zev said. If you look at some box scores , you’ll notice that the first few guys in the line-up almost always have more at bats than those farther down.

[to self]Dang it, one of these times I will beat Zev to an answer.[/to self]

Having said that, the exact composition of a lineup is a source of much debate.

As Zev points out, having your best hitters up front just gives them more at-bats, always a good thing. However, most teams put their BEST hitter third or fourth in the lineup, because the best hitter is usually a power hitter and managers like to have other good hitters who specialize in getting on base in front of him, so the classic lineup is:

  1. Guy who gets on base a lot and can run but doesn’t have much power
  2. Guy who gets on base a lot and can run
  3. Guy who gets on base a lot and hits for power
  4. Guy who gets on base a lot and hits for a LOT of power
  5. Guy who gets on base a lot and hits for power, but isn’t as good as the #3 guy
  6. Guy who hits for power but isn’t as good as the #5 guy
  7. Guy who isn’t as good as the #6 guy
  8. Guy who isn’t very good
  9. The pitcher, or if you use a DH, a guy who isn’t very good but runs OK so he isn’t clogging things up when the top of the lineup comes around

However, many have claimed that you would be better off ignoring the conventions of lineup construction and just putting your very best hitter first no matter if he’s a power hitter or not. So the Cardinals should have been leading Mark McGwire off. There’s some logic to this.

As to Knighted Vorpal Sword’s question about staggering good/bad hitter sthrough the lineup, that DEFINITELY would not work. Remember, in baseball, successful offense is usually cumulative; Player A singles, Player B walks, Player C doubles, Player D singles… really big innings happen when a lot of hitters do something in a row. Having your bad hitters interspersed with your good ones makes it likelier that your good hitter’s hits and walks will be broken up by strikeouts and double play ground balls. Putting the good players together will tend to slightly magnify what they do and allow them to help each other score more runs.

Pretty much agree here, however, one thing to add. You generally want your #2 hitter to be a good contact hitter. You don’t want someone who is going to strike out a lot. This gives you extra chances to hit & run (or run & hit, as it’s more properly called).

Zev Steinhardt

Others have already pointed out how it works, mainly because the top of the order gets more at-bats. That’s why Cardinals’ manager Tony LaRussa had Mark McGwire batting third a few years ago (I want to say '98), and moved the pitcher’s spot to 8th in the order. That way McGwire would get more at-bats, and still kind of act as the clean-up hitter.

Be here Saturdays… :smiley:

Zev Steinhardt

I’ve got to disagree with this.

Suppose McGwire, as a result of putting him first (as opposed to fourth in the lineup) gets an additional 20-30 AB. How many runs will he generate from those AB? Consider that many of the HRs he hits in that spot will be solo shots.

However, batting him fourth (with three chances for good hitters to get on base in front of him) may take away those 20-30 AB, but produces far more runs in that many of the HRs he hits will now have men on base. On the whole, more runs will be produced by having him bat fourth than first.

Zev Steinhardt

Or you could have him bat third, have the pitcher bat eigth, and have McGwire get more at-bats and still keep the possibilities for run production (with the exception of the first inning).

Many baseball analysts believe that lineup order is a rather unimportant factor in how well an offense performs. Bill James ran a rather crude computer simulation of the 1930 Cubs’ (one of the most prolific offenses ever) and had the regular lineup distributed in various ways and the changes in total runs scored wasn’t great.

And while many feel that the #2 hitter should be a contact hitter, who is good at hit and run plays and sacrifices, others believe that the ideal #2 hitter is similar to the ideal leadoff hitter, i.e. someone who gets on base a lot.

But there really hasn’t been a rigorous analysis of the topic.

Some teams have been opting for less conventional lineups. Oakland bats Jeremy Giambi leadoff because he gets on base a lot, however, he is slow.

In 1998, Tony La Russa batted his pitcher 8th and a position player #9 because he thought that it would make it more likely that McGwire (who batted #3) would come up to bat with a runner on. And the #9 hitter would function as a “second lead-off man”.

It would also allow the opposing team to “pitch around” the good hitters and only pitch to the lesser talented ones.

Bill James’ work on this, going back to the late 80s, is the most detailed. There was a wonderful article in the Baseball Abstract in about 1987 discussing this. He concluded that lineup order was bascially irrelevant. He did note one very interesting aspect – that most teams scored less in innings 1+2, averaged, than in innnings 3-8, averaged. He concluded that managers were actually hurting themselves in the batting order a little bit. The first inning would be above average, the second below, and the second was more below average than the first was above (if this makes sense).

His final discrete conclusion – and one that I wholeheartedly agree with after using it in my Strat-o-Matic teams for ten years, is that conventional wisdom of putting your #3 guy as “lots of on base and power” – often the guy you think is your second best hitter – is a mistake. James pointed out the obvious, that the #3 hole is the least likely to lead off the 2nd inning. People would bat their good hitter #3 and the #5 would be a slugger with relatively low on base. All well and good when he comes up in the first inning with two runners on base or the bases loaded, but a disaster when – far more likely – he leads off the second and makes the first out (or hits a solo homer).

In short, use your high-power, relatively-low-onbase guy (e.g., Jose Cruz Jr. with the Blue Jays) #3 and let your #5 guy be the second-best overall hitter on the team.

LaRussa has long been playful with his lineups. Looking at what he did in Oakland (I’m working from memory here) I recall him saying he disagreed with the conventional lineup theory and liked to hold one of his better hitters for the #6 or #7 slot so that there would be a real threat in the bottom half of his lineup. If that meant a weaker hitter (cough Mike Gallego cough) had to bat higher up then that was the price he paid.

And a great ‘Runs per inning’ article can be seen here:

http://www.baseballprospectus.com/news/20000304woolner.html

It’s pretty cool.

LaRussa was also the guy, IIRC, who wanted to establish “pitching by committee” whereby he would have his starters only go three innings…

Zev Steinhardt

There’s a school of thought as well that says that NL teams should have #8 hitters who resemble their lead-off hitters–good on-base skills, and good speed. In fact, they say that the #8 hitter should be the fastest guy in the lineup. That way, if they get on, there’s a good chance for them to steal second and then be bunted over to third by the pitcher.

I don’t know if any team has actually implemented this strategy or not, however.

Someone needs to go dig up that old Baseball Abstract article. Also look at the section in the Palmer/Thorn book “The Hidden Game of Baseball”. One other insight was that the fastest basestealers should be in the lower part of the order, the concept being that the leadoff guy stood a decent chance of being sent home on a double/triple/homer by the big boppers – the 6/7/8 guys needed to steal the base so they could scamper home on the single . . . .

I don’t believe any NL team has a good hitter batting #8. That’s a spot reserved for the Rey Ordonezes of the world.

The Cardinals have been using utility man Eli Marrero in that slot and he had a good start and he’s relatively fast. (He runs well for a catcher.)

Someone needs to go dig up that old Baseball Abstract article. Also look at the section in the Palmer/Thorn book “The Hidden Game of Baseball”. One other insight was that the fastest basestealers should be in the lower part of the order, the concept being that the leadoff guy stood a decent chance of being sent home on a double/triple/homer by the big boppers – the 6/7/8 guys needed to steal the base so they could scamper home on the single . . . .