Let’s Talk Lineups

Posted by Steve

After seeing Carlos Gomez hit in the second spot for the first three games, it’s pretty safe to say he’s Ken Macha’s two-hitter for the foreseeable future. To put it bluntly, that’s a bad idea.

To explain why, I defer to The Book by Tango, Lichtman, and Dolphin. They have a great chapter on batting orders, which they back up with years of evidence. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Your two best hitters should hit second and fourth, with the bigger slugger hitting cleanup.
  • Strikeout numbers or the “ability to move runners over” (ugh) should not be considered.
  • The number three hitter should actually be a lesser hitter than the 1, 2, or 4 hitters. This is because the number three hitter comes up in lower leverage situations more often than the 1, 2, or 4 spots–for example, with two outs and nobody on base.
  • The second leadoff theory–hitting the pitcher eighth–gains you a handful of runs over the course of a season.

The one that should jump out to you is that the number two hitter should be your best or second best hitter in the lineup. Instead, the Brewers hit Carlos Gomez there! You’ll even notice on that page for The Book, they say, “If nothing else, we will consider this book a true success if all thirty teams were to never put a below-average hitter in the second spot. While the proper strategy will only gain you a few runs, why do something that is otherwise clearly wrong?”

Applying this theory to the Brewers lineup using CHONE projections, a near optimal lineup looks something like this (projected OBP and SLG in parentheses)

  1. Rickie Weeks (.368, .449)
  2. Ryan Braun (.372, .568)
  3. Casey McGehee (.326, .412) Mat Gamel’s projections were better
  4. Prince Fielder (.387, .577)
  5. Corey Hart (.333, .456)
  6. Alcides Escobar (.334, .389)
  7. Gregg Zaun (.332, .368) Jonathan Lucroy’s projections were better.
  8. Pitcher
  9. Carlos Gomez (.329, .390) Jody Gerut’s projections were better

A few things jump out from that. First: CHONE thinks the Brewers have only three above average hitters on their team. That’s obviously concerning.

Second: CHONE thinks the Brewers have three players within the organization who are better offensively than current starters (yes Gamel’s hurt, but he wasn’t going to win the job anyway). That’s also concerning.

Third: that is a pretty wacky-looking lineup. I don’t recall anyone suggesting Braun and Fielder be broken up in the lineup, but that’s exactly what The Book suggests. People seem to groan whenever the Brewers hit the pitcher eighth, but I’ve always been in support of it.

I know I’ve discussed lineup optimization in the past, and I admitted that for the fairly negligible difference they make (maybe a win or so over the course of a season), the strong response/backlash they would receive may not even be worth it. But that statement was made when lineups were fairly close to optimal. The current lineup Macha is using is so far from optimal that it would likely cost the Brewers more than two wins if he used it all season.

A perfect “real-life” application of this was seen in yesterday’s game. With nobody out, Rickie Weeks stood on second base and Carlos Gomez was up to bat. With the leadoff hitter on second, that is normally a great RBI opportunity for what should be one of your best hitters. Instead, Macha had Gomez sac bunt the runner to third! Terrible move regardless of who was hitting–that move lowers the run expectancy for the inning–but the sac bunt was only a viable option in Macha’s mind because he was hitting Gomez second. If Ryan Braun was up in that spot, do you think he’d have been bunting?

Since The Book’s lineup will never fly, I’m willing to make a compromise. Here’s my suggestion of a happy medium between Macha’s lineup and The Book’s lineup:

Against Righties

  1. Weeks
  2. Edmonds
  3. Braun
  4. Fielder
  5. McGehee
  6. Escobar
  7. Zaun
  8. Pitcher
  9. Gomez

Against Lefties

  1. Weeks
  2. Hart
  3. Braun
  4. Fielder
  5. McGehee
  6. Escobar
  7. Zaun
  8. Pitcher
  9. Gomez

Of course, if I had my druthers, Gerut would be getting a good chunk of Gomez’s playing time, but I chose to go with who the Brewers have decided are their starters. I’m not a huge Edmonds fan, but he still shows nice on-base skills and is likely to have a higher OBP than Gomez. Hart’s on-base skills have been pretty bad the last couple years, but against lefties his career OBP is a solid .357.

I admit that I can at least see what the Brewers liked in Carlos Gomez. He’s carried the “potential” tag with him for years, and he showed why on Monday. There’s still hope that he could become a good offensive player, but the point is, at this point in his career all he’s been is a below average hitter. There’s no reason to hit him in one of the most important spots in the lineup until he has proven he can hit.

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9 responses to “Let’s Talk Lineups

  1. Steve,

    What the hell is a CHONE projection and where can I go to read about them? I searched for CHONE a couple of months ago and found nothing but some projections. I’d like to read how they come up with the projections, not just see the final product and have to take it is gospel.

    Andy

  2. I didn’t mean to present them as truth. It’s one of the more respected projection systems out there, along with PECOTA, ZiPS, and Marcel. I generally like to use PECOTA, but I haven’t picked up a Baseball Prospectus Handbook for 2010 as of yet.

    To be very general, CHONE is considered more of a conservative system. PECOTA attempts to guess at breakouts and regressions more. Both systems incorporate multiple seasons, with the highest emphasis put on the most recent season.

    Here are a couple links to places where you can get explanations of how they’re all calculated. It’s obviously important to realize that they are simply projections, and while these have proven to be the best available, they miss on a lot every year.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PECOTA

    http://www.fangraphs.com/projections.aspx?pos=all&stats=bat&type=chone

  3. Huh? Why would you want your best hitter hitting 2 hole? Isn’t it better to possible come up with 2 runners on (if hitting 3rd) rather then just 1 runner on?

    And yea, Gomez shouldn’t be hitting 2-hole. But, neither should Corey Hart or Jim Edmonds. Brewers don’t really have a 2 hole guy. But, if your going to go speed with no on base ability, seems like Escobar is a better bet then Gomez.

  4. The thought process is that the three hitter will come up with two outs and nobody on more often than the two hitter will–therefore in lower leverage situations. Also, a hitter will get about 20 or so more plate appearances over the course of a season batting second than he will batting third, so it’s beneficial to get a better hitter more plate appearances.

    You’re right, they don’t have an ideal guy for the second spot (assuming you’re using Braun and Fielder 3-4). I just don’t like Gomez or Escobar there at all right now.

    Another thought would be to hit Rickie Weeks second, since he has some power, but then they don’t have a good OBP guy at leadoff. It really comes down to having only a few above average hitters.

  5. I can definitely relate after years of seeing Nick Punto, Alexi Casilla, and Brendan Harris move in and out of the two-hole.

    The only part about your argument that I disagree with is playing Gerut a lot more than Gomez. It will probably take a few months of watching him but Gomez is leaps and bounds a better defender than Gerut. The drop in production certainly will be made up for in defense. And this is assuming Gomez doesn’t improve, which there is no reason to think he could not.

  6. That’s very true. I just worry more about the offense than the defense. The best case scenario would be Gomez breaking out.

    I will say I have no idea why Jim Edmonds jumped ahead of Gerut in the pecking order for the right field platoon, though.

  7. I see the criticism of hitting Gomez second, but replacing him with Hart even part of the time and seeing it as an improvement over what Macha is doing is nuts.

  8. You ever notice how people say 2 hole all the time for the second spot in the order, but never for any other spots? Never a 3 hole or a 6 hole. Why is that?

  9. Why Mark? Even in Hart’s bad years the last two seasons, he’s been a much better hitter than Gomez.

    Gomez career OPS vs. lefties: .661

    Hart career OPS vs. lefties: .841

    Glenn, you’ll notice I made a conscious effort not to say two hole in the post.

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