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)
- Rickie Weeks (.368, .449)
- Ryan Braun (.372, .568)
- Casey McGehee (.326, .412) Mat Gamel’s projections were better
- Prince Fielder (.387, .577)
- Corey Hart (.333, .456)
- Alcides Escobar (.334, .389)
- Gregg Zaun (.332, .368) Jonathan Lucroy’s projections were better.
- 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:
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.