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February 17, 2009
  
Fun with Lineups

Barring a significant trade or free agent signing, the Mets starting team is essentially finalized. What will the actual lineup look like? What spot in the order will Jerry Manuel bat Brian Schneider, Carlos Delgado, Luis Castillo, David Wright, Jose Reyes, Fernando Tatis/Daniel Murphy, Carlos Beltran, and Ryan Church? Even if the difference between a wisely constructed lineup and a poorly constructed one is just ten runs a season, that would equate to one extra win. Here are various schools of thought on this topic.

Conventional “Wisdom”

Ask the average baseball fan about lineup formation and he/she will probably say to bat a speedy player in the leadoff spot, preferably one with a decent on-base percentage. Reyes meets both criteria. Next, most want a hitter with bat control ability in the number two spot. The capability to bunt and make productive outs describes Castillo. The third batter is generally the best overall hitter, and the cleanup man is the top home run threat. After that, the remaining hitters bat in order of decreasing ability. Using that traditional thinking, here is the Mets lineup:

Reyes
Castillo
Wright
Delgado
Beltran
Murphy/Tatis
Church
Schneider
Pitcher

This is how it’s been done since baseball was invented, so why change? Fortunately, high-level statistical analysis is readily available these days, so we no longer have to rely on traditionalist baseball thought.

The Book Method

The outstanding baseball strategy analysis book entitled The Book, by Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman, and Andrew Dolphin, devotes a chapter to lineup formation. It is not an easy read, but the research and conclusions drawn by the authors are invaluable. According to The Book:

Don’t consider the strikeout, or the ability of a hitter to move runners over on outs, when constructing your starting lineup.

This goes against conventional wisdom, and Paul Lo Duca probably wouldn’t have been batting second for the Mets if Willie Randolph bought into this concept. It makes sense, as strikeouts are, in most cases, no different from groundouts or flyouts. Moving runners over with productive outs is an overrated approach. Also flying in the face of convention, The Book says:

The second leadoff theory exists. You can put your pitcher in the eighth slot and gain a couple of extra runs per year.

This is something the Cardinals and Brewers have toyed with in recent years, and it appears there’s empirical evidence to back up its usefulness. However, I can’t see Manuel or Omar Minaya endorsing such a strategy. The Book concludes the following about creating a lineup:

Your three best hitters should bat somewhere in the #1, #2, and #4 slots. Your fourth- and fifth-best hitters should occupy the #3 and #5 slots. The #1 and #2 slots will have players with more walks than those in the #4 and #5 slots. From slot #6 through #9, put the players in descending order of quality.

Using CHONE- and Marcel-projected wOBA, a useful statistic summarized here, here is how the Mets lineup would look based on The Book’s method:

Wright
Beltran
Delgado
Reyes
Murphy/Tatis
Church
Castillo
Schneider
Pitcher

Wright in the leadoff spot is something that will never be seen on a Mets lineup card. Might Reyes completely change his approach and see his walk rate drop if removed from batting leadoff? If he did, his SLG would probably increase as his OBP decreased. The Mets would boast one of the best, if not the best, top halves of the lineup in baseball.

David Pinto’s Lineup Analysis

At Baseball Musings, David Pinto provides the Lineup Analysis program, which spits out the best and worst lineups possible given each player’s OBP and SLG. Note that these stats don’t incorporate stolen bases and caught stealings as wOBA does. Once again using CHONE and Marcel projected OBP and SLG, here is the best Mets lineup according to the lineup analysis:

Castillo
Wright
Delgado
Beltran
Reyes
Murphy/Tatis
Schneider
Church
Pitcher

Reyes and Delgado are interchangeable in this scenario. Imagine Reyes batting fifth? I can’t envision him being happy with that assignment. Castillo in the leadoff spot is something Manuel recently discussed, and it might not be a terrible idea assuming he could OBP around .360. One thing is clear: Castillo has no business batting in the two-hole. It’s nice to see the Mets use some outside-the-box thinking here, regardless of how Manuel forms his lineup. Taking these methods into consideration, here is my optimal Mets lineup:

Reyes
Wright
Delgado
Beltran
Murphy/Tatis
Church
Castillo
Schneider
Pitcher

(Note: Church and Murphy/Tatis are interchangeable at #5 and #6)


9 Responses to “Fun with Lineups”

  1. Comment posted by John on February 17, 2009 at 8:11 am (#930476)

    I loved the Book.

    Wright
    Beltran
    Delgado
    Reyes
    Murphy/Tatis
    Church
    Castillo
    Schneider
    Pitcher

    I’d flip flop reyes and wright and I think that would be the ideal lineup. Your still batting your best at #1,#2 and #4 but your putting the power guy down further.

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  3. Comment posted by kerelcooper on February 17, 2009 at 8:52 am (#930479)

    I’d probably go with:
    Reyes
    Castillo
    Wright
    Delgado
    Beltran
    Church
    Murphy/Tatis
    Schneider
    Pitcher

    If Castillo struggles, then I’d change to the following when Murphy Plays:

    Reyes
    Murphy
    Wright
    Delgado
    Beltran
    Church
    Castillo
    Schneider
    Pitcher

    And the following when Tatis Plays

    Reyes
    Church
    Wright
    Delgado
    Beltran
    Tatis
    Castillo
    Schneider
    Pitcher

  4. Comment posted by skyhappysal on February 17, 2009 at 11:02 am (#930504)

    This was a great article-
    Two things that weren’t taken into consideration of course were player projections (which could make assumptions based on 2007 injurys such as Ryan Churches season) and the effect base stealing threats have on the pitcher and defense while they attack the batter in the box.

    This last point infers both that Reyes should get as many at bats as possible because when he is on base pitchers will struggle more AND that maybe teh hitters who have followed Reyes aren’t actually as good as their numbers suggest, they have been benefitting from his distracting techniques.

    Is it possible that the varried lineups don’t speak to poor past lineups as much as they speak to the dynamics of the met’s team?

    I prefer Castillo 8th, for his pitcher clearing abilities. But I could handle him 1st as well.

    On a catchiong note-
    Are the Mets really interested in IROD? Or is this being floated by his agent tod rive up price? They would apparently look to dump Castro first, which they have been trying. Would anyone else rather they dealt Schneider and went with a duo of Rodiguez and Castro?

  5. Comment posted by skyhappysal on February 17, 2009 at 11:10 am (#930505)

    I havn’t read ‘the book’, but is the general school of thought that the stats point to one player getting on base each inning, so a player with a high on base percentage and possibly the legs to steal bases should be hitting 5th - to lead off the 2nd inning.

    It is awful when the lumbering #5 hitter comes up and hits a weak fly ball to start and inning, or lines a single and clogs the basepaths (I am thinking of Delgado, Pat Burrell, Pete Incaviglia versus a young Darryl Strawberry, Howard Johnson, David Wright).

  6. Comment posted by littlefallsmets on February 17, 2009 at 5:52 pm (#930626)

    I’d go:

    Reyes
    Murphy
    Beltran
    Wright
    …Delgado, I guess, though he’s gonna regress more…
    Church/Tatis
    Castillo
    The Schnide/Castro
    pitcher

    I really hate batting 2009 Delgado at five but there’s just kind of no other options, you just have to sort of pray he holds together for a while.

    Everybody complains about the relative weakness of the outfield corners because you want to have stars there but… Christ… at least you have acceptable complimentary bats to put around the three stars of the team in the corners, especially if you platoon Church out of leftie at-bats.

    Catcher and second are just wastelands and Delgado is so inconsistent that you can’t really count on him to not be a wasteland either.

    One of those positions NEEDED improved this winter. If not with a superstar then at least with a competent supporting bat, not two has-beens and a neverwas.

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  8. Comment posted by Mike Newman on February 20, 2009 at 2:02 pm (#931444)

    This piece is the exact definition of why sabermetrics drive me frigging insane. Don’t get me wrong, I feel they have significant value in many situations. However, as somebody who played baseball at a pretty high level (SEC D1 and nationally ranked D2), reading an analysis which argues Delgado batting 3rd and Reyes batting 5th is painful even though it’s a very solid all around piece. Sabermetrics are great, but at some point this is baseball and strategy matters. For a saber geek to simply say moving runners is overrated probably never played.

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  10. Comment posted by Mike Newman on February 20, 2009 at 2:06 pm (#931445)

    As a teacher who is expected to use research based teaching methods (sort of like education’s version of sabermetrics), I find most of what I am asked to do does not take into account any real classroom situations which are often not ideal. Sometimes sabermetrics is delivered in a box and completely ignores actual baseball situations.

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  12. Comment posted by James Kannengieser on February 20, 2009 at 4:40 pm (#931489)

    Holy Schnikes Mike, what’s with the hostility?

    First off, you incorrectly attributed a comment to me in your latest piece - I never said anything of the sort. In fact, here is the comment I made:

    Mike nice piece. My knowledge of the minor leagues, even the Mets minor leagues, is minimal to none. Thanks for keeping track of where the top prospects are.

    Second, I played 3 years of varsity baseball in high school and play on my company’s baseball team so nice try with that. And congratulations about playing college ball, that’s outstanding. Doesn’t mean you know more about the game than I or anyone else for that matter.

    Third, have you even read “The Book”? I’m guessing you haven’t. So stop criticizing that which you don’t understand.

    Lastly, what is your lineup if mine is so ridiculous and “sabermetrics delivered in a box?” And what is your justification for the lineup, besides “because that’s how it’s always been done?”

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  14. Comment posted by Lunkwill Fook on March 19, 2009 at 7:47 pm (#939521)

    FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT!

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