Much Ado About Nothing | The Process Report

Much Ado About Nothing

Consistency in batting orders comes up a lot through the season. It is the most simplistic topic in baseball management, requiring nothing in the way of player evaluation ability or knowledge. The same people who will harass a player over the most basic of physical or mental mistakes during the run of play will defend the player’s need to bat in the same lineup slot daily –as if players were slabs of meat incapable of understanding the complicated dynamics behind lineup changes, like, this guy throws with his left arm.

As best I can tell, there are three scenarios where a team in contention will use the same lineup:

1) Its players can hit lefties and righties equally well.
2) The bench is loaded with replacement level players.
3) Its players are incredibly healthy with fantastic durability.

Employing eight or nine players capable of playing daily costs money –lots of money. Having a replacement level bench ostensibly making minimum wage helps keeping the team’s payroll in the finite range, but the reality is most American League teams will use more than 100 different batting orders in a season. Injuries happen, slumps and hot streaks with managerial overreactions happen, players are acquired and traded away changing the complexion of a lineup, and so on. The Opening Day lineup is unlikely to be the Season Finale lineup barring good assembly and luck.

Everyone has encountered the talk about Joe Maddon tinkering too much and not going with his gut. I have written about this before, but the funniest aspect involves Lou Piniella. The stylistic differences between Maddon and Piniella are plentiful. From their perceptions to their employment of pitchers, the differences are supposedly profound, with one gaining the tag of baseball man and the other of pencil pusher. Here’s the punch line: Piniella used more batting orders in 2005 than Maddon has in four of his five seasons. The 2006 season is the only one in which Maddon used more –and half of his lineup was replaced by season’s end through trade and ineffectiveness. Wait, wait, I didn’t tell the joke right, here’s my second try: Piniella used even more lineups in 2004 (137) and his 124 in 2003 would give him the third most of Maddon’s Rays’ career, so which won’t leave well enough alone?

It’s not just a case of Maddon having better ingredients either. Below is a comparison of the amount of batting orders used by the American League teams that score more runs per game than the Rays have in each of the last three seasons. While some teams may boast fewer (and some teams more), the averages are comparable to the Rays. Suggesting Maddon’s usage of various orders is right in line with the other top offenses:

Season Rays Better offenses
2010 129 128.5
2009 123 117.8
2008 115 120.4

Even with the “tinkering”, the Rays’ offense performed above average across multiple slots last season (note the best OPS being posted by the fourth slot – although, I agree with Jason Collette that Manny Ramirez should bat fourth. Evan Longoria’s ability to take the extra base is wasted running behind Ramirez who will (hopefully) be on base around 37-38% of the time the guy behind him bats):

If the maneuvering doesn’t manifest itself in decreased performance –and there is no reason to believe there is—then all of the concerns are misplaced and overstated.

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