Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Thoughts on Lineup Construction Part III

In Part I of this series, we looked at some basic parameters for the discussion.  In Part II, we showed, using a basic math calculation that a team's best hitter should bat 4'th and the priority for the first 3 batters is OBP.  Now, let's take a look at each individual lineup position.  We'll list the desired attributes of each batter followed by a discussion.

#1  1.  OBP.  2.  Speed/SB's  3.  Power.   The priority here is getting on base by any means, hits, walks, HBP's whatever it takes.  Most successful leadoff hitters will have good plate discipline and work deep into counts, see a lot of pitches.  This also helps get the opposing pitcher's pitch count off to a healthy start.  Some analysts completely discount speed and SB's and prefer power.  The goal here is to score runs and speed helps, not just with SB's, but also legging out XBH's and taking extra bases on hits by subsequent batters.  I do want my leadoff batter to have speed and be able to steal a base.  There is nothing wrong with power in the leadoff spot except if he has too much power, you are going to want him hitting lower in the order where he can drive in more runs.  Walks are harder to come by for leadoff hitters because opposing pitchers have a strong incentive to not walk the leadoff hitter.  They are going to challenge to avoid that outcome.

Median OBP for leadoff hitters right now is right around .350.  .360 or above is excellent.  Anything under .330 is probably unacceptable.  Pagan has an acceptable OBP and his XBH power is as good or better than SB's which he gets a few of too.  I would say the ideal leadoff hitter, Rickey Henderson excluded, was Brett Butler who had a career OBP of .377 and stole over 550 bases.

#2.  1.  OBP.  2. Speed/SB's.  3.  Power.  4.  Bats LH.  Again, for the mathematical reasons we reviewed yesterday, OBP is still the priority for the #2 hitter too.  Since high OBP hitters tend to see a lot of pitches, that dovetails nicely with the need to let your leadoff guy see some pitches to help him get a jump on possible SB's.  I like to stack speed on speed at the top of the lineup.  Again, there is no downside to power, but if your guy has too much power, you are going want to bat him lower in the lineup.  The LH advantage comes if your leadoff guy reaches base.  It opens the hole in the right side for a LH batter to pull the ball through.  You absolutely do NOT want your #2 batter giving up outs, especially in the first inning which is probably the only inning where lineup construction makes a difference!  Joe Panik might not have quite as much speed as would be ideal for a #2, but in every other way he is perfect!

#3.  1. OBP.  2.  Power.  The importance of speed starts to wane in the 3-hole and power starts to come to the fore.  Again, the priority is maximizing the OBP of your first 3 hitters, but if you do happen to get at least one of the first two on, it never hurts to drive them in before you get to the cleanup hitter.  You do not particularly want SB's right in front of your best hitter who should be hitting #4.  30-30 guys tend to get put in the 3-hole but they would probably be more valuable in the 5-hole where SB's probably become more valuable again, or even #4 where you want the HR's but if you only get a single, there is not as much downside to an attempted steal.  Buster Posey is great choice to hit 3'rd, the only downside being his tendency to hit into DP's but his other attributes more than make up for it.

#4.  1.  Power.  2. Batting Average.  3. OBP.  Cleanup is no place for a Dave Kingman.  Yeah, he had the power, but everything else about him was a black hole.  Your ideal cleanup hitter hits for both power and average.  This is where you want the best hitter on your team.  They call it Cleanup for a reason!  You are not looking for walks here, you are looking for RBI's, so OBP is not the priority it is for the first 3 spots in the order.  In the Giants case, they do not have a clear single best hitter on the team, so they have their choice.  I would probably go Pagan, Panik, Posey, Pence with Pablo hitting 5'th, but Pablo is not a terrible choice.  Morse could do it when he is hot, but his DP tendencies probably make him better suited for lower in the lineup if you have that luxury.  The current classic cleanup hitter in baseball is Miggy Cabrera, although I understand he is finally having a down season.  Albert Pujols in his prime was ideal.  And, as I have already pointed out in an earlier post, there is no question in my mind that cleanup was where Barry Bonds had to hit!

#5.  1. Power  2. Speed.  You want power from your #5 but probably won't get quite the well rounded hitter you want in the cleanup spot, so you might have to sacrifice some average.  OBP is way down the list of priorities here as it may be wasted on the lower half of the order.  Ironically, this is where your 30-30 guy would probably do the most good as opposed to the 3-spot where you really don't need the SB's so much.  When I was a kid, I always thought Bobby Bonds did the most damage out of the 5-hole where he occasionally hit while Mays and McCovey were still on the team.  Speed is not essential here though and this is where I would put Pablo on the current Giants team.  Hacking is welcome in the 5-hole!

#6.  1.  Power.  This is where you put your Dave Kingman!  He still has opportunities for multi-run dingers but the K's and terrible BA/OBP don't hurt nearly as much this low in the order.  It's also a great place for a young power hitter just starting out.  The Giants have a real luxury when they can bat Morse this low when everybody in the lineup is healthy.

#7.  Whatever you can get.  Another great spot for a young power hitter trying to get his feet on the ground, but you also can use an OBP/Speed guy here like Gregor Blanco to set up some bottom-of-the-order rallies.

#8.  Whatever you can get.  The conventional wisdom here is that in the NL, your #8 hitter has to be able to expand the zone to drive in runs when the opposing pitcher is trying to pitch around you to get to the pitcher in the 9-hole.  There are probably just as many times when the #8 hitter is leading off or batting 2'nd in the inning and taking a walk gives the pitcher a chance to be productive by sacrificing or  at least it gets you back to the top of the order to start the next inning.  Brandon Crawford actually does a nice job of balancing plate discipline with aggressiveness in the 8-hole and he's probably not really a good enough hitter to bat higher in the lineup anyway.


  1. One thing I would add to the #2 hitter is the ability to hit for contact. As a table setter OBP would be the top priority but contact would be second. Avoiding strikeouts and the ability to execute the hit and run to really set the table for the big hitters is ideal. A healthy Marco Scutaro was the quintessential #2 hitter. Panik is a good contact hitter as well and I have high hopes for him as time progresses. Speed would be a plus but it is not essential.

    1. I your #1 and #2 are both fast, there is no need for hit-and-runs which might be the single most overrated play in baseball. High OBP hitters generally make also make good contact as K's sap BA and secondarily OBP.

    2. You can have a high OBP and a high K rate, look at Adam Dunn. Someone who takes a lot of pitches will bring a lot of walks and raise their OBP but can also bring a lot strikeouts. A contact hitter who can take a lot of pitches giving the #1 hitter the chance to steal and is more comfortable with a two strike count putting more balls in play increasing the chance of getting hits and also making more productive outs. I think we both have the same idea of what to look for in a good #2 hitter but you seem to make assumptions about contact rate being high, where as I make it an emphasis. A matter of perspective I suppose.

    3. With all due respect, Adam Dunn is a fairly unique player. I thought I made it clear at the beginning of all this that we are dealing with generalizations here, not outliers.

    4. I would add that Adam Dunn would not be a terrible #3 or even #2 hitter. Personally, I do not see anything particularly onerous about K's as long as the OBP remains high.