Not many baseball teams, if any, construct their lineup correctly.
Well, correctly as deemed by Tom Tango, Mitchel G. Litchman and Andrew Dolphin of the statistical bible “The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball”. If you want to learn things like run expectancy, leveraging relievers, platoon splits and, wait for it, building a batting order, then this is the book for you. It is so insightful and eye-opening that it should be on every GM’s desk. Did you hear that, Doug? Read it.
But enough advocacy (I promise my endorsement was not compensated in any way). Based on “The Book”, I’m going to attempt to build the Milwaukee Brewers’ batting order that will produce the absolute most runs down to the smallest decimal point. Instead of essentially rewriting “The Book” to explain why my batting order looks the way it does, I’m going to provide you with a couple of snippets from it. That way, I won’t be sued for plagiarism, and you’ll understand where I’m coming from.
The Book Says: Your best three 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.
According to this, there’s no way in K-Rod’s leg kick Ryan Braun should be batting in the three-hole as he is clearly one of the Brewers’ top three hitters (best, probably). And this makes sense. Hitters in the one, two and four spots have higher run values over the three spot when it comes to singles, doubles and triples (home runs come out about even). For example, when you modify run values by plate appearances, if a two-hole hitter hits a double, it’s worth .799 runs versus .779 runs it’d be worth from a three-hole hitter. The difference is microscopic, but hey, I want the best possible lineup.
I now have to decide who the best three hitters on the Brewers are and put them in slots #1, #2 and #4 in order to utilize my lineup most effectively. I want my first two hitters to be capable of drawing walks. Therefore, Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez will take the top two spots, with Braun coming in at the cleanup position. Lucroy (10.1 BB%) and Gomez (7.3 BB%) walked the most among the Brewers last year, and since home runs are worth the highest run total from the cleanup spot, Braun is the clear candidate there (his home run totals should rebound in ’15).
You may be wondering why I decided to bat Lucroy ahead of Gomez. It’s simple, really. Lucroy walks more and strikes out at a lesser rate.
But who are the Brewers fourth- and fifth-best hitters? I’m going with Aramis Ramirez and Adam Lind. Compared to the rest of Milwaukee’s lineup, they’re light years ahead in terms of offense. They can both hit for power and put up respectable averages. I’ll decide where to put them in my order after we talk more about what “The Book” has to say.
The Book Says: Worry about the strikeout only if you have the opportunity to use a pinch hitter or reliever. Don’t consider the strikeout, or the ability of the hitter to move runners over on outs, when constructing your starting lineup.
I shouldn’t care if Gomez strikes out a ton, so him hitting in the two slot is okay. At the very least, he’ll stay out of the double play. Speaking of which:
The Book Says: The propensity to ground into, or avoid, double plays is an important consideration for players at the extreme double play levels. It is also an important consideration for leadoff hitters in the NL.
The three-hole hitter comes to the plate a lot more with two outs than the five-hole hitter, meaning he has a smaller chance of grounding into two outs. Lind grounded into eight double plays in 2014, and 20 the year before that, but, luckily, 2013 was an extreme and that number should shrink. The last three years prior to that, he averaged 10.6 double plays. In comparison, Ramirez grounded into 18 double plays in 2014, and with his age climbing the staircase and concurrent leg problems, he should post a number similar to that. Since Ramirez has a knack for double plays, the three spot is best suited for him, with Lind following Braun in the five spot.
Since I’ve determined hitters one through five, that only leaves Khris Davis, Jean Segura, Scooter Gennett and the pitcher, and “The Book” tells me to put them in descending order of quality. While doing that, I also want to split up the lefty (Gennett) and put Davis behind Ramirez to reinforce the power.
Now comes the Tony La Russa part.
The Book Says: The second leadoff hitter theory exists. You can put your pitcher in the eighth slot and gain a couple of extra runs a year.
Segura has an insurmountable ground ball rate (59.6%), and with a player like Gennett who hits a lot of singles, it would be foolish to place Segura behind him. A pitcher is more likely to strikeout, and one out is always better than two. Therefore, the pitcher should bat eighth and Segura will assume the role of the second leadoff hitter.
Here’s the finished product.
2. Carlos Gomez
4. Ryan Braun
5. Adam Lind
6. Khris Davis
9. Jean Segura
This will not be what the Brewers’ lineup looks like next season, probably at any point. I’m saying this without any prior knowledge, but it wouldn’t be a bombshell if Ron Roenicke has never heard of “The Book”. He’s more of an old-school guy and shies away from the analytics, except for when it comes to moving his infielders all over the place.
And although there’s not a butterfly’s wings chance of this batting order being written on the lineup card come the season, this lineup would most likely score more runs than any other combination.