Last Wednesday, Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal wrote an interesting piece, suggesting that Lucas Duda be the Mets leadoff hitter. That, combined with Friday night’s decision to bat Justin Turner in the 5th slot in the lineup got me thinking.
What would a sabermetrically optimized lineup look like on the 2013 Mets?
So, let’s use The Book, by Tom Tango, Michael Lichtman, and Andy Dolphin to construct the optimal lineup for the 2013 New York Mets.
Traditionally speaking, the leadoff batter is thought of someone who is speedy, doesn’t have a lot of power, should get on base a good amount of time, but OBP is secondary to speed.
While The Book agrees that power is not important out of the leadoff batter, it says that OBP is the most important stat. The lead-off batter comes to the plate more times per game than any other batter; so naturally, a high OBP guy will contribute greatly at this spot. Additionally, speed is not as valuable in front of power hitters as it is in front of singles hitters (where you have a better chance of going first-to-third on a single or scoring from second on a hit to the outfield). The lead-off batter should also be one of the three best hitters on the team, although with the Mets, after the top 2, there are slim pickings.
So, with all that in mind, in an optimized lineup, the Mets leadoff hitter is Mike Baxter. Before you start to riot, keep in mind Baxter has a career .349 OBP (above the league average of .330) and doesn’t provide a large power threat. He can also play passable defense in an outfield which currently features Lucas Duda and Marlon Byrd on a regular basis. Baxter’s best opportunity to contribute to the team is in the capacity of a leadoff hitter. There is no reason why one of the team’s best OBP guys is relegated to bench duty while Byrd is making Justin Turner look like Pete Rose.
The Two Hole
Once again, traditionally, the second spot in the lineup is used for a bat control guy; someone who will put the ball in play to advance the leadoff hitter into scoring position for the middle of the order to drive in. If you’re Jerry Manuel, you bat your second baseman here.
The Book claims that the #2 hitter comes to bat in situations with roughly the same importance as the #3 hitter, only more often. Therefore, it concludes, the #2 hitter should be better than the #3 hitter, and one of the three best hitters on the team. Since the #2 hitter bats with the bases empty more often than anyone else behind him in the lineup, he should also be a high OBP guy.
This is where the Mets should be hitting Duda. He takes a lot of pitches, has a walk rate hovering around 20%, and can hit the ball a country mile. Collins has been frequently using Daniel Murphy in the two hole, but when you compare Duda’s .417 OBP to Murphy’s .325, it’s hard to justify giving away an extra out every ten at bats.
Number 3 hitter
This is where you put the best hitter on the team, right?
This is where you put the fifth best hitter on the team. Better hitters should be in the fourth and fifth spots than the third, because these batters come to bat in more important situations (e.g. – with men on base) more often than the three hitter. If you have a player who lives and dies with the homerun ball, and doesn’t do much else; this is the spot for him.
Traditionally, you put your best power hitter here, regardless of batting average or any other stat. This guy will bop 30+ home runs for you.
The Book agrees and disagrees. You put one of the top three hitters on the team here, preferably the one with the best slugging percentage. The cleanup hitter comes to bat in the most important situations of any batter in the lineup.
David Wright and his .542 SLG take the cake here.
The Number Five Guy
Usually this is where you see guys who either are former or future cleanup hitters.
In an optimized lineup, this is where the fourth best hitter goes, provided he is not a guy who relies on homeruns (then put that guy third). This batter can provide more value to the team with singles, doubles, triples and walks (because there is someone in scoring position when he comes up more often) than the third hitter can.
Daniel Murphy fits that profile well. He is a good hitter, but doesn’t necessarily have the power or on base skills that would see him slotted in the one, two or four spots in the lineup.
Spots Six and Seven
At this point, amongst regular players all there is left to choose from is Ike Davis, Juan Legares (or whoever Collins decides to put in center field that night), Ruben Tejada, and the pitcher.
Conventional wisdom says you would just order the remaining guys in order of best hitter to worst hitter, but The Book says to employ a different strategy.
It says that a speedy player who doesn’t deserve a spot higher in the lineup would be optimized in the sixth spot in the lineup. The speed of the player would work well in front of the singles hitters that usually fill out the bottom of most orders.
Using that wisdom, you would put Juan Legares in the six-hole. Legares has struggled mightily in a 16 plate appearance sample in the majors, but he figures to improve upon his .067/.176/.067 line as he adjusts to the major league game.
Unfortunately, the struggling Davis throws a monkey wrench into this equation, because of the many things he is; singles hitter is not one of them. Since he is such an all-or-nothing player (at this point anyway), it would make sense to put Davis in the six spot and drop Legares down to seventh. Legares’ speed will still play well there and the high-strikeout Davis will be less likely to hurt the team by failing to move a runner over because he’s trying to deposit one onto the Shea Bridge every swing.
Eighth and Ninth
Traditionally, you put the worst hitter in the lineup eighth, and then put the pitcher ninth.
The Book flips that around. The benefit of putting the worst position player ninth is that he can interact with the top of the lineup better than a pitcher can (e.g. – will be on base for the best hitters more). The Book calculates that this strategy results in two extra runs per year, which may not sound like a lot, but it could be the difference in a ball game.
So it goes whoever’s pitching eighth and Ruben Tejada ninth.
Here’s a comparison of Friday night’s lineup against Atlanta vs. the optimized lineup;
|5/3/13 vs. Braves||Optimized Lineup|
|1||Ruben Tejada||Mike Baxter|
|2||Daniel Murphy||Lucas Duda|
|3||David Wright||John Buck|
|4||John Buck||David Wright|
|5||Justin Turner||Daniel Murphy|
|6||Lucas Duda||Ike Davis|
|7||Marlon Byrd||Juan Legares|
|8||Andrew Brown||Shaun Marcum|
|9||Shaun Marcum||Ruben Tejada|
There are some major differences here, but the benefit of switching to this optimized lineup would be minimal, but significant. The Book says that going with this optimized lineup would result in an extra 10 to 15 runs per year, roughly translating to one win throughout the course of the season.
Seems like a radical change to only get one extra win for, right? Well, if Willie Randolph used an optimized lineup in 2007 or Jerry Manuel in 2008, we’d all be reminiscing about the three years in a row that the Mets made the playoffs, and Scott Schoeneweis would just be remembered as another bad Omar Minaya contract, and not as a man we have an irrationally deep-seeded hatred towards.
The name of the game is wins. If the manager is leaving wins on the table for silly reasons like “this is the way it’s always been done, so we can’t deviate from that”, he is not doing his job as best as he can.
Joe Vasile is a play-by-play announcer and the host of “Ball Four with Joe Vasile” on 91.3 FM WTSR, airing from 12-1 p.m. on Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeVasilePBP and check his website out here.