Potential Phillies Lineups

If you follow blogs with any regularity, the dawn of a new season brings plenty of lively lineup debates. The Phillies have certainly had their share of lineup debates as Jimmy Rollins is not the prototypical lead-off hitter and Shane Victorino seems better suited for that role. (If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard “Victorino should lead off and Rollins should bat #6!”…)

The reality is that batting orders don’t matter all that much. They make for good conversation, but ultimately the most optimal lineup isn’t light years better than the least optimal lineup.

To illustrate this, I used this Lineup Analysis tool from Baseball Musings. For OBP and SLG, I used the PECOTA projections from Baseball Prospectus. I have three lineups: the least optimal, the most optimal, and the suggested lineup. For the pitcher’s spot, I simply punched in the 2010 National League average (.177/.176).

The chasm between the worst and best lineups is about 60 runs, or six wins. However, the difference between the suggested lineup and the best lineup is only 13 runs, or 1.3 wins. In other words, not that much — certainly not enough to warrant getting into a heated argument. If the difference between the suggested and best lineups was six wins, I would certainly empathize more with the arguments.

Of course, the above is simply an illustration with several assumptions: that the lineup analysis tool used is accurate (certainly debatable), that the Phillies use only one lineup throughout the year (which will definitely not be true), that the Phillies face an equal distribution of right- and left-handed pitchers (also will not be true), and that the PECOTA projections are accurate (maybe). Personally, I think the projections are pessimistic about the Phillies’ offense — they scored 772 runs last year despite the injury problems. Losing Jayson Werth hurts, but the Phillies should still be in the top 25 percent of NL offenses, regardless of which batting orders they employ.