Reminder: Batting Order Isn’t Terribly Important

In the comments of Friday’s post about Placido Polanco, some Crashburn readers discussed their ideal batting order for the 2012 season. It’s a common discussion you’ll see among fans of any team — and, hey, it’s January, what else is there to talk about? I’d like to use that as a jumping-off point to remind fans that batting order doesn’t make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things. That’s not to say it should be ignored, but its relative magnitude should be kept in perspective.

Using this lineup analysis page, I punched in the on-base percentage and slugging percentage projections for the Phillies, courtesy Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS. Below are the noteworthy batting orders and their expected runs per game output. The eight players used were Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, Hunter Pence, Carlos Ruiz, Placido Polanco, Ty Wigginton, John Mayberry, and “pitcher” (Phillies’ aggregate 2011 OBP/SLG for pitchers).

Most Optimal Lineups: 4.46 runs per game (723 runs in 162 games)

  • Ruiz-Victorino-Rollins-Pence-Utley-Mayberry-Wigginton-Pitcher-Polanco
  • Ruiz-Utley-Rollins-Pence-Victorino-Mayberry-Wigginton-Pitcher-Polanco

Most Likely Lineup: 4.21 runs per game (682 runs in 162 games)

  • Victorino-Polanco-Utley-Pence-Wigginton-Rollins-Mayberry-Ruiz-Pitcher

Least Optimal Lineups: 3.95 runs per game (640 runs in 162 games)

  • Pitcher-Rollins-Pence-Polanco-Mayberry-Ruiz-Victorino-Utley-Wigginton
  • Pitcher-Rollins-Wigginton-Polanco-Mayberry-Ruiz-Victorino-Utley-Pence

(Even if you’re highly skeptical of ZiPS or the lineup analysis tool used, the results will more or less scale.)

The difference between the most optimal and the most likely lineups is 0.25 runs per game, or about 40 runs over a 162-game season. Of course, that is made less relevant by the Phillies’ reliance on pitching and defense in lieu of offense: it would be more important to scratch and claw for the extra one-fourth of a run every game if they didn’t have an ace taking the mound three out of every five turns (each of whom averaged fewer than 2.8 earned runs allowed per nine innings in 2011).

Just for fun, I substituted the recovering Ryan Howard in for Wigginton. The most optimal lineup went up to 4.60 runs per game and the most likely lineup increased to 4.37 runs per game. The downgrade from Howard to Wigginton will cost the Phillies 11 runs over the course of a full season, or slightly more than one win. It’s not so much where you put your players in the batting order; it’s who you have in there in the first place.

Furthermore, the truly important lineup decisions will be made in the middle and late innings of games, when Charlie Manuel will be forced to pinch-hit, pinch-run, and make double-switches. For instance, deciding between Mayberry facing a tired right-handed starter and Jim Thome facing a fresh lefty reliever in the seventh inning of a 3-2 game will have more of an impact on winning or losing a game than whether Carlos Ruiz hits seventh or eighth in four at-bats over the course of that entire game. Batting order isn’t irrelevant, but the real focus should be on solid in-game decision-making.

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40 comments

  1. Josh G

    January 23, 2012 10:16 AM

    “The downgrade from Howard to Wigginton will cost the Phillies 11 runs over the course of a full season, or slightly more than one win.”

    It also follow that the downgrade from the most optimal lineup to the most likely lineup will cos the Phillies 41 games over the course of a full season, or slightly more than four wins. That is incredibly significant, and alongside solid in-game decisions would result in a real increase in our chances at another playoff appearance.

  2. Scott G

    January 23, 2012 10:48 AM

    Yea, let’s not downplay it. Why not try and optimize something?

    Ruiz should definitely not be batting 8th.

  3. JB Allen

    January 23, 2012 10:51 AM

    Wouldn’t batting order (and, for that matter, in-game management) matter more the less potent the offense otherwise would be? In other words, won’t Manuel’s weaknesses as manager matter more now than they did when the Phillies’ offensive talent was greater?

  4. Phillie697

    January 23, 2012 11:16 AM

    Wait wait wait… BB, I agree with Josh G. Isn’t 40 runs something like 4 wins??? That’s pretty significant to me, LOL.

    Of course, nobody in their “right” minds will really put up that most optimal lineup. I mean, Ruiz to lead off? I think the media will have a field day on that one.

  5. nik

    January 23, 2012 11:16 AM

    So the 41 run difference between optimal and likely, which is roughly speaking – 4 wins isn’t terribly important? Are you kidding me? That’s like substituting Kyle Kendrick for Roy Halladay for an entire season.

    The tone of the article and the numbers within seem completely opposite of each other.

  6. nik

    January 23, 2012 11:20 AM

    Phillie697: Even if the construction is not as radical as putting Ruiz first (inflated OBP due to batting 8th) and is a little more realistic, if you could squeeze even 20 more runs out of it, that could be the difference between 1st place and duking it out in a one game WC play-in.

  7. Phillie697

    January 23, 2012 11:25 AM

    Also, has anyone noticed that ZiPs is pretty much saying that we already had a better replacement for Ryan Howard on our team than Ty Wigginton. ZiPs is projecting Jack Cust to have a OPS+ of 104, LOL, better than both JMJ and Wigginton. Too bad he plays for the Astros now (for only 600k a year no less).

  8. derekcarstairs

    January 23, 2012 11:57 AM

    Bill – Does the optimizer assume that Ruiz’ OBP, for example, stays the same if he bats either first or eighth? If so, do you think that’s a valid assumption?

  9. Scott G

    January 23, 2012 12:31 PM

    Ruiz has good plate discipline. Even if you take away his IBBs, his OBP is still .350. Not too shabby compared to the rest of the team.

  10. John

    January 23, 2012 12:38 PM

    Would it be possible to run the projections again, lowering what might be expected from Chooch leading off? Last year (SSS Alert!) he had a .587 OPS when he led off an inning. Batting first, at any home game, he’d have to hustle to the dugout, take off the catching gear, try to get his legs back under him, and get to the plate in a relatively short time span. Also, his walk rate in 2011 rose from 9.4 or 9.5% with 0 or 1 out to 11.5% with 2 outs. I like to assume part of the increase is due to having the pitcher, Mini-mart or Valdez hitting behind him.

  11. Bill Baer

    January 23, 2012 01:13 PM

    As I said in the article, focusing on batting order isn’t irrelevant, but focusing on things like platoon match-ups and personnel selection will have more of an impact on the standings on a game-to-game basis.

    John Mayberry could go an entire game (~4 PA) without a high-leverage situation (and will, most days). Whether he enters those situations batting sixth or seventh, for example, are way less impactful than choosing to have Jim Thome hit for him against Craig Kimbrel with a runner on third base with one out in the bottom of the ninth of a 3-2 game.

    Most at-bats are not high-leverage, focusing on each one as an important decision in and of itself is inefficient. 0.25 runs per game is not much at all; you can match its sum with four solid decisions in high-leverage situations.

  12. Phillie697

    January 23, 2012 02:19 PM

    BB,

    Your analysis forget the fact that a run scored earlier in the game in lower-leverage situations is a run you don’t have to score later, preventing you from possibly entering into a high-leverage situation. There is a reason why adding runs overall to an offense still matters to the standings. Giving how bad Charlie can be in high-leverage situations, maybe the best way is to get into them as infrequently as possible, and a well-constructed batting order will help with that.

  13. nik

    January 23, 2012 03:16 PM

    .25 runs/game is not much at all?

    A quarter of a run difference in ERA is the difference between the 3rd best staff in the NL (San Diego) vs the 9th best (Arizona) last year.

  14. Richard

    January 23, 2012 03:44 PM

    I agree with the points readers have made, that .25 runs/game is actually not insignificant. However, I’m curious why you think your lineup is the most “likely” option. It strikes me as most likely to be much like it was in the playoffs (with adjustments made for the short-term absence of Howard, and the complete absence of Ibanez). That is, unless he’s actually hitting very well, I strongly doubt Polanco returns to #2 in the lineup.

    I think the actual lineup we’re likely to see is probably in between your “likely” lineup and the allegedly most optimal lineups, potentially reducing that .25 runs/game by quite a bit.

  15. Bill Baer

    January 23, 2012 03:57 PM

    I remember reading recently that Amaro or Manuel wanted Rollins lower in the order. I tried searching for it but came up empty. That was my basis for the lineup.

    How often do you see a situation where [bad thing] was avoided (or [good thing] happened) because of a batting order decision in isolation? That’s why I’m stressing decision-making in specific situations, especially since you have the gift of context, something that is hard to ascertain in the generality of 1/4-run/game.

  16. awh

    January 23, 2012 04:13 PM

    I’d have more confidence in the Zips projections if they didn’t have Ryan Howard playing 144 games.

    That said, I find it interesting that both optimal lineups have Mayberry ahead of Wigginton in the order. We’ll have to see what Charlie does.

    Phillies697, you mention “how bad Charlie can be in high-leverage situations”. Is there any data to support that statement? I’m not challenging it, but merely wondering where to go look.

    I suspect someone has been able to quantify managerial decisions for all MLB managers, controlling for the ‘quality’ of the player they sub into a ballgame, as well as comparing the results between the managers.

    Anyone know where I can find it?

  17. Richard

    January 23, 2012 04:24 PM

    Frankly, I suspect Charlie mostly does fine, except those times he doesn’t, which we remember.

  18. jauer

    January 23, 2012 06:00 PM

    Been saying for years that Ruiz should lead off.

    “Frankly, I suspect Charlie mostly does fine, except those times he doesn’t, which we remember.”

    This is incorrect. Most of the “we” do not remember all the mistakes Manuel makes in victories, and because this team wins almost twice as often as losing, we don’t remember nearly enough mistakes as we should.

  19. awh

    January 23, 2012 08:43 PM

    jauer, again, where is the info quantifying those mistakes? Doesn’t someone keep it.

    One would think it would show up in pinch-hitting stats? Maybe? If Charlie was matching the wrong pinch-hitter up against certain pitchers the Philies ought to be below the league averages in the catergory, right? But I check last season’s stats and Phillies PH went .236/.307/.341 vs. the league average of .214/.291/.313. So it doesn’t show up there. Does it somehow show up in RP splits?

    I’m just trying to figure out how to quantify it.

  20. awh

    January 23, 2012 09:04 PM

    Bill, thanks. I’ll go take a look at it. I’m agnostic about Charlie, but it seems to me that those who are critical of either his strategic or tactical moves ought to at least be able to provide more than anecdotal opinion.

  21. Richard

    January 23, 2012 09:11 PM

    “This is incorrect. Most of the “we” do not remember all the mistakes Manuel makes in victories, and because this team wins almost twice as often as losing, we don’t remember nearly enough mistakes as we should.”

    This a pretty bold statement. What could you be basing it on?

    Meanwhile, Bill, answering awh, links to Beyond the Box Score, which shows that Charlie employs the sac bunt and intentional walk far less often than most other managers, so that’s a good sign.

    A lot the “mistakes” people pile at Charlie’s feet are hardly so clear cut as they make it seems. Now, sometimes it is clear. Simply everyone knew not to use JC Romero against right-handed hitters in important situations, and yet he did. Those are clear mistakes. Rarely are they so clear.

  22. MG

    January 23, 2012 09:22 PM

    Cholly’s comment on the most likely lineup:

    “I’ll give you my lineup card without JRoll in the leadoff spot when you take it from my non-managerial hands”

  23. Richard

    January 23, 2012 09:24 PM

    meanwhile, he’s batted Rollins somewhere other than leadoff numerous times…. also, Rollins is just fine as a leadoff hitter.

  24. MG

    January 23, 2012 09:41 PM

    Richard – Not really.

    Here are the game started by JRoll and when he hit leadoff

    2011: 108 of 135 games (80%)
    2010: 72 of 86 games (84%)
    2009: 145 of 153 games (95%)
    2008: 126 of 132 games (95%)
    2007: 139 of 162 games (86%)

    In 2007 and 2011, the majority of games that JRoll didn’t hit leadoff he hit #3 when Utley was injured and unavailable.

    JRoll’s is Cholly’s leadoff guy. There is probably some question that Polanco about #2 but I am certain that unless Polanco is horrid in spring training he will be penciled in the #2 spot to start the year.

  25. MG

    January 23, 2012 09:47 PM

    What I am going to be interested to watch is who hits #5-#7. That is where it is going to be interesting to see how Cholly mix & matches at the end of spring training and early in the year.

  26. hk

    January 23, 2012 09:47 PM

    BB,

    If the most optimal lineup went up to 4.60 runs (from 4.46) per game and the most likely lineup increased to 4.37 runs per game (from 4.21) by replacing Wigginton with Howard, how will the downgrade only cost the Phillies 11 runs over the course of a full season? My calculations show that the downgrade is costing them either .14 or .16 runs per game, which totals either 23 runs or 26 runs over a 162 game schedule. Am I missing something?

  27. awh

    January 23, 2012 10:00 PM

    Richard, good post. Yes, Charlie makes mistakes. And other managers do as well.

    So, with all of the sabr data out there, it seems to me that someone HAS to be able to figure out a way to quantify managerial performance.

    It also seems to me that there’s a way to compare managers, sort of like the way the article Bill linked compares them.

    And I don’t buy the argument that the performance measures (tracking and crunching the numbers on every move) can’t be quantified with the proper controls for individual player performance. For instance, one would expect a better outcome more often if Greg Dobbs were the PH as opposed to Mini Mart, no?

    Or, is it as simple as the managers with the best players and pitchers – and best benches – are going to succeed in their tactical moves more often than those who have inferior players and pitchers?

    You’re correct, Charlie mad a lot of questionable moves, the JC Romero example being a great one.

    I would add to that this one: Letting Ibanez hit against a LHRP late in a game in a high leverage situation with Mayberry on the bench.

    But I also have seen Charlie make a lot of great moves. The classic one was pinch-hitting Jenkins early in Game 4 of the 2008 NLDS in LA, because he wanted to save Stairs for a potential matchup with Broxton – and we know how that turned out.

    BTW, despite the early elimination last season, Charlie’s postseason record with the Phillies is 27 – 19. Not too shabby.

  28. Richard

    January 23, 2012 10:05 PM

    you’ll have to pardon my humorlessness, MG… your comment implied that Charlie never bats Rollins anywhere other than leadoff. I said he’d done so numerous times. Your data supports my comment. If you’re going to complain that I knew what you meant, then perhaps my implied point, that Charlie is possibly not the world’s worst tactical manager, might be admitted.

  29. Bill Baer

    January 23, 2012 10:22 PM

    @ hk

    I probably forgot to edit a part. Initially, I was using Wigginton’s averages since there was no ZiPS projection for him. But when Szymborski responded to me on Twitter, I put it in there. So, probably just a consistency error. My apologies.

  30. jauer

    January 24, 2012 12:40 AM

    Is it really a bold statement? I think it would be bold to say that any given fanbase remembers a manager’s decisions in victories more than (or the same as) the decisions in defeats. It’s human nature.

    As for the quantification of Manuel’s daily decisions, charliesmanuel.org has been doing it for years. It only focuses on Manuel, though, so I’m not sure that answers your question about managerial comparisons.

    I dont think Manuel is significantly worse than the average manager, but that is more of a criticism of MLB management than it is a defense of Manuel.

  31. jauer

    January 24, 2012 12:47 AM

    “Simply everyone knew not to use JC Romero against right-handed hitters in important situations, and yet he did. Those are clear mistakes. Rarely are they so clear.”

    Except that it wasn’t rare that Manuel would use Romero against righties; it was nearly every appearance. You are right in that it is rare that Manuel makes a “new” mistake (one that he’s never made before), but it is almost as rare that he makes it through a game without making an old mistake (stacking Utley-Howard in the lineup every single day for 6 years when it’s been obvious for 4 years that this strategy only benefits the opposing bullpen; Romero vs. RHBs; pinch-hitting for Ruiz instead of Feliz in 2009 high-lev situations; removing Pat Burrell for a defensive replacement in the 6th inning in 2008, while NEVER removing Ibanez for one in 2011; never pinch-hitting for Howard against LOOGYs even though that would erase the first mistake on this list; giving the green-light to players at the worst possible times; allowing pitchers like Brett Myers to swing at 2-0 pitches with regularity…).

  32. derekcarstairs

    January 24, 2012 06:08 AM

    In summary, the headline of this post is incorrect if applied to the 2012 Phillies.

  33. awh

    January 24, 2012 08:04 AM

    “As for the quantification of Manuel’s daily decisions, charliesmanuel.org has been doing it for years. It only focuses on Manuel, though, so I’m not sure that answers your question about managerial comparisons.”

    jauer, I don’t think Charlie is perfect, but I’m not sure that “Manuel is significantly worse than the average manager” either. AAMOF, I’m not sure he’s in the bottom half. That’s why I asked if anybody quantifies and compares managerial performance, and ‘controls’ for the quality of the player with whom the manager makes the move.

    It seems to me that unless that is done, it’s impossible to say with any certainty whether any manager is bad, good, or above/below average.

  34. hk

    January 24, 2012 08:05 AM

    …losing extra inning games on the road without using his best reliever (aka The Torre)…

    I will give Charlie credit for one strategic thing. He has never repeated his April 2007 error of rushing out to the mound to replace his pitcher before the other team’s PH was announced, thereby enabling the other manager to use a different PH vs. the new pitcher and save the planned PH to (I believe) get the winning hit later in the game.

  35. Phillie697

    January 24, 2012 10:20 AM

    @hk,

    That’s a mistake a manager should have NEVER made in the first place. That’s like giving credit to a 10 year old for being potty trained.

    BB,

    I still think 40 runs a season matter. Avoiding high-leverage situations in the first place has so many virtues that I can’t even begin to list.

  36. MG

    January 24, 2012 10:46 AM

    Richard – My comment had nothing to due with Cholly’s tactical skill.

    It is just pretty absurd to say that Cholly had used JRoll in plenty of other spots besides the leadoff spot when JRoll has started there over 88% of the time the last 5 years.

    Only time Cholly only doesn’t hit JRoll out of the leadoff the last 5 years was when Utley was injured & unavailable. Otherwise JRoll has been the leadoff spot at around a ~95% clip when he starts.

    JRoll’s is Cholly’s leadoff guy and he will be over the next 2 years until Cholly likely retires at the end of next year.

  37. hk

    January 24, 2012 02:49 PM

    @697:

    I guess you missed the sarcasm in me giving Charlie credit for not repeating that mistake.

  38. Phillie697

    January 24, 2012 03:58 PM

    @hk,

    LOL, I must have :)

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