Should Carlos Ruiz Bat Fourth?
The one common refrain during Carlos Ruiz‘s current hot streak has been “when will Chooch bat cleanup?” That is certainly something I’ve been asked frequently on Twitter and seen in the comments here on the blog. In 15 May games, Ruiz has a 1.237 OPS with four homers and a stolen base thrown in for good measure. He also happens to rank sixth in OPS among all Major League players, behind players like Matt Kemp and Joey Votto. Yeah, he’s been pretty good at the dish.
2012 has been an otherwise disappointing offensive season for the Phillies, but Ruiz has been the rock of the lineup, prompting manager Charlie Manuel to move him from the #7 spot, where he had been in 19 of his first 20 starts, to #5 where he’s been in each of his last three starts.
Despite leading the team with nine homers and 27 RBI, Hunter Pence has been lackluster thus far. His .342 wOBA is still above-average, but when he isn’t hitting home runs, he isn’t doing much of anything at all. He has just seven doubles and one triple, and his .253 batting average and .301 on-base percentage echo that. As the team’s best hitter typically bats cleanup, fans have been clamoring for Pence to hit third and Ruiz to hit in the cleanup spot to salvage more run-scoring opportunities.
Generally speaking, though, the effect of an “ideal” batting order is vastly overstated when it comes to scoring more runs. To illustrate this, I used the Baseball Musings Lineup Analysis page and ZiPS rest-of-season projections. Here were the results:
Most Optimal Lineup
4.22 runs per game: Ruiz-Victorino-Polanco-Pence-Rollins-Galvis-Wigginton-Pitcher-Pierre
Suggested Lineup (Ruiz cleanup)
4.03 runs per game: Rollins-Pierre-Pence-Ruiz-Victorino-Wigginton-Polanco-Galvis-Pitcher
Least Optimal Lineup
3.75 runs per game: Galvis-Pitcher-Victorino-Pierre-Wigginton-Polanco-Rollins-Ruiz-Pence
Additionally, the difference between a lineup where everything else is the same except the 3-4-5 is Pence-Ruiz-Victorino (4.03) instead of Victorino-Pence-Ruiz (4.06) is about 0.03 runs, or fewer than four runs over the remaining 123 games. Ten runs roughly equates to one win, so we’re talking about less than one-half of one win over the next 123 games based on ZiPS’ projections, found on FanGraphs.
Fans and talking heads tend to make lineup construction out to be a much, much bigger deal than it actually is. The key to a good lineup is simply getting your best players up to the plate as much as possible, and taking advantage of platoon match-ups when possible. The Phillies haven’t done a whole lot of the former, as Jimmy Rollins and his .269 wOBA have led off in 19 of 39 games, Placido Polanco (.298) has hit second in 22 games, and Rollins has also been slotted in the #3 spot 19 times. If we’re splitting hairs, Ruiz should actually bat first in the lineup, since he’s been the best hitter.
In the long run, it doesn’t make a lot of difference as the true key to lineup construction is personnel. Have a look at the 2007 Phillies’ roster which averaged 5.5 runs per game (the league average was 4.7). Charlie Manuel could have thrown names in a hat and picked out a lineup that would score 5.5 runs per game. With this roster, you’re looking at a league-average offense until Chase Utley and Ryan Howard return, and that’s not going to change whether Ruiz is hitting first, fourth, or sixth.