Ryne Sandberg Makes Questionable Choices for Friday’s Lineup

Generally, I try not to get worked up over the Phillies’ lineup on any given night. The batting order is unlikely to be the direct cause of a loss and even taken together over the course of a 162-game season, inefficient lineups may only cost the team a few games — not exactly nothing, but also not at the top of the list of priorities.

That being said, I take some umbrage with the way manager Ryne Sandberg set Friday night’s lineup against the Dodgers:

First things first: one through four is fantastic. You have your on-base guys (Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz) stacked at 1-2 ahead of your best hitter (Chase Utley) with the right-handed Marlon Byrd hitting clean-up.

Things start to sour quickly after the four-spot. Ryan Howard bats fifth against lefty Clayton Kershaw. Howard already has enough trouble against a typical left-handed pitcher, let alone the best lefty in the game. Howard also hasn’t faced Kershaw since 2010.

Then you have Darin Ruf playing in left field instead of Domonic Brown. While Brown has looked awful at the plate for the most part this season, he has hit lefties better with an OPS roughly 150 points higher than against right-handers in a small sample of plate appearances. Brown has traditionally handled lefties decently. Why not start Ruf at first base instead of Howard, where Ruf’s defense is less likely to be a factor?

Cesar Hernandez starts at third base over Cody Asche. Hernandez has never played third base in the Major Leagues, and has only logged 18 games at the hot corner in the minors, all coming since mid-April. Asche has a reverse platoon split in a small sample this season, posting a 1.027 OPS against lefties. Obviously, once you regress Asche towards the league average, his reverse split erodes, but it’s tough to see any upside the light-hitting Hernandez gives the team over Asche considering his inexperience at the position.

Finally, John Mayberry starts in center field over Ben Revere. This one is understandable, because Mayberry crushes left-handers and Revere has been impotent at the plate all season long. But Mayberry is certainly not proficient enough defensively in center field, and he could just as easily have replaced Brown in left field instead. Even if one wanted to keep Revere out despite a slightly reversed platoon split, one could have put Tony Gwynn, Jr. in center to at least break even defensively.

As presently constructed, Sandberg’s lineup leaves the team very defensively-lacking while keeping the team’s biggest liability — Howard against the game’s best lefty — in the lineup. A better realistic lineup would have been:

  • 1. Jimmy Rollins, SS
  • 2. Carlos Ruiz, C
  • 3. Chase Utley, 2B
  • 4. Marlon Byrd, RF
  • 5. Darin Ruf, 1B
  • 6. Cody Asche, 3B
  • 7. Domonic Brown, LF
  • 8. Tony Gwynn, Jr., CF
  • 9. Roberto Hernandez, P

If the Phillies lose to the Dodgers, it will likely be because Kershaw dominated them and/or the bullpen torched another game. But there is a very real possibility that Howard could face Kershaw in an important spot when it should have been Ruf, or Hernandez makes a mistake on a play where Asche wouldn’t, or Mayberry’s lack of range leads to an inning-extending hit. In short, the lineup change addresses too few problems while exacerbating too many.

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9 comments

  1. Richard

    May 23, 2014 03:02 PM

    Even if you wanted to insist on keeping Brown out of the game, you could have Mayberry in left, Ruf at first.

    Utterly baffling.

  2. Bob

    May 23, 2014 03:53 PM

    This is a defensive nightmare.

  3. topherstarr

    May 23, 2014 04:18 PM

    At least Hernandez isn’t a pitcher who needs to rely on his defense a whole lot for outs. Oh wait, what?

  4. william spaide

    May 23, 2014 06:24 PM

    I think you are over thinking this one. Looks like Rhino had an extra hour on his hands, along with a doodle pad. I don’t care if he picks the lineup out of a hat, as long as it produces a winning combonation. He’s just tinkering, and who knows, Howard may just very well yank one out!

  5. tom b

    May 23, 2014 06:26 PM

    or mayberry may have gotten a big hit instead of gwynn striking out. or asche could make 3 errors on routine plays that hernandez makes, pretty sure we could do this every game.

    • Bill Baer

      May 23, 2014 07:01 PM

      By this logic, you could put Jonathan Papelbon in centerfield and justify it with the logic that he could get a big hit. It’s about limiting the odds of bad things happening and maximizing the probability of good things happening.

    • hk

      May 24, 2014 06:36 AM

      You can’t do this every game. Many of Sandberg’s lineups have been fine, especially when vs. RHP’s (assuming Wil Nieves is not in the 2-hole). However, you can do it when they face LHP’s and particularly when those LHP’s are as great as Kershaw. Howard’s futility last night was not hard to predict. Since the Achilles injury, he’s struck out in nearly 45% of his PA’s vs. LHP’s, most (all?) of whom are much worse than Clayton Kershaw. Are you really trying to defend the manager batting Howard in the 5-hole?

  6. George Callanan

    May 24, 2014 08:13 AM

    Bill called this one . Howard came up multiple times with runners in scoring position and struck out. Seriously is Sandberg going after a record for different line ups in a season. Awfully tough for certain players like Asche to get into any rhythm when not playing multiple games in a row.

  7. larry

    May 24, 2014 01:42 PM

    Do you think Sandberg was told to play Howard as often as possible by management?

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