Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Taking Lemons and Making Lemonade: Optimizing the Giants Lineup


With the Giants hurt by injuries to Andres Torres and Cody Ross, the biggest question has to do with the lineup.

In the grand scheme of things, the makeup of a lineup isn't that important. It accounts for maybe 5-10 runs over the course of a season and having a less than perfect lineup for just a stretch while a player is down with injury isn't that big of a deal. Still, it's something that we all obsesses over and the reaction when Aaron Rowand or Miguel Tejada is penciled in on top is over the top.

Lineup optimization has been studied many times and the general consensus is the common sense approach is okay but it could be a little better. Here is a great summary from Beyond the Boxscore from the research done by Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman, and Andrew Dolphin in "The Book:"

In plain English (sort of), we want to know how costly making an out is by each lineup position, based on the base-out situations they most often find themselves in, and then weighted by how often each lineup spot comes to the plate. Here's how the lineup spots rank in the importance of avoiding outs:

#1, #4, #2, #5, #3, #6, #7, #8, #9

So, you want your best three hitters to hit in the #1, #4, and #2 spots. Distribute them so OBP is higher in the order and SLG is lower. Then place your fourth and fifth best hitters, with the #5 spot usually seeing the better hitter, unless he's a high-homerun guy. Then place your four remaining hitters in decreasing order of overall hitting ability, with basestealers ahead of singles hitters.
So if we take this advice (and then used the ZIPs Projection for stats), we would get a lineup that looks something like this:

1. Brandon Belt
2. Aubrey Huff
3. Pat Burrell
4. Buster Posey
5. Pablo Sandoval
6. Miguel Tejada
7. Freddy Sanchez
8. Aaron Rowand
9. Pitcher

Belt is projected to have the second highest on-base percentage and not hit for as much power as guys like Sandoval, Huff, or Burrell. That would put him in the leadoff spot. Before we start jumping to conclusions, based on his slow start, if he had hit as well as his xBABIP suggests, he would have an average of .268 and an on-base percentage of .360. That would be perfect.

Posey is the Giants best hitter, so he goes in the four spot. Huff is the second best hitter on the team, so he goes in the second spot. Burrell is slotted in the third spot because of his homers and Sandoval goes into the five hole. The bottom of the lineup goes in order of talent. For this, I went in order of projected OPS+.

I could see switching Huff and Sandoval to break up the left handed batters, but it wouldn't be that big of a deal to me.

With regards to the leadoff hitter, there really isn't a great option on the team and that's why I don't envy Bruce Bochy.

Sanchez could be okay when his hits all falling in but he doesn't take a lot of walks. Rowand is just plain not a good hitter anymore; he has been hot to start the season and has done so the last couple years, but I am scared of the hitter of last year coming up and getting the most at-bats each game. Tejada has never been a big on-base guy and is a bit of a hacker. If the hits are not falling, then he could be an out machine.

You don't really want to put Posey, Huff, or Burrell leading off with their power and their lack of speed. Sandoval falls into this same category now that he seems to be looking more like his 2009 vintage instead of 2010.

By process of elimination, that leaves Belt as the best choice until Ross or Torres returns.

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