We usually toss around platitudes like “It doesn’t matter that much” when discussing lineup construction.Ã‚Â On an almost daily basis during baseball season, many of us (myself firmly included) find nits to pick with the order in which nine names are written on a piece of paper.
Is our nit-picking justified?Ã‚Â How many runs (and wins, perhaps) is Price giving up?Ã‚Â I’ll venture to show that “not many” is the correct answer, and that the platitude is correct.
To be fair, most of this sort of work has been done in The Book, but I like to take principles like those and apply them in a more specific manner.
Here is the lineup of Bryan Price from yesterday’s season opener:
The figures in the chart represent each player’s career slash line against RHP.Ã‚Â For the “Pitcher,” I used the league average from 2016 against RHP for each pitcher.Ã‚Â Boy, isn’t it fun to watch players with a collective .338 OPS bat? (That’s a topic for a different article altogether! 😉 )
Honestly, there’s nothing hugely wrong with it once you get over the fact that you’re giving the most plate appearances to a couple of light-hitting speedsters rather than the superlative Joey Votto (domination by Jeremy Hellickson notwithstanding).
Using a method I have devised (I’m sure someone else has done this, but I haven’t seen it!), we’ll look at the expected run output of this lineup, versus what we’ll call an “optimized” lineup to see how our expectations and complaining natures line up.
Before we do that, I need to introduce the idea of runs created.Ã‚Â Many of you are familiar with wRC+, which is “runs created” normalized and put on a scale where 100 is league average, while also adjusting for the park you play in. Every point above or below 100 is 1% better or worse than league average.Ã‚Â If you removed the scaling and the park factor, you back yourself into simply weighted runs created, or wRC.Ã‚Â More on that topic here.
So, here’s Price’s lineup alone with each player’s career wRC againt right-handed pitchers, plate appearances, and how many runs they create per 100 PA (to make the number prettier).Ã‚Â The final two columns show the relative difference in plate appearances each lineup spot will receive in a season, with the lead-off hitter scaled to 600 PA.
As we can easily see, the higher a player hits in the lineup, the more PA he will receive in a season.Ã‚Â Pretty easy stuff.
I’ve bolded the wRC per 100PA column for an important reason.Ã‚Â This is a proxy for overall productivity.Ã‚Â It shows how many runs a player creates, in simplest terms.Ã‚Â Wouldn’t it make sense to give players more PA if they create more runs per PA?Ã‚Â Wouldn’t this lead to a maximization of runs scored?Ã‚Â Well, in theory, yes.Ã‚Â It would.Ã‚Â In the real world the answer is a bit more muddy.Ã‚Â wRC has all situational considerations stripped out.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â For example, a solo home run counts the same as a 3-run home run in wRC world.Ã‚Â The reason for this is that the player who hits the home run does not control whether or not the person in front of him gets on base, so why should he be rewarded or penalized?Ã‚Â Using wRC as the framework for our analysis, we don’t need to worry about things like “Well, if we bat Votto 1st, he will always have the bases empty in the 1st inning, thus not being able to drive any runs in.”Ã‚Â This is true, but also not the point of this exercise.Ã‚Â The point is to see how many runs Price might be leaving on the table versus a mathematically-optimized, context-neutral lineup.
So, let’s look at that now!
First think you’ll notice is that I made the lineup in descending order of wRC per 100 PA.Ã‚Â I’ve also shown the difference between the new lineup spot and Price’s lineup spot, as well as how many extra PA that will get a player.Ã‚Â Finally, we see how many extra (or fewer) runs a player would be expected to produce given their change in playing time.Ã‚Â We add them all up and get….
At least by this measure, Price’s lineup is theoretically leaving only six runs on the table over the entire season when compared to an optimized lineup.
Perhaps it’s time for me to stop complaining about lineups… pfft… like I would ever do that…
You know, if you included baserunning, which I don’t think is part of wRC, it might be even fewer than six runs.
On the other hand, it would be better to have six more runs. Seems like the Reds should be in the business of optimizing results, even on the margins.
Sure, why not?
Put your two best on-base hitters in front of Votto. The rest is details.
I understand wRCs inherent weakness as you explained it. Isn’t it the job of the manager/FO to attempt to make sure two people are on base when Votto hits his HR? His wRC doesn’t change, but the Reds win more games when that happens.
Your simulated line up was 6 runs better, based on a batting metric with this flaw. Is it possible a couple 3 run Votto HRs negates the benefit altogether?
I love this stuff Patrick. I think Price has done a really good job with the lineup, especially after what we dealt with in the Dusty era. Hamilton and Peraza hitting 1 and 2 is not optimal, but you want both of those guys to improve on getting on base for the future. Putting them in those spots certainly pushes for that.
Votto is never going to lead off as much as I want it. When the Reds are competitive, I’d like to see Hamilton/Peraza hit 9th/1st with Votto 2nd. Which ever one proves to be the better on base guy bats 1st, the other 9th. That would be the happy medium and get more PA for the Reds better hitters.
I hate the idea of Hamilton or Peraza batting 8th simply because it neutralizes their speed when they get on base with the pitcher up. I’d rather the pitcher bunt Tucker Barnhart over than a guy that can get to second on his own.
I don’t think Price has been horrendous with his lineups, but I think he gets a little too much credit sometimes. Looking at the Opening Day lineup, the only difference between Price and Dusty is you’d probably have to flip flop Cozart and Peraza because SS bats 2nd. Other than that, it’s a pretty conventional lineup.
That doesn’t mean anything now, of course. The Reds are not going to win a lot of games this year. But if Joey is still Joey in 2019, Winker is young Joey, and Nick Senzel is the kind of hitter we hope he will be, would Price have the nerve to go Senzel/Votto/Winker at the top of the order? I guess it’s unlikely he’ll be around then, so none of it really matters other than depriving me of seeing more Joey Votto PAs.
Put Peraza in front of Votto and you’ve got a lineup worth trying.
Good stuff. Why did you decide to scale the leadoff hitter to 600 PAs though? Last year 25 players had between 680 and 744 plate appearances, so just about one guy per team had somewhere in the range of 700 plate appreances. Seems like 700 would have been a more realistic number for the leadoff hitter, and would make the differences you’re noting larger. Maybe even enough to account for 1 win.
Clearly getting better players is more important than how you order your not-very-good players. That said, I think there’s a good reason that fans complain about bad lineups.
For me, it comes down to feeling like your team gets it. I want the manager of the Reds to show that he understands what really makes a team good, because it gives me confidence that they are going in the right direction. When Dusty was batting guys with terrible OBPs first and second because they didn’t clog the bases, it was a clear indication to me that the Reds were not going to win with him. He didn’t get it.
Price is better, but not by much. He brought in Chapman for plenty of meaningless saves, and he’s shown very little willingness to adapt his lineups based on what the facts show about scoring runs.
Agree completely with this. Dusty was frustrating, often, but i will always remember him for helping to bring back winning baseball to Cincy, after a very long drought. Maybe it was right place at the right time, but that’s okay. I can’t stand Price, but if he won, maybe i’d be more lenient with him too.
They were good years, but my opinion is that with a better manager they could have been great. I will always remember those years as bitter sweet because I feel like so much was left on the table. The Chapman debacle alone…
As you say, we’ll never know, and 2012 was a really good year, but I’ll stand by my original statement. Dusty showed over and over that not only was he unwilling to use the best available information to the Reds’ advantage, he was openly hostile to people that even suggested it.
Maybe a manager like that can win a World Series in this era, but it sure seems like doing things the hard way. I’d much rather root for a Reds team that’s less frustrating.
I hope that if they keep Hamilton at the top of the order when Winker arrives, it’s because Hamilton has a .350 OBP, but it probably won’t be.