Posted by Mike Frohwirth
As Opening Day quickly approaches, there has been much debate over the Phillies' batting order. While Manager Charlie Manuel has employed a variety of different lineups during Spring Training, his main objectives have been to get his starters plate appearances against MLB-likely pitchers, and to evaluate other players' suitability for bench roles. How the batting order will play out, when the games begin to count, remains to be seen.
There are many theories on the matter of lineup construction. Among the best analyses is found in Tom Tango's "The Book." (Note: If you read one baseball book, it should be "The Book." If you read a second book, choose "Moneyball", by Michael Lewis.) Tango determines that the difference between the best and worst lineups is, approximately, five wins. Tango also concludes that the team's three best hitters should bat in the #1, #2, and #4 spots, and that the #6 through #9 batters should be put in descending order of quality. (This order seems somewhat intuitive, as the best hitters will receive the most plate appearances each game.)
So, what is the best Phillies' lineup? For the purposes of this discussion, we will assume the following starting position players:
C Carlos Ruiz (projected Bill James wOBA: .341)
1B Ryan Howard (projected James wOBA: .393)
2B Luis Castillo (projected James wOBA: .315)
SS Jimmy Rollins (projected James wOBA: .336)
3B Placido Polanco (projected James wOBA: .322)
LF Raul Ibanez (projected James wOBA: .346)
CF Shane Victorino (projected James wOBA: .342)
RF Ben Francisco (projected James wOBA: .345)
P The ACE of the Day Selection
(defensive replacement who only bats when it doesn't matter: Wilson Valdez (projected James wOBA: .294))
(Note: While James' projections are often considered to be "optimistic", here we are only concerned with the Phillies' projected performances relative to their teammates, not their actual projected performance.)
So, in order by decreasing wOBA, we have:
As the highest projected wOBAer, we will place the power-hitting Howard in the 4th spot, where he should have the most baserunners. Castillo will bat 8th, to minimize his plate appearances. Polanco hits 7th.
The other five starters have projected wOBAs which are bunched very closely together. We'll start Ben Francisco out in the 6th spot in the lineup, as he is the least experienced of the remaining starters, and his projection seems like it may be the most optimistic (as it is based on his performance in part-time play).
We now have the #1, #2, #3, and #5 spots left, with Ibanez, Ruiz, Victorino, and Rollins remaining. Rollins has the lowest wOBA, so we'll slot him 5th.
Now, it gets very tricky. Victorino is the best, by far, basestealer of the three remaining options. Tango suggests putting the best basestealer "in front of a batter who hits a lot of singles, and doesn't strikeout much." So, we'll place Victorino in the leadoff spot, and bat Ruiz 2nd, leaving Ibanez (higher K% (20.1%) than Ruiz (12.5%) in the third spot. Our optimized lineup, now with batting handed-ness:
With no more than two same-handed batters in a row, this lineup won't be vulnerable to LOOGYs (or ROOGYs). But should we adjust the lineup, depending on the handed-ness of the starting pitcher? Tango indicates that "a right-handed hitter needs around 2,000 appearances against left-handed pitchers before his measured platoon splits can be considered reliable" while "for lefties the number is around 1,000." Only Ibanez, Rollins, and Polanco have the required number of plate appearances. Against RHP, Ibanez has a .367 to .334 wOBA advantage over Rollins. Against LHP, Rollins out wOBAs Ibanez slightly, with a .330 wOBA, to Ibanez' .329 wOBA. Given that Ibanez' performance against southpaws appears to be declining in recent years, you may want to bat Rollins 3rd, and Ibanez 5th against LHP. (Polanco fares better against lefties than righties, but not well enough to merit an escape from the 7th spot in the lineup.)
Does it seem likely that Manuel will use this "optimized" lineup? Well, it doesn't seem too likely that he'll bat Carlos Ruiz 2nd, or Placido Polanco 7th. But Manuel may very well just swap those two, without changing the rest of the "optimized" lineup, which may not be too damaging. Hopefully, in a few months, we'll be repeating this exercise, in order to optimize a lineup that includes Chase Utley.