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Saturday, July 10, 2004

More on Batting Order

From time to time I've criticized Dusty Baker for his lineup construction and he's now switching things up in an attempt to perk up the struggling offense (5 total runs during the current 5 game losing streak). In fact, in yesterday's 6-1 loss to the Cardinals weak hitting Rey Ordonez batted second. While I still think that's a mistake I was interested to read some lineup analysis done by Pete Palmer and John Thorn in their 1984 book The Hidden Game of Baseball. I bought a used copy on Amazon this week, having never read the book.

In the chapter "The Book...and the Computer" Thorn and Palmer analyze the average production at various lineup positions in both leagues from 1969-1971 which produced 4.141 runs per game. They then discuss how they used a computer simulation to test various lineups to see which produced the most runs. What they found was that a maximal number of runs could be score, 4.154 per game, when the traditional order was changed to 1-3-4-5-6-2-7-8-9. Since this equates to only 2 runs over the course of a season it seems to have little effect. In fact, the worst order (9-8-7-2-1-6-5-4-3) which no manager would ever employ produced 4.003 runs, a difference of 24.5 runs over the season. As a result Thorn and Palmer conclude that "All the time managers put into masterminding a winning lineup is so much thumb twiddling, and they are hereby granted an additional hour's sleep a night."

While I don't disagree with their analysis it still seems reasonable that a manager construct his lineup in descending order with "table setters" first, "all around hitters" second, and "runner advancers" last. The other factor to consider is that each spot higher in the order will garner an additional 18 plate appearances over the course of a season. As a result, hitting someone like Ordonez 2nd instead of 8th over the course of a full season gives him 108 more plate appearances. But in the end this analysis probably shows that rather than lineup construction, having a productive hitter at each position is vastly more important in scoring runs - especially in the National League where one or two weak hitters in addition to the pitchers creates a situation where over a third of your offensive innings are poisoned with weak hitters.

And speaking of weak hitters, the Cubs offensive woes continued today in a 5-2 loss to the Cardinals. One of the things that is particularly frustrating about watching the Cubs is how frequently they fail to score runners that reach base. In a discussion brought to my attention by my father-in-law you can rank teams by their efficiency in bringing runners around to score. A quick and dirty way to tabulate this "Run Scoring Efficiency" is:

RSE = (R-HR)/(H+BB-HR)

In other words this formula gives a rough indication of how effective a team is in being able to bring runners in to score. What this formula lacks is how often a team can score without the aid of a homerun since even though homeruns are subtracted from both the numerator and the denominator the runs component still includes runners who reach base and then subsequently score on homeruns. As of last Thursday here were the top 10 worst teams in the majors.

Montreal Expos NL 0.257
Seattle Mariners AL 0.286
Florida Marlins NL 0.294
Los Angeles Dodgers NL 0.298
New York Mets NL 0.301
Arizona Diamondbacks NL 0.304
Milwaukee Brewers NL 0.305
Chicago Cubs NL 0.306
San Diego Padres NL 0.310
Cincinnati Reds NL 0.310

If data were available to calculate the more correct version I'm sure the Cubs would rank at or near the top because of these teams they've hit the most homeruns (107). Another rough indication is what percentage of the team's runs are the direct result of a homerun calculated by dividing homeruns by runs scored. Here are the top 10 in that list as well.

Chicago Cubs NL 0.275
New York Yankees AL 0.275
Texas Rangers AL 0.274
New York Mets NL 0.271
Montreal Expos NL 0.266
Chicago White Sox AL 0.264
Philadelphia Phillies NL 0.257
Los Angeles Dodgers NL 0.256
Cincinnati Reds NL 0.246
Arizona Diamondbacks NL 0.238

Here the Cubs rank at the top and once again a better statistic would account for runners on base when a homerun was hit (I recently heard that the Cubs ranked first with 47% of their offense coming from homeruns but I don't have a complete list). Of course it helps if your team hits alot of homerun which the Cubs do and the Expos don't but still it shows how one-dimensional the Cubs offense is right now since they rank 22nd is on base percentage, 28th in stolen bases, and 10th in strikeouts.

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