Indians Arguments: Batting Order

We’re trying something new on Burning River Baseball called tenatively, Indians Arguments. Basically this segment is a back and forth discussion between the two writers of Burning River, Joe and Mike. This particular discussion was about the Cleveland Indians lineup.

 

Joe Coblitz: This is the first installation of what promises to be a long history of Indians Arguments. So let’s start with the importance/non-importance of the lineup?

Mike Melaragno: It really does not matter where Manny Acta puts somebody in the lineup. What matters is who is in the lineup. The Indians lack depth from a position player standpoint so they are naturally going to struggle scoring runs whether Grady [Sizemore] is in the one spot, or the sixth spot.

Joe: Who is in the lineup is more important than where they bat, but if you have to use non-starters in the lineup, then you don’t want them hitting between your star players, making outs, grounding into double plays and defeating rallies before they start.

Mike: I agree. A team’s best hitters should bat sequentially. James Click wrote a nice article in the book Baseball Between the Numbers; in it, he used a custom computer program called Baseball Lineup Order Optimization Program (BLOOP). One of the conclusions he came to while analyzing the findings was that “lineups in which a team’s three best hitters batted with either one or two average batters between them fell eight runs short of the lineup in which the top batters batted in three sequential spots.” My question is: behind Grady and Asdrubal [Cabrera], who do you have?

Joe: I wouldn’t necessarily say Grady is in the top three right now. The obvious choice would be what the lineup was potentially in Spring Training. Grady, Asdrubal then [Shin-Soo] Choo. Personally, I would hit [Travis] Hafner 4th, but in his absence, it’s up to Acta to pick the next best hitter. I guarantee you, however, that the next best hitter is not either Travis Buck or Shelley Duncan.

Mike: Then who? Let’s look at the Indians who are in the team lead for SLG [slugging percent]. Grady is at .581, a very good rate. Pronk is at .549, Asdrubal is at .537, very good for a SS. Then you have [Matt] LaPorta at .465, Buck at .441, [Michael] Brantley at .395, and Duncan at .385. You tell what order you would use out of those list of names.

Joe: First I would use the one guy you left off, Carlos Santana. He leads the team in walks by 13 and is 4th in OBP. I’m also fine with using Michael Brantley at lead off. He is a more pure lead off hitter than Grady ever was. That means you have the top 5 set. Brantley, A. Cabrera, Choo, Santana, Sizemore. You don’t have to worry about breaking up the lefties, because Cabrera and Santana each switch hit.

Mike: Be careful when you mention the amount of walks Santana has. Teams have pitched around him when Pronk has been out of the lineup. And anyway a .344 on-base percentage is decent, it is not as high as would expect from somebody who hits high in the order. Choo? what has he done all season?

Joe: Choo has a .250 batting average for the season, but has hit .344 over the last 10 games. He’s been a consistent hitter over his career with a .292/.386/.478 line. Even if he struggles, it’s still worth keeping him at #3 for what he can do. What kind of person would hit Evan Longoria lead-off?

Mike: Billy Martin

Joe: Wrong, it was Joe Maddon. How could you get that wrong? It happened today. Anyway, Santana is one of the most patient hitters in baseball. His walks have less to do with protection and more to do with him being willing to take walks. He isn’t a slow runner, so you can’t complain about him getting on base anyway he can.

Mike: I know. I was joking. August 13, 1972, Billy Martin drew his lineup out of a hat.

Joe: The mad hatter. You would wonder why he was fired so many times.

Mike: Ok. So would you say that constructing a lineup should follow a particular pattern based on what? Stats?

Joe: Physical ability is a better predictor of what will happen than past stats, but you can use stats easier. Conventional stats don’t tell you as much as you need to know, that’s why I keep my own. Because of that I can tell you that the two best base runners on the team are by far Michael Brantley and Orlando Cabrera. Brantley has a +23 and Cabrera has a +19. See if you can figure that out.

Mike: So why wont you put O. Cabrera in the top three in the lineup? You would think that a good manager would put good base runners in front of good hitters,

Joe: The .287 OBP may slow him down there. However, OC has played well enough, I consider him one of the better hitters and he should bat in the top 7. I think the real issue here is Matt LaPorta though. We haven’t mentioned him by name yet, but he’s second on the team in HR and is the only pure power hitter on the team with Pronk out. The question is do you hit him high in the lineup and hope he can stop getting out 75% of the time or do you keep hitting him 7th or 8th.

Mike: I cannot answer that question. Why? because there is no substitute for lack of talent in the batting order. You say he is the only pure “power hitter” on the team with Pronk being out, but is he? If we take a look at ISO (Isolated Slugging Percentage, SLG-OBP) then Grady is a pure power hitter (.326) and Asdrubal is turning into one (.234). LaPorta (.208) is ahead of Pronk (.204). So yes I agree Grady should not bat lead off (something I have argued with you since 2007), these numbers indicate he should be the clean-up hitter. Point being if you to determine exactly what metrics to use when determining batting order and then stick to those metrics. Are you going to use OBP? SLG? BA? Number of hits?

Joe: You can only stick to those metrics if you think they can predict the future. Obviously Asdrubal is not going to continue hitting homers like this all year, so you can’t necessarily just run with the stats. If Grady isn’t going to hit lead off, there is no reason he can’t clean-up. Since Acta has already shown he isn’t afraid to take him out of that spot, there’s no reason to put him back. The problem with Grady at 4 is that Choo is a lefty and Acta hates back-to-back lefties. I prefer putting hitters in their place regardless of handedness. We’re running out of room here, so why don’t you give me your final lineup/closing argument.

Mike: My conclusion is that who is in the lineup is more important than in what order you have them in. A manager hands are tied in respect to what players the front office gives him to make his lineup card. If the Indians had the payroll to trade/sign Adrian Gonzalez, we are not having this conversation. If Carl Crawford is roaming left field instead of Austin Kearns, we would have a more worthwhile discussion.

Joe: Well since we don’t live in dream land (which is near Boston apparently) I’ll actually answer my question. Brantley, Asdrubal, Choo, Sizemore, Santana, LaPorta, Orlando, Buck, [Jack] Hannahan. Of course all this will change in a couple week when Hafner gets back. Until next time.

About Joseph Coblitz

Joseph is the primary writer and editor of BurningRiverBaseball.com and has been since it's inception in 2011. He is a graduate of the University of Akron and currently resides in Goodyear, Arizona.

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