Sunday, February 24, 2008

(Dis)order

Quite a buzz was started in Anthony Witrado's JSOnline blog about Ned Yost considering batting Jason Kendall ninth and batting the pitcher eighth. The comments in the blog have been so harshly critical of this suggestion, that Tom Haudricourt had to jump in and ask people to "chill out."

"Yost hasn't decided on anything. He's just mulling EVERY possibility... Nothing is set in stone. Is it wrong to consider all possibilities? Folks need to chill out. I would worry about a manager who is NOT open-minded. It never hurts to consider all possibilities. I wouldn't get too worked up about this, unless getting worked up is your thing and you can't help yourself."
(hee, hee, hee, hee)

I'm going to do something that I do much less often than the alternative and defend Ned Yost. First of all, Haudricourt is right - you want a manager who considers every possibility and thinks outside the box. There are over 362 thousand ways that 9 players can be put together in a batting order, but in today's age of computer modeling, it is possible to consider every last one of them. Any manager would be wrong to not do so.

In a book called "The Book" by Tom Tango. Micheal Lichtman, and Andrew Dolphin - which by the way is in the top 5% of best baseball books ever written - an entire chapter is devoted to a deep mathematical analysis of the construction of a Major League batting order. The authors even study the subject of batting the pitcher eighth and conclude that doing so gains your team about two runs over the course of a season. Granted that's not much, but it is a positive. At the risk of Bill Schroeder, the Brewers TV color commentator, pulling his hair out (he would yammer on and on when Tony LaRussa did this), I think it's something Ned ought to try.

One issue I do have with Yost's idea is batting Ryan Braun second and Prince Fielder third. The thinking here is that moving them (especially Braun) up in the lineup gives them a bunch more plate appearances over the course of the season. This is true. But, batting Prince in the #3 spot is going to bring him up to bat much more often with no men on base - namely every game that neither Weeks nor Braun gets on in the first inning. He can't do as much damage with no one on base as he can with some baserunners to knock in. (This is also studied in "The Book".) I think it might even be better to split up Braun and Fielder in the lineup. I like the following:

2B - Weeks
LF - Braun
RF - Hart
1B - Fielder
CF - Cameron
3B - Hall
SS - Hardy
P - Pitcher
C - Kendall

The 5, 6, and 7 spots would be pretty much interchangeable depending on who has the hot bat. This would also move Corey Hart into a position where he will see some pretty good pitches to hit.

One last thing to consider - your starting pitcher only bats about twice a game. After that you pinch hit. Batting Kendall after the pinch hitter, if he gets on base, would give him a chance to move a runner into scoring position in front of the heart of your order. That's the one thing that Jason might be good at with a bat in his hands.

2 comments:

alan said...

You mentioned that hitting Prince third would be a bad thing in the first inning because without Weeks and Braun getting on, he'll come up a lot more without men on base.

BUT, if Weeks and Braun are retired, chances are that Prince would just lead off the second inning anyways. It's a wash.

Scott Segrin said...

Good observation Alan. But, here's how I see it:

Suppose that other than Fielder, you have three other players, each of whom have a .350 OBP. You have the option of batting Fielder third behind two of them, or fourth behind all three.

In the first scenario, you have two chances for someone to get on base for Prince - otherwise he bats with the bases empty. The probability of that happening (someone getting on) is about 58%.

1 - (1 - .35)^2

In the other scenario, you have three chances for someone to get on ahead of him - otherwise he leads off the second inning with the bases empty. The chance that one of three hitters will get on is 73%.

1 - (1 - .35)^3

The difference between the two represents 24 extra at bats that Fielder would have over the course of the season with runners on base batting cleanup as opposed to batting third.

 
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