One lineup question answered

One of the few mysteries for Tigers fans to debate this spring is the batting order. The players that will comprise that lineup have long been identified, but their positioning has a few questions. One of those was answered today with the announcement that Ivan Rodriguez will bat 8th. Does that make sense for the Tigers, or does it even matter. We’ll turn to the lineup optimizer to see what we can find out.

If you go with the theory that the team’s worst hitter should bat 9th (and it’s not really a strongly contested theory), then it would seem Pudge should bat 9th. He’s the best bet on the team to post a sub .300 OBP, and therefore the team’s most prolific out maker. But there is also the issue of the fact that Rodriguez is a Hall of Famer and a very proud player.

Using Pinto’s lineup tool, I plugged in the PECOTA weighted mean projections for each of the regulars in the Tigers lineup. I assumed Jones as the left fielder, even though Thames will get his share of at-bats in a platoon. Rodriguez was commonly slotted in the 8th spot in the optimal lineups which would score about 5.3 runs per game. So maybe Leyland is a fan of the tool as well? As an aside the RPG number is less than some earlier forecasts, as PECOTA isn’t as big a fan of the Tigers lineup as some other systems.

We know that Granderson, Polanco, and Ordonez will assume their same spots in the order. We also know that Carlos Guillen will bat 6th. That leaves Cabrera and Sheffield to bat either 3rd or 5th and Renteria and Jones to fill out the 7th and 9th spots. I played with each combination and the results are below.

2008lineups.JPG

Essentially it makes very little difference how those remaining spots shake out. That’s not to say there aren’t some things Leyland is likely considering. With Pudge batting 8th, it means that he’ll have back to back left handers in either the 6-7 positions for 9-1 positions. My guess is that Jones bats 7th because Carlos Guillen’s ability to switch hit will prevent an opposing manager from doubling up with a left hand reliever. Plus Leyland frequently batted Guillen and Casey back to back last year. Conversely, Marcus Thames coming off the bench could provide such a deterrent in a 9-1 scenario as well.

As for Cabrera and Sheffield, Henning thinks that Shef will get the 3 spot. My inclination is to think Cabrera should get it, for the simple reason he’s a safer bet to put up the better numbers.

Aside from the lefty-righty staggering, the most important thing is to keep everyone happy. I know it’s foreign for a stat-guy like myself to advocate those “softer” human issues. However, given that there is so little difference in expected output, shiny happy productive players will help to insure that the most comes from the lineup.

17 Comments

  1. charlie

    February 24, 2008 at 8:30 pm

    unbelievable lineup. aside from injuries and players going through slumps leylands biggest job IS to keep those players happy. it’s a bigger and tougher job than most realize.

    cheers

  2. Kyle J

    February 24, 2008 at 11:06 pm

    Hard to justify batting Cabrera, one of the absolutely premier hitters in the game, any lower than #4, but you may be right about the “shiny happy” thing.

  3. jason

    February 25, 2008 at 8:26 am

    Well, you know Leyland doesn’t like to shuffle the lineup around when there are injuries (remember Casey batting 3rd last year?), and I can almost guarantee Sheff will will miss some time due to some injury. So, if Sheff is in the #3 slot, that means more bench replacements batting 3rd for us. I think it makes more sense based on Sheffield’s health to bat him 5th.

  4. ChicagoJoe

    February 25, 2008 at 9:48 am

    I think this explains why Leyland last week said he expects big things out of Jaque Jones. I also like the idea of keeping Ordonez and Sheffield in the same spots as last year. Magglio himself said a big part of his success last year was watching how the pitchers pitched to Sheffield because he knew they were going to try to do the same thing to him.

    I love the optimizer tool i was playing with it last week. If our lineup had the same statistics as last year it will score 6.27 runs a game! But whats up with the Pecota average? 5.25! That is 850 runs on the season. Pecota seems to be assuming that many of our stars will get injured, which is a reasonable given the age and history of Sheffield, Guillen, Polonco, and Ordonez. But if this team stays healthy the total runs on the season will be comfortably above 900 and closer to 1000.

  5. Mike G

    February 25, 2008 at 9:56 am

    Just thinking aloud, I kinda wonder if it would make the most sense to have our 3-6 be: Sheffield, Cabrera, Ordonez, Guillen (in that order).

    Ordonez still has Guillen behind him like last year, and Cabrera gets sandwiched between two elite hitters which should get him good pitches to hit and ease any transition to the AL. Plus Magglio was very good at putting the ball in play and he would have two guys on base ahead of him a ton.

    Incidentally, with as much of an impact as Sheffield had on the rest of our lineup as far as helping them increase walks and cut Ks, I wonder if he can help Cabrera cut his Ks and really take the next big step forward for his career.

  6. Brian P

    February 25, 2008 at 10:44 am

    Does anyone think Leyland is using La Russa’s “pitcher batting eighth” theory? Obviously Pudge isn’t a pitcher, but he’s presumably the “worst” hitter in the line up. If you put Jones or Renteria at nine, the top of the order might have more RBI chances. Or so La Russa would say.

  7. Jeff Molby

    February 25, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    I know it’s foreign for a stat-guy like myself to advocate those “softer” human issues. However, given that there is so little difference in expected output, shiny happy productive players will help to insure that the most comes from the lineup.

    And that’s what makes you so good. It never would have occured to most stat-guys to bother writing that paragraph.

  8. Eric Cioe

    February 25, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    Brian P,

    La Russa was the first thing that popped into my mind when I read about this. I’m not sure how the strategy works, though I seem to remember seeing an article on the Hardball Times about it. Maybe I’ll read it when I get a chance and see whether they think it’s a good or bad idea.

  9. Vince in MN

    February 25, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    As far as RBI situations go, another way to look at it is what 4 batters would you rather have hitting in front of Cabrera:

    Rodriguez, Jones/Thames, Granderson, Polanco
    Or
    Granderson, Polanco, Sheffield, Ordonez

    I like the second option better myself. This presupposes , of course, that Sheffield is back to normal. As far as shuffling the lineup goes, I imagine Leyland is going to do this some anyway, with injuries, days off, some platooning, etc. How many different lineups did he use last year? I seem to recall that he used many different ones. I assume that will happen less this year, but still, since he likes to keep his players ‘fresh’, this is going to happen some.

  10. Paul

    February 25, 2008 at 2:35 pm

    I like the lineup with Jones 7th and Renteria 9th. It sets up well for Leyland to keep basically keep the order the same for lefty pitchers. Put Thames in at 7th and switch Granderson and Renteria at 1 and 9. Everyone keeps their same spot and there are back to back leadoff hitters at the top and bottom.

  11. Vince in MN

    February 25, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    Speaking of the ‘LaRussa lineup theory”, maybe on days when Willis pitches would be a good time to give Sheff a day off. In that case Leyland could use this lineup:

    1.Granderson
    2.Polanco
    3.Cabrera
    4.Ordonez
    5.Guillen
    6.Renteria
    7.Jones/Thames
    8.Willis
    9.Rodriguez

    This gets Cabrera into the 3-slot, keeping those folks that want him to hit there happy and at the same time gets IRod in the 9-spot, keeping those people happy, while those who would like to see Willis hit would be happy too!

  12. BobS.

    February 25, 2008 at 7:35 pm

    In terms of keeping things happy and shiny,an argument could be made that now is the time to reinforce the notion to Cabrera that he is the lynchpin of the batting order and the team,now and in the future.
    Also,as we all know,against left handed pitching Granderson deserves to be in the ninth spot in the batting order.

  13. Mark L

    February 26, 2008 at 1:58 am

    Several points:
    –do you really think Sheffield will “stay happy” for very long in any one place, even with his favorite linup position, etc.?
    –if we are concerned about keeping someone happy, it should probably be Cabrera, seeing as he is yet to sign a long-term deal, and could be a franchise cornerstone for a decade (along with Granderson and Verlander)
    –However, Sheffield seems better at taking a walk than Cabrera, therefore putting him on base more often in front of Ordonez
    –I’ve often thought batting Renteria leadoff against lefties. Production-wise, dropping Granderson to #9 makes sense, but we don’t want to shake his confidence. Hitting lefties better has to be his number one goal. Would letting him play, but not at leadoff, help? I hope so.
    –I don’t know about LaRussa’s theory, but consider this: We have a rather unique leadoff hitter in Granderson. That is, he hits a lot of homeruns. Therefore, having a #9 hitter with a good OBP (Renteria, NOT Rodriguez) actually makes sense, as someone is more likely to be on base when Granderson hits a homer (or a triple, for that matter).
    Therefore, against righties:
    1. Granderson
    2. Polanco
    3. Cabrera
    4. Ordonez
    5. Sheffield
    6. Guillen
    7. Jones
    8. Rodriguez
    9. Renteria

    Against lefties:
    1. Renteria
    2. Polanco
    3. Cabrera
    4. Ordonez
    5. Sheffield
    6. Guillen
    7. Thames
    8. Rodriguez
    9. Granderson

    The inevitable injuries (most likely to Sheffield) will shift Cabrera to DH and Inge to 3rd, necessitating some shifts in the lineup. Please, Leyland, whatever you do, do not bat Inge 3rd or 5th.

  14. billfer

    February 26, 2008 at 5:48 am

    Leyland’s job isn’t to just keep Cabrera happy, but to keep everyone happy. As for what will keep everyone happy, I have no idea and any of us who aren’t in the clubhouse would actually have any clue.

  15. BobS.

    February 26, 2008 at 9:51 am

    Winning is the single thing that will keep most of the clubhouse happy.
    Of course Cabrera’s satisfaction is not Leyland’s only concern,but it’s disingenous to bring up the subject of “human” issues and then pretend that it’s not ultimately more important for Cabrera to see that the Tigers see him as The Man than to placate Rodriguez’ eggshell ego or that of roving malcontent Sheffield.
    Batting Cabrera third makes sense on both counts.And,of course,batting Granderson ninth or platooning him against LHP.

  16. Pingback: TigerBlog » Blog Archive » Dontrelle Willis on the Mound and Todd Jones Gets the Start

  17. Sky

    February 27, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    When your worst hitter is WAY worse than your second-worst, it make sense to bat him 8th, so his total lack of skill doesn’t hurt the top of the lineup. But in the AL, that rarely happens, and the trade-off between “having a second lead-off hitter” and “giving the fewest PAs to your worst hitter” favors the second strategy (putting him ninth).