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.
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.