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Move up The Mang?

Earlier today our esteemed, bespectacled beat writer posed the question to the fans - Where should Felipe Lopez bat in Cardinals’ order? I have a proposal that I expect to go over like a lead balloon…

Before I get into that idea (which may have been given away in the title), Derrick presented Lopez’s career splits in various batting order positions, which I’ll simply duplicate here using Baseball-Reference.com‘s handy-dandy share feature.

I Split PA BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip tOPS+
Batting 1st 1970 174 321 .275 .341 .397 .738 .319 100
Batting 2nd 1201 126 222 .271 .349 .400 .748 .322 103
Batting 3rd 33 1 9 .300 .313 .433 .746 .381 101
Batting 4th 26 2 6 .292 .346 .458 .804 .353 117
Batting 5th 20 0 4 .350 .350 .600 .950 .400 154
Batting 6th 127 15 24 .315 .397 .417 .813 .381 122
Batting 7th 458 32 91 .236 .293 .387 .680 .273 83
Batting 8th 299 30 72 .255 .331 .407 .738 .326 100
Batting 9th 136 13 48 .248 .321 .413 .734 .394 98
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/3/2010.

These numbers seem to have been good enough to persuade three-quarters of Bird Landers to vote Lopez to hit 2nd in their ideal Cardinal lineup. I’m less convinced, but first a word on using splits numbers. The predictive value on what a player has hit in a batting order is essentially nil. A .300/.400/.500 hitter will probably hit .300/.400/.500 no matter if he’s batting first or batting ninth. His abilities don’t change from one spot in the order to the next. That would seem to me to be common sense, but as you listen to or watch a game, you hear announcers mention splits repeatedly as if they are supposed to mean something. It’s a pet peeve of mine, but even my favorite announcers do it.

Secondly, splits need to be regressed. We obviously would not accept the notion that Lopez would be a .950 OPS hitter if he batted fifth each time, just like we wouldn’t accept that an 8-for-20 rookie hitter has the hitting abilities of Rogers Hornsby. I recommend you read this post for some Splits 101.

Now, what is the ideal Cardinal lineup? Well, I got some crazy, nontraditional ideas from The Book, by Tango, Litchman and Dolphin. We know Tony has bucked tradition in batting the pitcher 8th (which is a good idea), but I’m not sure he’d do something this radical. Here are some of their rules in creating the best betting order -

  • Don’t consider the strikeout, or the hitter’s ability to move runners over on outs, when constructing your starting lineup.
  • The second lead-off hitter theory is valid. You can put your pitcher in the eighth slot and gain a couple of extra runs per year.
  • Put your best hitters in the #2 and #4 spots, with the better slugger hitting cleanup. The leadoff hitter should be of similar quality and have high on-base skills, but usually with less power.
  • The #3 hitter should be of a lower quality than the 1, 2, and 4 hitters because he comes up in lower leverage situations on average (ie, he comes up more often with 2 outs and nobody on). In fact, the #5 hitter gets the higher overall run value chances vs the #3 hitter.
  • The #3 hitter faces the most double play situations.
  • Leverage your good baserunners by putting them in front of good hitters, regardless of their power numbers. Ideally, the hitter should be one who puts the ball in play a lot and hits a lot of singles and doubles.
  • In attempting to optimize the batting order, any single lineup adjustment is likely to result in only a small gain (usually about one win over the course of a season).

Read that last line again. Batting order doesn’t really matter very much. From reading the book Three Nights in August, we learn that Tony La Russa agonizes over lineups. Losing sleep over a lineup: unnecessary. But if the team can get a slight advantage, well, they’d be wrong not to try, right? So applying these rules to the Cardinal lineup, we come up with something out of the ordinary.

These are the Cardinals CHONE projections, versus RHB -

# vs. RHP Bats Pos. wOBA
1 Rasmus L CF 0.354
2 Pujols R 1B 0.425
3 Ludwick R RF 0.353
4 Holliday R LF 0.387
5 Schumaker L 2B 0.345
6 Freese R 3B 0.335
7 Molina R C 0.322
8 Pitcher
9 Ryan R SS 0.302
  1. Rasmus projects very well against righties and his base-running skills help, too. But it’s not as big of an impact as you’d think.
  2. It flies in the face of convention, but TLR has not properly leveraged Pujols by batting him 3rd. Since Pujols is so, so freakishly good, he gets intentionally walked more than anyone in baseball, so we may as well give him the #2 spot so he gets more plate appearances.
  3. The Book says that the #3 hitter’s leg-up in run expectancy over #5 is in homers. Ludwick is a fly ball hitter but is prone to strikeout. He’s not a huge OBP guy. The #3 spot sees the most GIDP situations, so he’s ideal here.
  4. I could go either way with Holliday or Pujols. The #2 spot comes up about 30 more times per year than the fourth spot, and the #4 spot comes up with more runners on base. These factors balance out almost equally, so flip a coin if you wish.
  5. Schumaker’s speed is leveraged well in front of Freese and Molina.
  6. After 1-5, we go in descending order, best to worst. So Freese…
  7. …Molina
  8. Pitcher (we’ll take the small advantage of the “2nd lead-off hitter”).
  9. Boog

OK, how about when facing lefties?

# vs. LHP Bats Pos. wOBA
1 Ludwick R RF 0.362
2 Pujols R 1B 0.451
3 Freese R 3B 0.355
4 Holliday R LF 0.397
5 Molina R C 0.346
6 Lopez S 2B 0.338
7 Ryan R SS 0.320
8 Pitcher
9 Rasmus L CF 0.311

The  Bible verse “the first shall be last” applies to the Raz here. (Loose interpretation alert!) Freese has pretty favorable platoon splits against lefties in the minors and gets bumped to 3rd.  To answer the Goold’s question, Lopez should bat 6th, in either lineup if he wins the full-time job at 3B over Freese in the vs. RHP lineup.

These are just suggestions, and these lineups could differ some, depending on what projections you look at. The bottom line is lineups don’t matter, at least not that much. You can squeeze out an extra win by playing your cards right, but I doubt very highly La Russa would ever consider batting Pujols anywhere other than 3rd anytime soon.

The source of inspiration for these posts mostly came from here and here. Hopefully I did this right. Your input is welcome.

Erik Manning

Erik became addicted to Cardinals baseball as a young lad growing up on the mean streets of O'Fallon, MO. He moved away to Tulsa to attend Bible College, where he met his wife, who talked him into moving to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, also known as the Bermuda triangle of baseball. His dream is to see the MLB.tv blackouts end, and his other interests are theology and philosophy of religion. He is the parent of two young boys.

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6 Responses to “Bat Pujols Second”

  1. I voted to bat Felipe second, but I did this as if the assumed question were actually “Given that we already know that Pujols and Holliday are a lock at 3 and 4, where should Felipe bat?” Either way, I agree — it doesn’t really matter all that much.

  2. Call me old fshioned, but I want Razzle in an RBI spot, so would flop him and Skip in your v. RHSP order.

    I could be converted pretty easy. Nothing beats a game leading off HR, and I don’t think we’ve had one of those in at least four years.

  3. I also voted for Lopez to bat second. I do like this theory though. I wish there was a way to test it without actually doing it in a real game.

  4. I would like to see Molina bat second against lefties. A pretty convincing case was made for this in a thread a couple of months ago at VEB. His OBP is third on the team. Yes, he is a double-play threat. But he gets good jumps and is presumably good at running over the second baseman.

    Against rights, to break up the lefthanded hitters, you could either have Ludwick, Molina or Freese bat second, depending upon Tony’s Magic 8 Ball.

    Against lefts:

    Lopez
    Molina
    Pujols
    Holliday
    Ludwick
    Freese
    Rasmus
    Pitcher
    Ryan

    Against rights:

    Schumaker
    Ludwick
    Pujols
    Holliday
    Rasmus
    Freese
    Molina
    Ryan
    Pitcher

  5. I rather enjoyed reading this, I wish Tony wouldn’t always bat Albert #3, because he moves every one else around so much, why not experiment with having Albert bat 2nd or at cleanup? my personal observations/gut feeling is that Albert misses out on a lot of opportunities batting third, my intuition tells me that there would either be more rbis with him batting cleanup, or he would have more PAs batting second, either way I would be fine with that (like you said, you can flipflop Albert and Lego with the 2 and 4). I really like Ludwick batting third, it just sounds weird having him bat leadoff imo. Also, I’ve always felt like it is a waste to bat your 2 best hitters back to back… so why put Pujols and Holliday at nearly the same place in the lineup. I think any of Yadi, Lopex, or Rasmus would work well batting 5th

    • Regarding “it is a waste to bat your 2 best hitters back to back” : I’m convinced that bunching up your best hitters is the way to score runs. The trick is what to do when you have fewer than 9 great hitters to bunch up (assuming Micah Owings pitches), or two of them.

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