by Daniel Gettinger
At Fangraphs, Dave Allen took a look at which managers best optimized their lineup in their team’s first games. The San Diego Padres ranked third-worst in lineup optimization.
Sky Kalkman wrote a nice piece summarizing the Book’s findings on lineup optimization. Essentially a lineup should look like this:
Leadoff: High OBP guy
Two-Hole: One of the best batters on the team. High OBP is nice.
Three: Not as important as traditionally thought
Cleanup: Best Hitter on the team with power
Five: Best hitter after 1, 2, and 4
Six-Nine: Decreasing order of ability after other slots are filled (with some adjustments for speed), but bat the pitcher eighth.
So, how did the Padres do at optimizing the lineup yesterday?
As Allen finds: not so well.
Using Baseball Musings lineup analysis tool, and imputing my own projections for the Padres batters, I found that the Padres will score 0.281 runs per game less using yesterday’s lineup compared to their optimal lineup. Over the course of a season, that equates to approximately 4 wins.
Edit: I think the lineup tool may be overstating the impact of moving the pitcher from ninth to eighth. The real impact should only be 2-3 runs over the course of a season. But using the lineup tool, Allen found teams gain about 25 runs over the course of the season by making such a move. I think the Padres optimal lineup may add something like 1-2 wins, rather than a full 4. Still, a win is a win.
According to the tool, the optimal lineup looked like this:
1) Cabrera, 2) Blanks, 3) Eckstein, 4) Gonzalez, 5) Headley, 6) Hundley, 7) Venable, 8 Pitcher, 9) Gwynn.
However, I believe the seventh suggestion might actually be the best. According to the tool, it would only cost the Padres 0.004 runs per game relative to the optimal lineup, but looks less funky:
1) Cabrera, 2) Blanks, 3) Gwynn, 4) Gonzalez, 5) Headley, 6) Venable, 7) Hundley, 8 Pitcher, 9) Eckstein.
The main problems with the Padres’ opening day lineup were:
1) Eckstein batted second. The second spot in the batting order should go to one of the team’s best hitters, not one of its worst.
2) The pitcher should be batting eighth, not ninth.
3) Adrian Gonzalez should be batting either second or fourth, not third.
I would like to see Bud Black correct these lineup errors. There are a number of reasonable choices for the lead-off spot, and how he orders 6, 7, and 9 is not entirely meaningful. But Eckstein should not be batting second, the pitcher should be batting eighth, and Gonzalez should not be batting third. These small corrections do not mean much in any particular game, but over the course of a season, they are likely to add up.