Monday, February 18, 2013

What is the Best Tigers Line-up?

Every fan has his own idea of the ideal line-up.  Traditionalists tend to like to have a speedster lead off, a bat-control guy hit second, the best hitter third and the best slugger (who is not also the best hitter) bat fourth.  Some just want the numbers one and two hitters to get on base a lot and don't care as much about speed. Others follow The Book by Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman and Andrew Dolphins which claims that the best hitter should not bat third, bat rather first, second or fourth.  Still others toy with the idea of having the best hitter on the team lead off, the second best hitter bat second, etc. with the reasoning that the best hitters should get the most at bats.   

One thing I like to do before every season is check out the line-up tool at Baseball Musings.  Developed by analysts Cyril Morong, Ken Arneson and Ryan Armbrust, it estimates the number of runs a line-up would score based on every batter's on-base percentage (OBP) and slugging average (SLG).  Since getting on base (OBP) and advancing runners with hits (SLG) are the two most important elements of run scoring, their method makes some sense.

However, the line-up algorithm also has limitations.  Perhaps most importantly, it does not consider the speed of base runners.  It also does not address psychological factors such as batters feeling comfortable in certain spots.  What it does do is try to determine the best line-ups based purely on hitting which is a good place to start.

Using the Bill James Handbook projections, I plugged OBP and SLG for the nine Tigers starters into the line-up analyzer.  The Handbook projections tend to be optimistic, but this is the time of the year to be optimistic.  Anyway, one possible line-up is shown in Table 1 below.  The line-up tool says that line-up would score 5.687 runs per game or 921 runs in 162 games.  That's a lot of runs, but that's because we are assuming that all nine players are going to play 162 games which, of course, won't happen.  That's OK though.  The goal is just to compare different line-ups.

Table 1: Tigers Projected Line-up


Player 1:
Player 2:
Player 3:
Player 4:
Player 5:
Player 6:
Player 7:
Player 8:
Player 9:

The line-up tool considers every possible permutation of those nine batters and estimates that the best line-up would score 5.766 RPG or 934 runs, while the worst would score 5.502 RPG or 891 runs.  That is a difference of 43 runs which is not huge, but not insignificant either - between four and five wins.

Table 2 shows that four of the five best line-ups have Prince Fielder leading off!  In fact, eight of the top ten have Fielder at number one and all of the top thirty have either Fielder or Alex Avila.  Remember though that this only looks at hitting and does not consider speed of which Fielder and Avila have none.  More interesting to me is Cabrera in the two hole in all of the top thirty line-ups.  That actually makes some sense, but I'd probably want someone with at least a little speed (as well as the ability to get on base) in front of him.

You also might notice that all of the long list of "best" line-ups have Omar Infante batting ninth preceded by Andy Dirks, Torii Hunter and Jhonny Peralta in some order.  That also looks good to me, although we already know that Hunter will hit second in Jim Leyland's line-up.   

Table 2: The Five Top Run-Producing Line-ups

5.766 Fielder Cabrera Jackson Avila Martinez Peralta Hunter Dirks Infante
5.766 Avila Cabrera Jackson Fielder Martinez Peralta Hunter Dirks Infante
5.766 Fielder Cabrera Jackson Martinez Avila Peralta Hunter Dirks Infante
5.765 Fielder Cabrera Martinez Avila Jackson Peralta Hunter Dirks Infante
5.765 Fielder Cabrera Jackson Avila Martinez Hunter Peralta Dirks Infante

Table 3 looks at the worst line-ups.  Right away, you see the first problem - that Cabrera is batting ninth  which would obviously never happen.  As bad as those line-ups are, they would still produce less than 5% fewer runs than the best line-ups.  We want those five percent though, so those line-ups are out. 
 
Table 3: The Five Lowest Run-Producing Line-ups

5.502 Peralta Infante Jackson Dirks Hunter Martinez Fielder Avila Cabrera
5.502 Dirks Infante Jackson Peralta Hunter Martinez Fielder Avila Cabrera
5.502 Peralta Infante Jackson Hunter Dirks Martinez Fielder Avila Cabrera
5.503 Peralta Infante Jackson Dirks Hunter Fielder Martinez Avila Cabrera
5.503 Dirks Infante Jackson Peralta Hunter Fielder Martinez Avila Cabrera


It's doubtful than any manager would ever have Fielder or Avila bat leadoff, but suppose we have Jackson lead off followed by Cabrera, an idea that appeals to me.  The bottom four will be Dirks, Hunter, Infante and Peralta in some order.  Fielder, Martinez and Avila will bat 3-4-5 in some order.  I played around with various combinations and came up with the line-up in Table 4.  This one would score and estimated 930 runs, 9 more runs or one win better than the Table 1 line-up.  That's probably not worth the uproar caused by having Cabrera batting second, but I like it in theory. 

Table 4:  One More Line-up


Player 1:
Player 2:
Player 3:
Player 4:
Player 5:
Player 6:
Player 7:
Player 8:
Player 9:

8 comments:

  1. Spring is almost here, and we're talking about batting orders, thank goodness - I feel warmer already. And if Jimmy doesn't fill out a lineup that we can complain about. he's not doing his job.

    One thing that I really liked was that all 5 of the worst lineups had Infante batting second. It's so 1960's to have a guy batting second who isn't in the top 4 or 5 on the team in OBP, but a lot of people cling to the notion that your #2 guy should give up outs by advancing runners. You still hear people advocating for a traditional "number 2 hitter", and actually mentioning Infante.

    Jackson would be a terror at #3 with a couple of high OBP guys in front of him, but as you've pointed out they also need to be able to run a little bit. There isn't anyone on the team like that right now.

    ReplyDelete
  2. More teams seem to be getting away from the bat control guy batting second now which is a good thing. I also agree on Jackson. He's their only logical lead-off man even if he might better in another line-up spot. Granderson was the same way with the Tigers.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I love the last lineup Lee.

    Also, Is there any evidence that alternating righties and lefties is effective? I like it but was curious what the current thinking is.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't know if it has been studied extensively. There are obvious strategic advantages to alternating righties and lefties once the game gets to the bullpen. Earlier in the game, it could be a disadvantage if the LH/RH alternation takes you away from the optimal run-producing line-up. Overall though, it's more useful today than it used to be. Back in the days of 9 or 10 man pitching staffs, team would usually carry some pinch hitters who could be inserted strategically late in the game.

      Delete
  4. I like the projected lineup, with the caveat that I think Fielder at #3 and Cabrera at #4 would confer certain advantages. I think Avila belongs at #7 or #8 under all circumstances, and would keep the projected bottom 3 (and their subs) at the bottom regardless of lineup shuffles due to days off or injuries. Though I have to concede that this wouldn't apply in the case of Cabrera or Fielder missing a game or games - that would force quite a shuffle.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Fielder before Cabrera would be OK for me too. I don't really like Hunter in the second position because I believe he is going to get on base less this year. I'm glad they have him, but I'm expecting a decline and would rather see him bat 5th or sixth.

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  6. I think dirks needs to go,trade him or something,cuz you have Boasch and you have garcia, so you don't need stupid dirks he is a waste of space. just my opinion.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I'm not as high on Dirks as some, but I think they need to keep him. If anything,they need to add a right-handed batter rather than subtract Dirks. I think Garcia needs more time in the minors and don't trust Boesch at all. Boesch was a disaster at the plate and in the field last year.

    ReplyDelete

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