Friday, May 10, 2013

Optimizing the Lineup Using The Book

A lot of fuss has been made over the Royals lineup over the past couple of weeks. Personally, I think lineup discussions are often much ado about nothing. Everyone hits and lineup discussions tend to take too much a what have you done for me lately. However, lineup optimization is not without value. In fact, according to The Book; Playing the Percentages in Baseball by Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman, and Andrew Dolphin, the perfect lineup could result in upwards of 15 more runs over the course of season. This is not a huge difference but could account for an additional 1 or 2 wins over the course of a season.

Let's simply take a moment to apply The Book's findings to the Royals roster to determine what the most productive lineup would be for Kansas City. Before we get too deep into the application, let's jot down a few important notes on the construction of the lineup:

  • "The wOBA of the #2 and #4 hitters should be about the same."
  • When deciding between these two slots, the player with more extra base hits goes at #4 and the player with more walks at #2.
  • The #2 and #4 spots are more valuable than the #3 spot.
  • The #5 spot gets more value out of singles, doubles, triples, and walks than the #3 spot.
  • The #3 spot gets more out of home runs than the #5 spot. 
  • The #5 spot should feature a better hitter than the #3 spot.
  • Your worst four hitters go in spots #6 through #9 in descending order.
  • The leadoff hitter is similar in value to the #2 and #5 hitters. 
  • The leadoff hitter receives more values from walks and less from home runs.
  • The overall quality of the leadoff hitter should be similar to that of the #2 hitter.
  • #2 hitter's preferred outs are strikeouts. 
  • Clean up hitter' preferred outs are productive.
  • A double play prone hitter's negative affect can be mitigated in the leadoff spot.
I think the first key takeaway, is that the perception that the #3 spot is the most important is simply not true. In fact, the three hole is actually probably the fifth most valuable spot in the order. Are you still a fan of Gordon's new spot?

Now one more point to make before sketching out lineups. This information can be applied in different ways. Unfortunately, pieces don't fit perfectly into the above puzzle so we will just have to do the best we can. Let's get to work on this. 
  1. Eric Hosmer - With three batting order spots being more important than the rest, and only two hitters clearly better than the pack, someone gets put into this role. The leadoff hitter receives more value than the other five spots from singles and walks, but less value from home runs. Eric Hosmer may not be hitting with power, but he is getting on base.
  2. Alex Gordon - There is reason to believe that the second spot in the order is the most important in the lineup. Billy isn't a good fit, due to his propensity of double plays. Strikeouts are the ideal out result in this spot, and that also happens to be Gordon's flaw as a hitter.
  3. Lorenzo Cain - This spot is tough for me. The #5 spot is more valuable, but you also don't want three lefties in a row. For that reason I am putting Cain here. 
  4. Billy Butler - With Gordon hitting second, Butler is perfect in the clean up spot. 
  5. Mike Moustakas - I think Moustakas is heating up. I put him in this spot. 
  6. Salvador Perez - Out of the remaining options, he is clearly the best hitter.
  7. Jarrod Dyson/ Jeff Francoeur
  8. Alcides Escobar
  9. Elliot Johnson/Chris Getz
Another option could be:
  1. Alex Gordon
  2. Lorenzo Cain
  3. Mike Moustakas
  4. Billy Butler
  5. Eric Hosmer
  6. Salvador Perez
  7. Jarrod Dyson/Jeff Francoeur
  8. Alcides Escobar
  9. Elliot Johnson/Chris Getz
Ultimately, there are justifications for moving guys around quite a bit and this is what makes lineup creation so hard. If there was a simple formula, it would be easy to point and give an answer. Based off The Book's findings, here are a few takeaways when applied to the Royals:

  • Neither Gordon or Butler should be seeing time in the much overvalued three slot.
  • Billy Butler shouldn't hit second either due to that spot's susceptibility to double plays.
  • Alcides Escobar doesn't get on base enough to justify hitting leadoff. 
I'm not saying that either of these lineups are the answer. Again, I don't think there is much additional value provided even my an optimum lineup. Alex Gordon in the #3 spot has worked out for the last two games, but over the course of an entire season, the analytics state the Royals will lose value with him in that spot. Hopefully, the lineup starts to hit and we all can stop suggesting lineup changes as a means to fix the offense.


  1. When you say 15 runs over the course of a year is that against a perceived normal lineup or is that against worse case? The delta could be greater if it is against norm and the manager has no clue. Also, are there any stats that show production for hitters in tough situations? For instance, what is a hitters BA against higher vs lower ERA pitchers? Denny Mathews used to say the Bash Brothers would murder mediocre pitching but good pitching would shut them down. It appears that way for Moustakas and Hosmer to me. Late in games when good pitching is brought in in critical situations they appear to be easy to get out. That may be just perception. Also, Moustakas has huge gaps in production, when he is not hitting he is an automatic out. Should this factor in to lineup contruction?

  2. The 15 runs over the course of the year is compared against the "normal" lineup that managers usually send out. According to the source, about each spot in the line up can be worth 1-2 runs, if you have the right type of player in it. With that being said, it is rare for a team to have perfect prototypes for each spot.

    As for your second question, I would imagine that Baseball Reference's play index could allow you to seek out answers to those types of questions. I haven't ever utilized it for that purpose though

    If you could predict when Moustakas is going to be hot or cold, you could put him in different areas of the lineup. However, the general rule of thumb with these sort of things, is that over the course of a full season things even out anyway.

  3. So far he is evening out to about .195 and a ton of errors. If he wasn't the 1st round draft pick and somebody's butt wasn't on the line for it he wouldn't be in the majors. And really, neither would Hosmer.

  4. I can't say that I disagree with that.