Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Look At The Current Batting Order

Clint Hurdle has elected to continue with the Opening Day line-up for the second game of the season, despite the Pirates offense struggling in the season opener with Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija on the mound. While much of the focus centered around Gaby Sanchez’s presence ahead of Travis Snider, I believe that Hurdle’s line-up is really the bigger issue.

The main reason why I am looking at the batting order is due to Hurdle’s comments prior to Monday’s game. As I noted in my post after the game, I’m sure that I’m not the only one that was surprised to see the Garrett Jones hitting second due to his performance against right-handed pitching experiment continuing into the regular season. With Hurdle citing Jones’ OPS as the reason behind the decision – stating that he’s “trying to find the best combination to get men on base in front of Andrew [McCutchen], and stretch out the lineup, top to bottom” – he failed to mention his lead-off hitter as well as differentiating between OPS and on-base percentage.

Starling Marte is a speedy guy, however he’s not suited for the lead-off spot (at least right now). His low walk rate will likely prevent an above average on-base percentage. Placing Marte at the top of the order, especially against right-handed pitching, is really contradictory to attempting to “find the best combination to get men on base in front of Andrew [McCutchen]”.

Now onto Jones. His .888 OPS when facing right-handed pitching in 2012 was boosted by his slugging percentage. The fact is, Hurdle’s second best on-base threat (after Andrew McCutchen) against right-handed pitchers is currently batting sixth in the order:

2012:

PA
BB%
OBP
SLG
wOBA
Andrew McCutchen
522
10.2%
.381
.518
.385
392
8.7%
.352
.472
.356
434
10.6%
.334
.499
.353
Garrett Jones
434
6.5%
.332
.556
.374
281
7.5%
.312
.339
.291
Travis Snider
151
10.6%
.305
.290
.270
336
8.9%
.290
.352
.287
Starling Marte
132
3.0%
.277
.350
.275
Gaby Sanchez
215
5.6%
.251
.315
.250
383
1.8%
.243
.308
.240

Since 2010:

PA
BB%
OBP
SLG
wOBA
Andrew McCutchen
1525
11.2%
.365
.458
.359
Neil Walker
1229
8.3%
.346
.452
.347
Garrett Jones
1268
9.1%
.335
.488
.354
Jose Tabata
904
7.2%
.334
.368
.314
Pedro Alvarez
914
10.0%
.321
.453
.335
Russell Martin
968
9.9%
.318
.370
.307
Gaby Sanchez
1201
8.6%
.313
.395
.312
Travis Snider
568
8.1%
.309
.404
.312
Clint Barmes
1039
5.1%
.278
.346
.274
Starling Marte
136
3.7%
.276
.341
.272

Walker's OBP was 20 points higher than Jones' in 2012. He's better suited for the top of the order, with Jones batting behind both Walker and McCutchen. Some argue that the batting order matters very little, although this is dependent to the personnel involved. The gap between the most and least optimized line-ups is generally quite small, according to Baseball Between The Numbers it amounts to 26 runs over the course of a season (worth around 2.5 wins, which could turn out to be useful later in the year – especially to a GM appearing to be fighting for his job). Hurdle’s line-ups essentially match the standard line-ups as described by Scott McKinney for Beyond The Box Score when he looked at a sabermetric guide to management:


Standard
Optimized
1
Speedy guy
One of the three best hitters (high OBP)
2
Good bat handler
One of the three best hitters
3
Best hitter
5th best hitter
4
Best power hitter
One of the three best hitters (high SLG)
5
Second best (contact) hitter
4th best hitter
6
Best remaining power hitter
6th best hitter
7
7th best hitter
7th best hitter
8
8th best hitter
Pitcher
9
9th best hitter
8th best hitter

The Pirates could take the optimized batting order a step further by having one line-up for when the club faces a right-hander and one for when a left-handed pitcher is on the mound. As can be seen above, hitting Walker sixth isn’t supported by his career numbers and should hit in either of the top two spots when facing right-handers (depending on McCutchen’s spot in the order); however against left-handed pitching the batting order could look very different:

Since 2010:

PA
BB%
OBP
SLG
wOBA
Andrew McCutchen
483
12.0%
.413
.579
.421
Gaby Sanchez
433
12.5%
.387
.480
.377
Starling Marte
50
8.0%
.360
.682
.423
Jose Tabata
294
10.9%
.347
.384
.326
Clint Barmes
383
10.4%
.342
.370
.313
Russell Martin
384
14.3%
.341
.418
.335
Neil Walker
436
7.6%
.325
.363
.303
Pedro Alvarez
324
8.3%
.281
.353
.281
Travis Snider
139
2.2%
.252
.422
.290
Garrett Jones
383
5.0%
.240
.331
.251

Andrew McCutchen again tops the group in terms of on-base percentage; however the platoon splits show that a separate batting order against left-handed pitching could be beneficial. While potential platoons (Jones/Sanchez, Snider/Tabata) should carry the caution that some players do struggle in a part time role, everyday players like Alvarez, Martin and Barmes have been expectedly stronger against opposite-handed pitching and the switch-hitting Walker has been a better hitter against righties. The downside to two separate line-ups would come later in close games; when the club reaches bullpens later in the games then the batting order would not suit the relievers.

An optimized batting order is something that should probably not be expected; nonetheless the set-up against right-handed starters should have Neil Walker hitting towards the top of the order. It will be interesting to see if there will be much of a difference in the batting order when the Pirates face Travis Wood, a left-handed starting pitcher, in the third game of the season given that the numbers support Clint Hurdle juggling the line-up to take the platoon advantage (as well as the personnel in some cases). Hurdle’s line-ups seem to be frequently debated, with Gaby Sanchez picking up plate appearances against right-handers Travis Snider situation receiving the most attention early this season (at least on twitter); however batting order so far this season does raise some questions - especially after Hurdle's statistical justification to bat Garrett Jones second.

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