Sunday, September 8, 2013
Best lineup order open to debate
By Sahadev Sharma
Special to ESPNChicago.com
CHICAGO -- Lineup order is one of the most over-analyzed parts of baseball. In the hours leading up to the game, the lineup is quite often the only new bit of information in regards to a particular team. So it’s natural that it regularly becomes the topic du jour.
However, the fact is, studies have shown that unless a manager is batting his pitcher first and following with his least productive hitters, the "perfect" lineup construction would only be worth a little more than a win during the season over the lineup that is normally trotted out on a daily basis.
Anthony Rizzo, who was temporarily moved from his usual third spot in the lineup to the two-hole for a few games in August, says he doesn’t believe where one bats is of much concern.
“It doesn’t really matter where you are in the lineup,” Rizzo said. “You gotta get in that box and when you’re in that box, you’re the best hitter on the team right there.”
The traditional mindset is that the top four hitters in a lineup should consist of a speed guy, a hitter who can ‘control the bat’ and move runners over, the team’s best hitter and the team’s best run producer, in that order. However, sabermetric studies, including ones done by Cubs consultant Tom Tango, have come to different conclusions than traditional thinking.
Most notably, the belief that a batter in the two-hole should be playing small ball has been debunked. In fact, many believe that a team’s best overall hitter should reside in that spot in the lineup, following the team’s best on-base man, who should lead-off.
Cubs manager Dale Sveum has his own beliefs as far as the two-hole is concerned.
“In a perfect world, you’d like a nice left-handed hitter that can pull the ball through the hole and work a count,” Sveum said. “Obviously another guy that’s capable of getting on base. But you’re talking about what kind of personnel you have, it’s not a perfect world. The Cardinals have (Carlos) Beltran batting second. That guy can hit third, fourth or fifth on every team in the big leagues. But obviously they have a supporting cast that’s pretty good too. Lineups are dictated by the personnel you have.”
After being moved back to his customary three-spot from the two-hole, Rizzo indicated that a hitter in the two-spot was traditionally expected to bunt or move a runner over. However, Rizzo says he doesn’t really believe any of these lineup construction theories are of much importance.
“I don’t even know who makes these theories, it’s you guys who make the theories,” Rizzo said, referring to the media. “It’s baseball, you just play the game. Play nine innings, no matter where you are.”
Unless a team is playing for one run, no quality hitter should be trying to move a runner over or handing the other team an easy out. A hitter’s primary objective, every time in the lineup, should be to get on base. Whether that means taking a walk or hitting a home run, the bottom line is getting on base is the best way to help your team put runs on the board. After all, unless a team is proficient at hitting solo home runs, they’ll need runners on base to score runs.
And as Sveum said, it’s rarely a perfect world. It’s not often that a team’s roster consists of the ideal hitter for each spot in the lineup. It’s up to Sveum to take the roster he’s given and put those players in a situation to best maximize their abilities.
And even if he does that properly, it hardly guarantees his team a win.
“Nothing ever goes as it’s expected,” Rizzo said. “In 162 games, anything can happen. You just play the game hard and you don’t worry too much about the lineup.”