Over the next couple of days, I’ll be optimizing MLB's best lineups by "The Book." No, not the collection of traditional baseball heuristics, but an actual, published book that statistically analyzes those traditional assumptions. Up first, the Philadelphia Phillies, with the following projected starters against right-handed pitching (using ZiPS).
The 2010 Phillies Lineup
We’ll take these eight position players, ordered by OPS, and put them in an optimal, run-producing lineup.
While you could make a good argument that neither deserves to bat this high, Shane Victorino deserves the leadoff spot over Jimmy Rollins. Even if the latter returns to pre-2009 form, his lack of on-base skills and larger percentage of value tied to the home run make him ill suited to set the table.
The two best hitters go in the second and fourth spots. The cleanup hitter actually comes to bat with runners on base more often, with more potential to do damage, but because the No. 2 hole comes to the plate more often overall, these two spots are equally important. Chase Utley is the better on-base threat, so he goes in the No. 2 hole, and Ryan Howard's power bats cleanup.
Why skip over the No. 3 hole? Because it comes to the plate with two outs more often than other top-of-the-order spots, limiting its production. The third hitter is about as important as the fifth hitter, and "The Book" says we should favor lower OBP players with high home run rates -- if there are two outs, the risk-reward of an out versus a home run is a good gamble.
All else being equal, Raul Ibanez would go in the No. 3 hole, but Jayson Werth makes a bit more sense for the Phillies because his right-handed bat will split up Utley and Howard. If the opposing team wants to use a LOOGY against both those lefties, Charlie Manuel might as well either get a good matchup in between or force the other team to use two extra relievers.
That leaves us with this top five:
In general, the rest of the order should be penciled in from best to worst overall hitter, but the Phillies probably should put Rollins ahead of Placido Polanco in the No. 6 and No. 7 holes. Rollins' power is much more effective at scoring the slow-footed Howard and Ibanez. Plus, his extra-base hits and stolen bases are most useful in front of a singles hitter like Polanco, setting up a classic 1-2 combination lower in the order.
Finally, Carlos Ruiz gets plugged in to the No. 9 hole. Yes, that's right, after the pitcher. Ruiz isn't being punished. In fact, the worse he hits (or the better the pitcher hits), the more motivation there is to move him up to No. 8. Because the pitcher is an easy out, he works to both kill rallies and roll the top of the lineup over without anyone on base. Based on research in "The Book," the second drawback is, on average, more harmful. By putting Ruiz in the No. 9 hole, Victorino and Utley are more likely to come to bat with a runner on base -- it's a twist on the "second leadoff hitter" theory.
All of that leaves us with the following optimal lineup for the 2010 Phillies against right-handed starters:
1. Victorino (S)
2. Utley (L)
3. Werth (R)
4. Howard (L)
5. Ibanez (L)
6. Rollins (S)
7. Polanco (R)
9. Ruiz (R)