The Lineup We're Gonna Use Opening Day -- And Why We Probably Shouldn't

If I had a hundred bucks to bet (and Lord knows I don't, as property taxes are due at the end of the month), I'd bet that on March 31, when the Astros open the season in San Diego, the lineup that Cooper runs out there will be as follows:

Bourn
Matsui
Berkman
Lee
Pence
Wigginton
Everett
Towles
Pitcher

Barring injury, of course, and maybe realizing that there might be some grey area between Everett 7 Towles 8 and Towles 7 Everett 8.

But beyond that, you can write it down.

I'm not saying necessarily this would be the best lineup, but it's the one Conventional Baseball Wisdom would put out there, the one that someone who begins his sentences with "in all my years in the game" would hand to the umpire at home plate.

It's kind of sad to realize this, because totally apart from some of the lesser offensive talent that populates the lineup, it's a kind of stupid ordering.

Like, why put Michael Bourn at the top? I mean, I guess he's fast, but don't you want to put the guy with the best chance of getting onbase at the top? Dan Szymborski at Baseball Think Factory, in his ZIPS projections, suggests that Bourn is going to have a .314 OBP in 2008. Yet despite this alarming low rate, dollars to doughnuts, he's gonna be leading off on March 31.

Shouldn't you lead off with the guy who's best at getting on? Shouldn't you lead off with Lance?

Never happen of course, but there's a certain mathematically-based methodology that suggests that's exactly what the Astros should do.

I won't get into the whole background here, because I did back in March of '06, but suffice it to say that Cyril Morong and Ken Arneson were involved in the production of a program that suggests most attempts at lineup optimization fall way short.

I took Szymborski's ZIPS projections for 2008 and ran the program, and listed here are its ten best lineups in terms of run production. The number at the left is runs/162 games.

712.49 Berkman Lee Matsui Pence Wigginton Everett Towles Pitcher Bourn
712.18 Berkman Lee Towles Pence Wigginton Everett Matsui Pitcher Bourn
712.03 Berkman Pence Matsui Lee Wigginton Everett Towles Pitcher Bourn
711.92 Berkman Lee Matsui Pence Wigginton Towles Everett Pitcher Bourn
711.80 Berkman Wigginton Matsui Pence Lee Everett Towles Pitcher Bourn
711.72 Berkman Pence Towles Lee Wigginton Everett Matsui Pitcher Bourn
711.50 Berkman Wigginton Towles Pence Lee Everett Matsui Pitcher Bourn
711.49 Berkman Lee Towles Pence Wigginton Matsui Everett Pitcher Bourn
711.46 Berkman Pence Matsui Lee Wigginton Towles Everett Pitcher Bourn
711.32 Berkman Lee Bourn Pence Wigginton Everett Towles Pitcher Matsui

Morong's math may be right, but that doesn't mean Cooper's gonna bat Oswalt in front of Bourn. So here are the top ten lineups with the pitcher batting ninth

681.52 Berkman Lee Bourn Pence Wigginton Towles Matsui Everett Pitcher
681.40 Berkman Lee Bourn Pence Wigginton Matsui Towles Everett Pitcher
681.06 Berkman Pence Bourn Lee Wigginton Towles Matsui Everett Pitcher
680.93 Berkman Pence Bourn Lee Wigginton Matsui Towles Everett Pitcher
680.91 Berkman Lee Bourn Pence Towles Wigginton Matsui Everett Pitcher
680.88 Berkman Lee Bourn Pence Wigginton Everett Towles Matsui Pitcher
680.84 Berkman Wigginton Bourn Pence Lee Towles Matsui Everett Pitcher
680.71 Berkman Wigginton Bourn Pence Lee Matsui Towles Everett Pitcher
680.44 Berkman Pence Bourn Lee Towles Wigginton Matsui Everett Pitcher
680.42 Berkman Lee Matsui Pence Wigginton Towles Bourn Everett Pitcher
If Morong's to be believed, it's only 31 runs given up to the cause of baseball convention. The program ranks the top pitcher nine lineup at 25,530th overall.

And it ranks the top lineup with the pitcher ninth, Berkman third and Lee fourth at number 56,486.

Says it would score 670 runs, or 42 less than number one. A small price to pay for doing things the way they're supposed to be done, right?

And lastly, it says that the lineup at the top, the one I think is most likely to be used on Opening Day, and I bet you agree with me, it says that lineup would score 659 runs.

That's 53 runs less than first-rated lineup would supposedly score. 53 runs! That's 5 wins!

That could win you a division!

To be honest, I'm not sure whether to believe these results or not. I see some of the logic, but I'm a little rusty on my Markov chains, and I have no way then to check the math.

But in thinking about this, I'm a little saddened to realize that we'll never know, one way or the other, because baseball is not forward thinking enough to try some of the more radical-sounding ideas out to see whether or not they'd work.

Instead, we'll see a fast guy who can't get on bat number one and our best onbase guy stuck four spots lower, the way it's always been done.

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