I know that there has already been some discussion about Beyond the Box Score's article on how to best fit the Astros line up to Tango, Litchman, and Dolphin's seminal sabermetric inquiry to "The Book," but I figured I'd try my hand it. I used PECOTA's weighted mean forecast because:
- I needed to use a standardized source for player forecasts.
- PECOTA is my go to projection for hitters, which is just personal preference.
I'll remark, from the outset, that the Astros line-up is tough to optimize this way because we have a plethora of high SLG relative to OBP guys on the team. It was really depressing to put all this together because of that fact, but this was my best effort and probably my fourth revision of it. There are plenty of alternatives that would make logical sense, and we should debate those in the comments.
So Pence should lead off in my interpretation of THE BOOK and BtB's suggestions.
The old-school book says to put a speedy guy up top. Power isn't important, and OBP is nice, but comes second to speed.
The Book says OBP is king. The lead-off hitter comes to bat only 36% of the time with a runner on base, versus 44% of the time for the next lowest spot in the lineup, so why waste homeruns? The lead-off hitter also comes to the plate the most times per game, so why give away outs? As for speed, stealing bases is most valuable in front of singles hitters, and since the top of the order is going to be full of power hitters, they're not as important. The lead-off hitter is one of the best three hitters on the team, the guy without homerun power. Speed is nice, as this batter will have plenty of chances to run the bases with good hitters behind him.
PECOTA sees Pence posting a .345 OBP which would be good for the third best OBP, and he'll also have the third best SLG, which means we're not wasting the most power potential at the alter of OBP.
Berkman follows pence:
The old-school book says to put a bat-control guy here. Not a great hitter, but someone who can move the lead-off hitter over for one of the next two hitters to drive in.
The Books says the #2 hitter comes to bat in situations about as important as the #3 hitter, but more often. That means the #2 hitter should be better than the #3 guy, and one of the best three hitters overall. And since he bats with the bases empty more often than the hitters behind him, he should be a high-OBP player. Doesn't sound like someone who should be sacrificing, does it?
Berkman is the ideal candidate for this position, and for those of you confused by why he shouldn't be hitting third for fourth in this, just keep reading.
I have Tejada in the third spot:
The old-school book says to put your best high-average hitter here. The lead-off hitter should already be in scoring position and a hit drives him in. Wham, bam, thank you ma'am.
The Book says the #3 hitter comes to the plate with, on average, fewer runners on base than the #4 or #5 hitters. So why focus on putting a guy who can knock in runs in the #3 spot, when the two spots after him can benefit from it more? Surprisingly, because he comes to bat so often with two outs and no runners on base, the #3 hitter isn't nearly as important as we think. This is a spot to fill after more important spots are taken care of.
Tejada is a tricky candidate for the line up because he's not a great OBP guy and he has a stalwart propensity for GIDP, but given the qualifiers above, I think it's an ok placement of Tejada, instead of Matsui, as will be seen by the analysis of the four and five hitters.
Carlos Lee, like Berkman in the two-hole, ideally fits in the clean-up spot as prescribed:
The old-school book says to put your big power bat here, probably a guy with a low batting average, who will hit the big multi-run homeruns.
The Book says the #4 hitter comes to bat in the most important situations out of all nine spots, but is equal in importance to the #2 hole once you consider the #2 guy receives more plate appearances. The cleanup hitter is the best hitter on the team with power.
So why Lee over Berkman? Because Lance is the more valuable hitter, so he it's best to give him those extra ABs. I guess it's a debatable point, but after about twenty minutes of hemming and hawing over it, this is the conclusion I came too—especially because Berkman has the better OBP and creating scoring situations at the top of the line up felt more valuable to me than letting him sit in the clean-up position.
Kaz Matsui batting fifth:
The old-school book says the number five guy is a wannabe cleanup hitter.
The Book says the #5 guy can provide more value than the #3 guy with singles, doubles, triples, and walks, and avoiding outs, although the #3 guy holds an advantage with homeruns. After positions #1, #2, and #4 are filled, put your next best hitter here, unless he lives and dies with the long ball.
That sounds like Kaz to me—well really just the avoiding the outs part—and that's about it.
Spots 6-9 get summarized as such:
The old-school book says the rest of the lineup should be written in based on decreasing talent. Hitting ninth is an insult.
The Book basically agrees, with a caveat. Stolen bases are most valuable ahead of high-contact singles hitters, who are more likely to hit at the bottom of the lineup. So a base-stealing threat who doesn't deserve a spot higher in the lineup is optimized in the #6 hole, followed by the singles hitters.
Given the stolen base consideration, and the fact that PECOTA predicts a rosy .327 OBP for Michael Bourn, I have him batting sixth. I chose to just use OBP as factor for determining spots seven and nine and that put Blum (.306) and Pudge (.301) in there, respectively.
Finally, why the pitcher should bat eighth:
Yes, giving an awful hitter more plate appearances by hitting him higher in the lineup is costly, but the benefit of having a better number nine hitter interacting with the top of the lineup is worth the trade-off, by about two runs per season. By putting a decent hitter at the bottom of the order, the top spots in the lineup will have more runners on base to advance with walks and hits and drive in with hits.
Two runs a season is nothing to scoff at for this team, so I say employ it, it'll work even better when/if Backe is pitching that day.
As I stated at the beginning, I used PECOTA because it's my preference for hitting projections, but it's not always the best in all cases. To account for this, I went through and optimized the line up again using CHONE and ZIPS projections. Both have the added benefit of recalculating Pudge for the NL Central, for what that's worth.
- Tejada: .337/.441 (equal OBP to Pence, but less power, also neutralizes GIDP opportunities).
- Pence: Just because he has the advantage in HR over Matsui.
- Bourn (.320 OBP)
- Blum (.301 OBP)
- Pudge (.297 OBP)
- Tejada is projected to have a .344/.441 OBP/SLG by ZIPS so this makes him the ideal lead off guy under the current system because he out paces Pence at getting on base.
- Pence (.340/.500)
- Matsui gets a much less favorable projection, but because this team isn't a great OBP team, he still gets to keep the fifth slot (.326/.395)
- Bourn is projected at a .306 clip, but I think he can still fill this spot given the stolen base consideration.
- Pudge (.313/.416)