Previewing The Astros Lineup For The 2012 Season

Astro fans got a shiny new front office for Christmas. It came with a smarter more advanced approach to the game of baseball and a desire to win. Unfortunately, for those of us who pay way to much attention to the day to day starting nine, don't expect that advanced approach to be in the Astros lineup construction this year.

There have been studies done in regards to lineup optimization primarily by The Book: a Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman and Andy Dolphin production. The difference between an optimized lineup and a non-optimized lineup is very small, but that shouldn't be a reason not to do it. If anything, this Astros team more than any other should be trying to find every advantage possible, especially with the emphasis on creating a winning environment.

Which leads me to the Astros lineup which was frustrating far too many times last year. Whether it was Brett Wallace not getting opportunities or Angel Sanchez batting second, don't expect much of the status quo to change in 2012.

Before we look ahead at what the Astros will do with the lineup in 2012, let's look at what they did in 2011.

The most used player in each spot for 2011:

  1. Michael Bourn, 96
  2. Angel Sanchez, 51
  3. Hunter Pence, 91
  4. Carlos Lee, 146
  5. Brett Wallace, 46
  6. Chris Johnson, 51
  7. Clint Barmes 79
  8. Quintero, 72

Trying to optimize that lineup isn't pretty and would probably make you want to pull out your hair, which is probably why Brad Mills keeps the head nice and smooth. There is one glaring issue I have with the lineup, and his name is Angel Sanchez.

The Book says that the number two hitter is just as important as the number three hitter in the lineup, but actually comes up to the plate more often. In that scenario, Hunter Pence probably should have been batting second with Brett Wallace batting third. Yes, I know Wallace didn't have a very good offensive year, but his .334 on base percentage was better than some of the other options.

Moving on, there's not really much else that could be done to really optimize the lineup, Chris Johnson and his sub .300 OBP probably should have batted sixth, Angel Sanchez seventh and Clint Barmes probably should have moved up to fifth. I know that's a weird lineup and it probably doesn't significantly change the outcome of the 2011 season, but Sanchez, the second worst hitter on the team, batting in one of the most important spots in the lineup is probably not the way to go either.

With some new faces in camp this spring, what is the lineup currently shaping up to be?

It appears Jordan Schafer is hitting well enough to warrant his spot in center field and at the top of the lineup. It's suggested that the leadoff hitter be a guy with a very good on-base percentage. Honestly, that would be J.B. Shuck but he's likely to play a reserve role.

Next is possibly the most important spot, typically disguised as the sacrifice spot. I see two possibilities in this spot: either Jose Altuve, a high contact guy, or Jed Lowrie, a potential on-base, good power guy. Lowrie is The Book option while Altuve is the more traditional option. Jason Castro makes for an intriguing option as well but will probably be slotted down in the order.

I don't think anyone will be surprised to see J.D. Martinez in the three spot and Carlos Lee in the fourth spot, but what to do with that fifth spot.

The number five guy according to The Book should be your next best hitter after the one, two and four spots are filled. If Jed Lowrie isn't batting second this is probably his next ideal spot. Another option could be Brian Bogusevic but he may be more ideal in the sixth spot based on his stolen base ability, which the Book says is better ahead of the seventh and eighth spot.

That leaves the seventh and eighth spot to the winner of the third base competition and the catchers. Personally, I would put the catchers ahead of the third base winner, but I have a feeling the catchers will be batting eighth, at least, to start the season.

My ideal lineup would be:

  1. Jordan Schafer
  2. Jed Lowrie
  3. J.D. Martinez
  4. Carlos Lee
  5. Brian Bogusevic
  6. Jose Altuve
  7. Jason Castro/Chris Snyder
  8. Third Base Winner

This lineup is obviously on what we know now. Castro could develop his hitting and Snyder could return to hitting levels pre-injury. If that were the case I'd prefer either one in the five hole pushing Altuve to number seven. Even the third base winner could develop in which case you could move him up, but I'm not excited about that prospect with any of the candidates -- yes even Jimmy Paredes.

Lowrie and Schafer could prove to be busts but fulfilling their potential could justify their spots in the order. While this lineup would be nice to see, the chances of it happening are slim to none.

Here's what I think the lineup will be:

  1. Jordan Schafer
  2. Jose Altuve
  3. J.D. Martinez
  4. Carlos Lee
  5. Brian Bogusevic
  6. Jed Lowrie
  7. Third Base Winner
  8. Catcher

I didn't go by the book entirely with my ideal lineup. If I did, J.D. Martinez should probably be hitting in the two spot and maybe Lowrie leading off or hitting third. There are question marks up and down this lineup so optimizing for that is tough. There's not going to be a huge difference in production between the lineups and I'd be happy to see either one on any given night, but I swear I'm cutting my hair every time I see Sanchez in that number two spot.

Sources:

Optimizing Your Lineup By The Book - Beyond the Box Score
By Sky Kalkman

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