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Astros Spring Questions: What’s in a lineup?

Is it worth trying to predict an “everyday” lineup for the Astros?

St Louis Cardinals v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Man, do I love the spring.

Baseball comes back. Potential is in the air. Anything is possible.

It leads to lots of baseball speculation (some may call it rosterbation). The quintessential spring article is just like the Starting Nine question posted today. What will that Astros lineup look like in 2017? Who’s on the roster? How will they bat?

We all have strong feelings about whether Jose Altuve should lead off or who should hit fourth. I swear, one of my favorite TCB posters will come up with lineups for 2020 in the comments at the least prompting.

But, is the everyday lineup a myth?

Last year, the Astros used 143 different batting orders. In 2015, they used 151 different orders. That’s 294 orders in two years, the most in all of baseball by a good 12 lineups. The average for all of baseball in 2016 was 126 different lineups while that average went up to 128 in 2015. No in either season has used more lineups than the Astros did in 2015.

I was certainly surprised by those numbers. It reinforced my theory that Astros manager A.J. Hinch’s best quality is how he works the locker room. By getting his guys consistent playing time, he makes the most of a crowded roster. At times last year, he also made the most out of bad situations (looking at you, Carlos Gomez).

Yet, this lineup shuffling didn’t start with Hinch. Bo Porter used 143 different batting orders in 2014. Even poor Brad Mills used 144 different orders in 2012. Well, the team used 144 lineups. Millsy didn’t get to hand in all of them.

You get the point. Since GM Jeff Luhnow was hired before the 2012 season, the Astros used an average of 143.8 different batting orders per season. In the ten previous seasons, Houston averaged 107.9 different batting orders per season. The Astros only used more than 120 batting orders in a season three times (‘07, ‘10, ‘11).

Some of the early Luhnow order fluidity was due to the terrible rosters Houston had. Of course the manager is going to use 144 different orders when Justin Maxwell is his closest thing to a cleanup hitter.

But, thinking about the way Luhnow has constructed his better Astros teams shows he may just like roster flexibility. Maybe there’s a reason Houston has three DHs, two of whom will also share catching duties. Maybe there’s a reason why the infield is basically a giant mix-and-match assembly, with players sliding over to different spots when needed and why most of Luhnow’s outfield acquisitions can play multiple spots.

That roster flexibility makes projecting a game-to-game lineup very difficult. Knowing that any given lineup may only be used 10-15 times in a season at the most will do that.

It won’t stop me (and all of you, probably) from making projections and arguing over who should be in the Opening Day lineup. After all, it’s half the fun of spring training.