Putting Together a Batting Order
So far the Atlanta Braves’ offense hasn’t been all that good. If you visit a Braves blog or chat with Braves fans, you’ll hear a lot about changing up the batting order. Jason Heyward, for one, has been hitting rather low in the order but he’s been the team’s best hitter. Complaints started early that he should be hitting higher. Last night Heyward finally moved up to third in the order. But basically there has been all kinds of talk and posts about batting order and shuffling things. Everyone had their own ideas. I’m sure this happens in every major league city when a team struggles for a significant period of time.
Most fans who have any familiarity with advanced baseball statistics, baseball simulations and computer models know that batting order, short of doing something outrageous like batting your worst hitters first, just doesn’t make all that much of a difference. How much of a difference would it have made if Heyward had batted second or third versus sixth or seventh? Maybe the Braves would have an extra two or three runs over the course of a month and a half worth of games. Basically how good your hitters are and how many good hitters you have is more important than where they hit.
The Philadelphia Phillies led the National League in runs scored. They must have had a dynamic leadoff hitter, right? Well Jimmy Rollins was used in the leadoff spot for them in 145 games. As a leadoff hitter he hit .245 with a .292 on-base percentage. The 2009 Phillies are a nice example of how having good hitters is more important than which hitters bat where.
That said, batting order does matter a little bit. Again, it matters if a manger does something crazy like bats his worst hitters at the top of the order and his best hitters at the bottom of the order. It also matters if you spread good hitters throughout the lineup in between bad hitters. The AJC’s Mark Bradley’s argument for keeping Heyward down in the order was ludicrous.
You don’t need to look at simulations or detailed studies to understand what makes a logical batting order and why. Odds are that any hitter in your lineup is going to make an out in any given plate appearance. The best hitters are going to make an out 60 percent of the time. A .400 on-base percentage equals an out percentage of 60. Even if a player had an on-base percentage of .500, that’s still an out percentage of 50.
On offense you obviously want to avoid outs and get baserunners for as long as possible because three outs and you’re done, plus runs can’t score without getting on base. (Well, errors don’t count as getting on base for the purposes of on-base percentage but try asking a GM if he wants to try building an offense on forcing errors.) Making outs obviously kills rallies and getting on base keeps them going. So you want to bunch your best on-base guys together. Also, you want your best on-base guys to come up to the plate more often than other hitters. The best way to make sure they come to the plate as often as possible is to put them as close to the top of the order as possible.
Another important part of offense is gaining as many bases as possible in as few plate appearances as possible. This is where slugging comes in. Sluggers, more often than other hitters, will gain more than one base during some of their plate appearance. So you also want those guys near the top of the order and coming up to bat as often as possible.
To sum it all up, scoring runs is about stringing together baserunners, avoiding outs and gaining as many bases as possible in as few plate appearances as possible. Bunching up hitters who get on base more often and slug best and sending them up to the plate most often is the best way to increase scoring. A manager should build a batting order based on these facts. Anything else is trivial.
Shaun Payne now blogs at payneball.wordpress.com.