Putting Together a Batting Order

by Shaun

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.

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85 Responses to “Putting Together a Batting Order”

  1. Jim Says:

    Welcome back Shaun. Good article. The debates about the line up frequently points out how many fans miss the obvious about the game.

  2. ShaunPayne Says:

    Thanks. Been a while. Got busy with life.

    Yeah, we’re hearing a lot about shuffling the batting order here on Atlanta sports talk radio, blog comments, etc. Also a lot about the need for the Braves to get a leadoff hitter with speed. It’s like some folks think Juan Pierre is going to turn the Braves’ offense into the Yankees’.

  3. Raul Says:

    I don’t know man.

    I can’t trust it. I have to question what goes into these “simulations” that the saber-heads use.

    If you mean to tell me that the Yankees wouldn’t have much of a difference in wins with Babe Ruth batting 8th…I just can’t believe it.

    I could be convinced…but I don’t know man.

  4. ShaunPayne Says:

    Raul, you obviously didn’t read the article. You missed the part where I explained that aside from doing something crazy, like batting your worst hitters a the end of your order, batting order doesn’t matter that much.

    The question is not how much of a different it would make to bat Ruth 8th instead of 3rd because that’s not realistic in the first place. The question is how much of a difference does it make to bat Babe Ruth 3rd instead of 4th or 5th.

  5. Murph Says:

    You can’t simulate the psychology of the game. I would think the Braves handling of Heyward was to keep the pressure hitting 3rd off of him for a little while.

    There is a baseball psychology to hitting leadoff or cleanup, and certain players thrive or fail due to pychological factors as much as anything.

  6. ShaunPayne Says:

    Murph, you may or may not be right. It’s hard to know for sure. My best guess is that some players look at their roles a little differently based on where they’re hitting in the order. For example, a speedy player may try to bunt his way on base or take more pitches if he’s hitting leadoff versus 7th or 8th or 9th.

    But for the most part I think players go to the plate looking for a pitch they can hit hard somewhere and they do their best to lay off pitches that are out of the strikezone.

    I think it’s a mistake to teach or emphasize anything other than getting on base, not making an out and crushing hittable pitches no matter what spot in the order a guy is hitting. If a player concentrates on doing those things, he’s going to succeed if he has the talent. Doesn’t matter where he’s hitting.

  7. ShaunPayne Says:

    Oh, and I think most players go to the plate looking to do those things, unless his manager calls a hit-and-run or a bunt.

  8. Murph Says:

    of course. aside from the first inning; really any and all hitters could have to hit in all situations; leading off, moving a runner over, getting him in.

    it’s the beauty of baseball. i’ve often said it is the ultimate team sport becasue with the game on the line you can’t hand-pick the guy you want to have in the spotlight (well, except for the closer who is obviously over-rated and useless, but i digress)

  9. ShaunPayne Says:

    I think roles are over-emphasized by many when it comes to hitters. What’s the role of a leadoff hitter? Well, it’s to get on base and gain as many bases as possible while you’re at the plate and on the basepaths. That’s also the role of every other hitter.

  10. Jim Says:

    In specific regard to lead off hitters, speed is a nice to have though not a necessary consideration. Wade Boggs was a fair lead off hitter that you could use a calendar for to measure his time to first.

    Another nice to have is the flexibility to stagger the line up lefty – righty.

  11. Raul Says:

    I read the article.

  12. Raul Says:

    It was against the Pirates but how about that? @ back to back complete games by Cueto and Bailey for the Reds. They’re 19-15 and sit two games behind the Cards in the NL Central.

  13. Hossrex Says:

    Shaun Payne: “What’s the role of a leadoff hitter? Well, it’s to get on base and gain as many bases as possible while you’re at the plate and on the basepaths. That’s also the role of every other hitter.”

    This is going to come off as an asshole comment… and I apologize in advance… but I just don’t know how else to say it.

    The above quote sounds very much like a person who spent more time in their youth reading the backs of baseball cards, and playing stratomatic then actually playing baseball.

    With precisely as much accuracy as your statement, I could say “there’s no difference between the skill sets of a first baseman, and a shortstop. It’s both of their jobs to catch the ball when they’re the closest position player, and it’s both of their jobs to throw the ball when there’s a play too far away from them to make.”

    That’s an “accurate” statement, but such a gross oversimplification that anyone would (rightfully) look at you as if you were an idiot if you actually said it aloud.

    Of course its the leadoff hitters job to get in base (and avoid outs), just as it’s the #3 batters job to do likewise… but you say it like that’s ALL either spot in the lineup is trying to do.

    A leadoff hitter needs to be able to get on base at a high clip, even if that means sacrificing some power. Since he’ll be the batter who most frequently bats without anyone on, it’s more important for him to get something started, and get on base, then it is for him to get extra base hits. He needs to be quick so he can possibly steal a base (and move himself into scoring position), and take third on as many bloop hits as possible. On top of being fast, he needs to be an above average base runner (which is very different from speed), and know when he can take an extra base, and when not to try it.

    A #2 hitter MUST be able to lay down a bunt. He should still have a good OBP, since even the best leadoff hitters fail half the time, but there also needs to be more emphasis on getting hits than necessarily taking walks (i.e. there needs to be a balance between OBP and BA). Speed is important, but not as important, and he should have a little pop.

    A #3 hitter is the complete opposite of a leadoff hitter. I don’t particularly care what my #3 batters OBP is. I’m concerned with BA, and homeruns. Most of the time either the #1 or #2 batters will have found their way on base, and it’s up to him to drive them in, or at least move them over. Seeing pitches is important, but I don’t want him walking any more often than the other teams pitching staff wants to put him on.

    A #4 batter is the guy with pop. I’ve always felt there was an over importance placed on the clean-up hitter, but he should be a guy who averages more than a three homeruns every two weeks, and hopefully finishes with as many doubles as homeruns.

    A #5 guy should be similar to the #3 and #4 spot, but probably the weaker of the three.

    A #6 guy should be another speedy guy, who knows how to run the bases, since he’ll likely have a lot of opportunities to leadoff innings.

    A #7 batter should be similar to #6.

    A #8 batter is probably your catcher.

    A #9 batter is probably your pitcher.

    You have some wiggle room between who bats third, fourth, and fifth… and again with the back end of the order… but you shouldn’t bat the 3-4-5 guys 6-7-8, and you shouldn’t bat the 6-7-8 guys 3-4-5… and you most certainly shouldn’t bat your leadoff hitter anywhere besides leadoff, or any of your other batters leadoff instead of the guy who has the qualities of a leadoff batter.

    Maybe it “doesn’t matter that much”… but when you’re talking about a game where one extra hit per week over the course of your career… one extra hit every 25 or so atbats… means the difference between the obscurity of a lifetime .281 batter, or the hall of fame notoriety of a .324 batter… “doesn’t matter that much” makes all the difference in the world.

    Go out and play catch.

  14. Patrick Says:

    These are approximate amounts of weighted base runners per batting slot (OPR);
    #1 .800
    #2 .900
    #3 1.050
    #4 1.150
    #5 1.200
    #6 1.150
    #7 1.075
    #8 1.050
    #9 1.000

    I’d say that most managers get it right. Fast OBP guys in the first two slots, the 3rd slot is your best all around hitter, he gets on and drives people in, then 4, 5, 6, and 7 are sluggers in descending order. The faster of the 2 remaining guys bats 9th as the second leadoff guy.

  15. Raul Says:

    Where are these numbers coming from?

  16. Chuck Says:

    There are nine guys in every batting order.

    There are NOT nine different positions in the batting order.

    Each spot repeats itself, in reverse order.

    The number 8 hitter has the same responsibilities as the number 2 hitter.

    The number 7 hitter has the same responsibilities as the number 1 hitter.

    The number 6 hitter has the same responsibilities as the number 3 hitter

    The number five hitter has the same responsibilities as the number 4 hitter.

    In a DH lineup, numbers 3,4,5 are interchangeable.

    The author, in the first sentence of the second paragraph, edited for content, essentially says “outside of doing something extreme, the batting order makes no difference”.

    Yet proceeds to write the article anyway.

    Then again, better than Daniel’s HOF Part IV article,

    “Nolan Ryan shouldn’t be in the HOF because he walked too many guys.”

    I need to get off my ass and start writing stuff, this shit is killing me.

  17. Dean M Says:

    Chuck: “I need to get off my ass and start writing stuff, this shit is killing me.”

    Oh, please do, Chuck…by all means.

  18. Raul Says:

    I think we scared Tyler off this site.

  19. Chuck Says:

    Remember his “radio” show, Raul?

    Lasted about a month.

    He’s now in Witness Protection.

  20. Jim Says:

    I saw Tylers bi-line on another blog, can’t remember which, maybe he has a paid gig now and he doesn’t need us schlumps.

  21. Hossrex Says:

    Maybe he chose to go to a place where the comments are nothing but fawning praise, and everyone feels good about the drek spewed forth.

    Lots of places like that.

    I can see how a bad writer would prefer such an empty experience.

  22. Patrick Says:

    I liked Tyler when he started but then he became a UZR and Fangraphs salesman.

    Raul, those are the approx. averages of OPR for the 2008 season. For example, I took all of the leadoff hitters runners on base, counted 1 for 1B, 2 for 2B and 3 for 3B, totaled them (weighted base runners, WBR) and divided by PA which gives me OPR or opportunity rating.

    So leadoff hitters only have .8 of a base runner and cleanup hitters have 1.2 of a base runner. Last year, ARod had 189,150 and 83 men on 1st, 2nd and 3rd for 738 WBR in 535 PA for a league leading 1.379 OPR.

    For what it’s worth, I find this useful information but a lot of people don’t.

  23. Shaun Says:

    Hossrex, with all due respect, the whole point of my article was to argue against points of view like the one you just gave in comment #13.

    Too much is made of the fact that the leadoff hitter is supposed to be a fast, high on-base guy, the number two hitter is supposed to know how to bunt, etc.

    Again, odds are than any hitter is going to make an out in any given plate appearance. So what a manager has to try to do is maximize the chances of stringing together baserunners. If he doesn’t do this, he’s going to see a lot of 1-2-3 innings or a lot of innings where runners are stranded.

    The focus of a manager should be to make sure good hitters (high OPS guys) are all bunched up, preferably as close to the top of the order as possible so that their plate appearances are maximized. Anything else is trivial.

    Most managers do a fine job just because lineups that work obviously make sense.

    “A #3 hitter is the complete opposite of a leadoff hitter. I don’t particularly care what my #3 batters OBP is. I’m concerned with BA, and homeruns. Most of the time either the #1 or #2 batters will have found their way on base, and it’s up to him to drive them in, or at least move them over.”

    This is the essence of why I wrote the article. You should be concerned with the on-base and slugging of every hitter. On-base and slugging is offense in baseball. Offense isn’t arranging batting orders in certain way, although that makes some difference. Offense isn’t speed, although speed is helpful. But it all starts with on-base and slugging because obviously teams can’t score without getting on-base, obviously teams aren’t going to score if they continuously make outs and obviously teams aren’t going to scored if they aren’t gaining bases to some degree in bulk.

    I had a discussion on another message board with some fellow Braves fans who thought the Braves need a leadoff hitter and speed in order to improve the offense. Yes, those things may help some. But no team is going to score more runs without improving their on-base or slugging or both (preferably). This is where it all starts. If you have a team full of mediocre-to-bad on-base guys and sluggers, you may as well forget having anything more than a mediocre-to-bad offense.

    What does this have to do with batting order? Well, you say you aren’t concerned with a number 3 hitter’s OBP. Well, if a number 3 hitter has a low OBP, that’s going to kill some rallies or end lots of innings. Again, chances are pretty good that the number one and number two hitters are going to make outs in any given sequence. You’re number three hitter has a poor OBP, that’s three outs. Say the numbers 8 and 9 hitters have made outs, the numbers 1 and 2 hitters get on. Your number 3 hitter gets up you obviously don’t want him to make an out; i.e., you want him to get on base at least. You better be concerned about OBP from your number 3 hitter, and all your hitters.

  24. Shaun Says:

    The author, in the first sentence of the second paragraph, edited for content, essentially says “outside of doing something extreme, the batting order makes no difference”.

    Chuck, if you are going to be critical, I think it’s important to get your facts straight. Here is the sentence:

    “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.”

    Don’t know where you learned your English but to most of us who speak it “doesn’t make all that much of a difference” doesn’t mean the same thing as “makes no difference.”

    It can be confusing when you are more concerned with criticism and setting up strawmen than understanding and getting your facts straight.

  25. Shaun Says:

    It can also be confusing if you are lazy or don’t understand the nuances of the English language.

  26. Chuck Says:

    His site doesn’t even exist anymore.

    http://mvn.com/aroundthemajors/

    He hasn’t done a radio show since January, at least from what I can tell.

    http://www.blogtalkradio.com/tyler-hissey

    I listened to his first “Dugout Central” show.

    I turned it off before it was over.

    If you heard it, you would understand why the site and show have disappeared.

    Rex was complimentary.

  27. Chuck Says:

    OK, Shaun.

    Everybody’s a genius with an edit button.

    I know what you meant.

    So does everybody else.

  28. Shaun Says:

    I’m not sure what you mean? Edit button? The article is exactly as was posted with the exception of the shameless plug at the bottom. That’s the only thing I edited after the original post. You have a lot of nerve accusing me of editing the article when it’s not true and you have no proof that it’s true. But I wouldn’t expect anything more from such a miserable person.

  29. Patrick Says:

    Shaun, the simulations don’t take strategy into account and how the strategy changes the statistical data for different hitters. Simulations take an average of what a particular player does and presents it every single AB. Real baseball is different than that. It’s a chessmatch.

    There is nothing “advanced” about it. It’s a computer playing Stratomatic for the sake of speedy data.

    I think simulations could be programmed better but I haven’t seen it yet.

  30. Shaun Says:

    Patrick, I’m not simulations expert but I’m pretty sure some of the good ones probably at least take into account pitcher and ballpark and not just averages of what a hitter does.

    Also, how much difference would it make if a simulation took strategy into account? I’m really asking. I don’t know. I’d guess even if a simulation took into account strategy, they’d still find that one reasonable batting order isn’t any better than another. And that what’s important is bunching the best hitters (best on-base guys and sluggers) together preferably at the top of the order to increase the chances of a rally, decrease the chances of making 3 outs before some runs score and increase the bases gained in as few plate appearances as possible.

  31. Shaun Says:

    Patrick, thinks for disagree respectfully, for the most part. The site would be much better if we had more respectful disagreement rather than false accusations in order to sound like one has valid criticism.

    Seems that’s all some folks are about: False accusations because they are too lazy or too dumb or have too many issues to come up with reasonable criticisms.

  32. John Says:

    Hossrex: “The above quote sounds very much like a person who spent more time in their youth reading the backs of baseball cards, and playing stratomatic then actually playing baseball.”

    Every red-blooded American male plays some form of baseball as a kid. I think it’s safe to say that everyone on this website has played organized baseball, including Shaun. Now, our experience varies – I would never presume to understand the game like Chuck because he’s coached future major leaguers and I stopped playing mid-way through high school. But I (and others) still understand things like, what players do wrong when they mess up a bunt and what an OF does wrong when he doesn’t get to a seemingly catchable fly ball.

    On an unrelated note, Hoss, you quote FJM enough that I know you’re a fan. I’ve read most of their stuff, and while extremely funny, those guys were the epitome of “crunched the stats but never actually played in a game.”

    Everyone more/less learns the exact same thing about lineups when we’re young. Your best all-around hitter MUST hit third, a speedy guy should hit 1st, your best pure slugger 4th (unless he’s also your best all-around hitter) and the #2 guy should be fast enough to avoid double plays and also have good “bat-handling skills” (lay down a bunt, hit and run, rarely strikeout). That’s where Shaun comes in. Maybe there’s something that we can maybe see now that we couldn’t see when we were 8 and our coach blindly batted the fast skinny kid who swung at everything first.

    But, if I may comment on the article itself, Shaun, you conclude “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.”

    How is that any different than the current conventional model? You want your best hitters at the front of the order to accumulate the most PA’s possible. Or are you suggesting that the Yankees could bat A-Rod first, Cano 2nd, Jeter 3rd, Posada 4th and Teixeira 5th – that is, bunch the 5 best hitters together, but ignore the exact order – and they would score just as many runs +/- 1 or 2 on the year?

  33. Patrick Says:

    You’re welcome Shaun but I have to say, respect is a two way street. I almost shut it down after you called Chuck a miserable person. I’m sure you get emotional and frustrated but I thought that was uncalled for. Let’s put an end to that stuff.

    As for your question about strategy and how it effects statistics, let’s look at Henry Aaron.

    For example, his lifetime slash numbers are .305/.374/.555/.929 but when there is a man on 3B and 1B is open he’s .369/.525/.622/1.147 in a seasons worth of PA’s (633).

    This is because of strategy and how Henry dealt with it. The simulations that I know of, don’t account for this and many, many other real game statistical fluctuations. Henry got on base 333 times out of 633 in these situations plus managed to hit .369 with supreme power when pitched to. If the Braves put Ralph Garr in those situations, his personal results wouldn’t change much because you always pitch to Ralph Garr.

    I hope that makes sense. It’s just one of thousands of missing variables in the simulations that I’m aware of and as far as advanced stats are concerned both Bill James and Rob Neyer openly dismiss Henry’s performance in these situations as pure luck.

    Peace, and welcome back but please, let’s keep it civil this time around.

  34. Kerry Says:

    Raul, regarding your comment about Babe Ruth batting 8th:

    No, batting orders don’t make a huge difference, as Shaun said, maybe 5-10 runs per year, which may be equivalent on average to one win.

    For each spot dropped down in the batting order a player gets 18 fewer PA per year. So Babe Ruth would get 90 (!) fewer PA, and if the 8th hitter was in his place, that hitter (Johnny Graboski, say) would get 90 more PA. It still doesn’t make a huge difference, but it could cost a win or two (maybe more, Graboski was a bad-hitting catcher). And before someone corrects me, for a 154-game season, that would be about 17 PA less per spot in the line-up, or 85 for dropping Ruth down to 8th.

    It seems to me that over the years the best hitter in the line-up has migrated from 4th to 3rd, as people have realized that it’s better to give him more PA, even though a small change like that is worth a few runs per year at most. The 1961 Yankees really should have batted Mantle 3rd and Maris 4th, instead of the other way around (man, wouldn’t that have changed history!).

  35. Kerry Says:

    Sean and Patrick,

    My next major project, when I have more time, is to do simulations which take into account the base-out situation in some fashion, just to see how much it affects the results of the simulation. My guess is not that much (a few runs per year), but as is also true in physics, you have to do the experiment to get the data.

  36. Patrick Says:

    Kerry, thanks for the declining PA info.

    As far as the ‘61 Yanks, this illustrates my point about looking at stats out of baseball strategy context. If Mantle wasn’t protecting Maris, Maris wouldn’t have seen so many hittable pitches and we would know Maris as just another guy like Johnny Blanchard or Moose Skowron who had decent power and low OBP skills.

    Lineup does matter.

  37. Patrick Says:

    Kerry, that’s a lot of work but I think it will be worth it.

    How would you account for things like lineup protection though? Also, a guy like Jeter sees a lot of fastballs because he bats first or second. If he was the best hitter on his team, he would bat third or fourth and see multitudes of breaking stuff off of the plate and NOT have a .317 career BA.

    It’s tough, or maybe impossible, to get this completely accurate IMO but thanks for trying! Including the base/out states will be a big improvement.

  38. Chuck Says:

    “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.”

    What you said, Shaun. YOU said it, not me. Outside of doing something extreme, batting orders make no difference. YOU SAID THAT.

    “Editing for content” means taking a 40 word paragraph and turning it into a ten word sentence.”

    So, the question becomes where did you learn YOUR English?

    “Most fans who have any familiarity with advanced baseball statistics, baseball simulations and computer models know that batting order, just doesn’t make all that much of a difference.”

    What you meant.

    “..short of doing something outrageous like batting your worst hitters first…”

    What YOU are editing out in order to prove your point and discredit everyone else.

    I never accused you of editing anything.

    No offense to what you said because I’m considering the source.

    You don’t know shit about baseball, and you’re writing proves that.

    Nothing you can say to change that fact.

  39. Shaun Says:

    Patrick, probably was uncalled for. It’s just annoying that someone would come up with false accusations to get their points across.

    Regarding Henry Aaron and different stats in different situations, I think the thing is of course numbers are going to be different in different situations. For instance, if runners are on base a pitcher is more likely to throw a hittable pitch simply because the pitcher isn’t going to walk the hitter.

    Chuck, where did I say batting orders make no difference? I said outside of doing something extreme, batting orders don’t make ALL THAT MUCH difference. “All that much” is not the same thing as “no.” Got it? It’s pretty simple.

  40. Shaun Says:

    Patrick, no one is saying lineup doesn’t matter. This is what Chuck is misunderstanding. Many of us just realize it doesn’t matter all that much, unless a manger does something extreme.

  41. Shaun Says:

    Patrick, what one would need to do is look at the difference between Aaron’s overall performance versus his situational performance then compare that difference to other players’ overall performances versus their performances in that same situation. We would expect most hitters to perform better with runners on because, again, a pitcher is more likely to not want to walk the hitter and therefore he’s going to get hittable pitches. And we may expect disciplined hitters to perform even better because they aren’t less likely to chase junk.

    On a different yet somewhat related subject, this is why I think clutch hitting is more about skill sets than a player thriving under pressure due to something within. I think most big leaguers are perfectly capable of thriving under pressure just because they’ve been the go-to guy throughout their amateur and minor league careers. And any situation in the majors is a pressure situation. So I suspect the main reasons for success or failure in pressure situations has to do with skill sets–how disciplined a hitter is, for example.

  42. Shaun Says:

    The theme of the article was stop obsessing over batting orders.

    The most important thing is to have the best on-base guys and sluggers bunched up at the top of the order. Why? Because a manager needs to ensure that he can get as many baserunners and gain as many bases in order to score as many runs before three outs are made. Getting on-base is how a team gains baserunner and prevents outs and slugging is the way to advance bases in bulk. Load your OPS to the top of the order, and you’ll be fine. Anything else is trivial.

    It’s not going to make much of a difference if Player x bats 2nd or 3rd or even 5th or 6th, though it will make some difference. Probably not enough to obsess over.

    What you should be obsessed over is your team’s OPS and whether they have a bunch of high OPS hitters bunched together preferably at or near the top of the order.

  43. Patrick Says:

    Fortunately, all of these statistics exist, so we don’t have to guess at them.

    Players don’t all hit better with men on base and pitchers are more than happy to walk Henry Aaron with men on base but will do everything they can NOT to walk Ralph Garr. Garr will see 90% fastballs around the plate and Aaron will see 90% breaking stuff off of the plate. Apples and oranges.

    All I’m saying is, it’s a complicated game and just skimming the surface of total accumulated statistics isn’t going to give anyone any “advanced” understanding of it.

  44. Shaun Says:

    Patrick, No one disagrees that it’s a complicated game.

    And we agree, all players don’t hit better with men on base. It depends on skill set.

    None of this changes the fact that the most important thing a manager can do when making out a batting order is bunch up his good on-base guys and power guys at the top of his order so that he maximizes bases gained before three outs are made and does this as often as possible over the course of a game.

  45. Chuck Says:

    If the batting order doesn’t matter, why bunch the good on-base and power guys at the top of the order?

    They’ll only hit there, in all likelihood, once per game.

    If the clean-up hitter leads off the second inning, doesn’t he now have the same responsibilities the lead off hitter had in the first inning?

  46. Joe Says:

    “You don’t know shit about baseball, and you’re writing proves that.”

    Chuck continues to show the sort of class one has come to expect from him.

  47. Shaun Says:

    Chuck, can you please show me where I said batting order doesn’t matter? It’s nowhere in the article nor in my posts. There is a big misunderstanding here and I’m not sure why.

    Batting order doesn’t make all that much difference. That’s different from saying batting order doesn’t matter. I don’t know how else to say it. But apparently it still not sinking in.

  48. Shaun Says:

    Chuck, you bunch the on-base guys and the sluggers at the top because that’s the way you increase the likelihood that you’ll gain as many bases as possible before three outs are made, and you put those guys at the top of the order so this happens as often as possible; the top of the order comes to the plate more often than the bottom of the order.

  49. Chuck Says:

    Wasn’t talking to you, Joe.

  50. Chuck Says:

    You didn’t answer my question, Shaun.

    If the cleanup hitter leads off the second inning, aren’t his reponsibilities the same as the leadoff hitter had in the first inning?

  51. Shaun Says:

    “If the cleanup hitter leads off the second inning, aren’t his reponsibilities the same as the leadoff hitter had in the first inning?”

    Yes. I would argue that all hitters have the same responsibilities in all situations: Get on base, don’t make an out and gain as many bases as possible while doing it.

    Also, let me also answer this question, for about the fourth or fifth time: “If the batting order doesn’t matter, why bunch the good on-base and power guys at the top of the order?”

    I’ve never said batting order doesn’t matter. Nowhere in the article does it say that. Nowhere in any of my posts does it say that.

  52. Shaun Says:

    Chuck, I’m waiting on you to show me where I said batting order doesn’t matter. You keep posting that strawman. I guess you think if you keep posting it, you’ll convince people that this was what I wrote. But it’s nowhere in the article nor in my posts.

  53. Michael Crowe Says:

    When discussing the matter of batting the pitcher eigth a couple years ago, LaRussa suggested that maybe Dusty should have had Bonds in the leadoff spot (I don’t see Pujols leading off these days though). The discussion turned to some minor league manager having had success a few years ago leading off with his most productive hitter; next best hitter second, and so on. His theory: Get your best hitters the most at bats. His final quote on the matter: “Babe Ruth should have led off.” Well, it worked in Little League.

  54. Kerry Says:

    Chuck: “Wasn’t talking to you, Joe.”

    So what? Just because you were responding to Shaun doesn’t mean Joe can’t have an opinion about it. This is an open forum after all. If you don’t want people to see and respond to your dialogue with Shaun, send Shaun an email :-)

    Chuck: “If the batting order doesn’t matter, why bunch the good on-base and power guys at the top of the order?”

    As I already alluded to in #33, and Shaun reiterated in #47, you want your best OBP and SLG guys at the top because they will get to bat more often. Once you have your top 5 OPS guys in the top 5 spots, any additional tweaks don’t do a whole lot, although if they make it better, why wouldn’t you do them too?

    Relating to my Maris/Mantle comment above, I’ve been looking up how in 1961 the best hitter on the team tended to bat 4th, and now he’s much more likely to bat 3rd. The philosophy really has evolved over the last 50 years. I may write it up as an article at some point.

  55. Shaun Says:

    Joe, Chuck is also not big enough apparently to admit he was wrong in thinking that I said batting order doesn’t matter. He just goes on attacking based on an assumption he made in his own mind about something I wrote. I guarantee we won’t see a post from him admitting that.

  56. Shaun Says:

    If you were from a foreign country and didn’t have the biases we all have about baseball philosophies and scouting and statistics, but someone taught you the rules and the object of the game, and someone told you to put together a batting order, you would want your best on-base and slugging guys bunched together at the top of the order.

    I think too often we get caught up in our worlds of scouting, sabermetrics, situational statistics, etc. and we don’t stop to simplify the game in our minds.

    Baseball is clearly about outs and baserunners, when you break it down to its basics. Yet so often we want to look at whether hitters are good at something that doesn’t fully relate to outs and baserunners or we look at what a guy does in a certain situation.

  57. Chuck Says:

    Shaun,

    Is there really that much between “batting orders don’t matter” or “batting orders don’t make much difference”?

    Wasn’t talking to you either, Kerry.

  58. Shaun Says:

    Chuck, yes there is a clear difference between “don’t matter” and “don’t make much difference.” But I suspected you would try to rationalize a way out of the fact that you misunderstood rather than admitting you were wrong and that your entire criticism as based on your assumption which was wrong.

    This explains your whole problem with my article, it seems. You didn’t like the fact that you thought I said batting order doesn’t matter and then I explained the philosophy of putting together a batting order. In reality I never said batting order doesn’t matter.

  59. Shaun Says:

    I don’t think it makes that much of a difference that Joe Nathan is hurt and unable to close games for the Twins. Maybe it will cost the Twins a win or two. But that matters.

  60. Kerry Says:

    Michael,

    My simulations (and those of others, e.g., in The Book) showed that it wasn’t better to have your best hitter hit in the #1 spot. It really does help the team to have men on base for your best hitter, although the differences are small.

    Regarding Ruth, the Yankees did bat him 3rd, ahead of Gehrig. Of course, with those two it was hard to go wrong, although the Yankees had Ruth batting 3rd even before Gehrig came along.

  61. Kerry Says:

    Chuck: “Wasn’t talking to you either, Kerry.”

    LOL, you are now. My comment stands (it is an open forum).

  62. Shaun Says:

    Kerry, what about in situations where you have no good hitters except one amazing hitter? Should a team bat that amazing hitter first since odds are even smaller than normal that he would hit with runners on?

  63. Patrick Says:

    Every team in history has ample runners on base.

    The worst team in history has more runners on base for their 4th and 5th hitters than the best team has for their 1st and 2nd hitters.

    There is no good reason to bat a Barry Bonds type player leadoff unless it’s an allstar team. Plus, if Barry Bonds does bat leadoff, he doesn’t get walked as much so you really would have no idea what his OBP would’ve been.

  64. Shaun Says:

    Patrick, excellent points. Except I’m not sure what you mean by “every team in history has ample runners on base.”

    Last year Seattle had 380 hits plus walks plus hit by pitch. Boston had 483. I guarantee Seattle didn’t feel like they had ample runners on base.

  65. Murph Says:

    Shaun, those numbers can’t be right???

  66. Chuck Says:

    Kerry,

    I guess so..

    :)

  67. Patrick Says:

    Shaun, I’m not sure where you got your numbers but let’s look at Seattle-Boston. Seattle’s 1-2 hitters got on base exactly 500 times and Boston’s got on 540. That’s a significant difference but it’s still less than 1 base runner every 4 games. Also, that’s with Seattle’s 2nd batters hitting a combined .224/.297.

    That’s what I mean by “ample”. Those 2 teams represent opposite ends of the spectrum but there are still plenty of RBI opportunities for the middle of the order.

  68. obsessivegiantscompulsive Says:

    I guess someone, at some point, should bring up the sabermetric history of batting order significance. Most studies of that in the past concluded that the lineup did not matter, except for maybe one position. Some had the best hitter batting 4th, one had the best hitter batting 2nd (probably around the time LaRussa suggested leading off with Bonds).

    Beyond the Boxscore did a regression of each lineup position and OBP and SLG, which generated an equation that one could use to calculate the potential run scoring ability of that lineup. Baseball Musing took that and created an optimization program that determined which lineups were the best for producing runs. Most of those have the pitcher batting 8th, and hence why some managers are doing that today.

    That regression suggested that it would be wasteful to put your best hitter batting 3rd. That makes sense when you think about it. Just like the leadoff guy is guaranteed to bat once with nobody on base, the third batter gets a lot of two outs, nobody on base situations, where the likelihood of generating a run is very low.

    Tangotiger and MGL tackled this question in their book, The Book, by looking at run value tables in various situations and came up with their advice. I quote: “The Book Says: Your three best hitters should bat somewhere in the #1, #2, and #4 slots. Your fourth- and fifth-best hitters should occupy the #3 and #5 slots. The #1 and #2 slots will have players with more walks than those in the #4 and #5 slots. From slot #6 through #9, put the players in descending order of quality.”

    And if you read the text before this quote, they actually state that the #5 hitter should be better than your #3 hitter. So your 5th best hitter should be batting #3. But as he notes in his book, most changes only optimizes for 2-3 runs each, so the impact of any one mistake with the lineup is not that serious generally, unless, as Shaun wrote, you put your best hitters at the bottom of the lineup.

  69. Kerry Says:

    Shaun,

    Not sure about a team with one great hitter. My guess is that if two of the “average” hitters had a somewhat decent OBP, you’d still want your big guy to bat 3rd. But it’s possible that 2nd or 1st is better with less than two good OBP guys.

    I’ll do a run sometime and check it out.

  70. Raul Says:

    I don’t get it though.

    The point of batting certain people in a spot in the lineup doesn’t have much to do with how many more at bats they might get during the season.

    Babe Ruth doesn’t bat 3rd instead of 8th because he can get 20 more at-bats a year.
    It’s about driving in runs.

  71. Kerry Says:

    OK, I ran a sim with Pujols in a lineup of average hitters (10,000 seasons). It was better (by all of two runs a season) for him to bat first.

    With one other player with an above-average OBP (although not as high as Pujols’), it’s a wash between Pujols batting 1st and Pujols batting 2nd.

    With two other good OBP players, it didn’t really matter whether Pujols batted 1st, 2nd, or 3rd — they were all the same to within one run per season.

  72. Kerry Says:

    Raul,

    Between batting 3rd and 8th, I think it is about PA as much, if not more, as driving in runs (by which I assume you mean having men on in front of him). Those 90 extra PA are big, no matter who bats in front of him.

    Between batting 2nd and 3rd, for example, it’s more about having men on base in front of him, which can actually trump the 18 extra PA.

  73. John Says:

    Kerry – your simulation assumes 8 average hitters and Albert pujols right? What about if you assume weaker hitters in the 7-9 spots as is the case in real-life? I can’t for a second believe that Pujols is more productive hitting with the bases empty 65% of the time. Or that his team – the St. Louis ettiquette-Nazis – would be better off.

  74. Chuck Says:

    “Shaun, I’m not sure where you got your numbers but let’s look at Seattle-Boston. Seattle’s 1-2 hitters got on base exactly 500 times and Boston’s got on 540.” “That’s a significant difference…”

    Over 162 games and about 1400 plate appearances, that’s about as insignificant as you can get.

    Completely meaningless.

  75. Kerry Says:

    John,

    Hah, I ran a sim with Pujols, 5 Schumakers, 2 Izturis’s (this was 2008 data, since I had it in a file already), and a pitcher. Pujols batting 2nd or 3rd was about the same, while batting 1st was almost 4 runs per season worse. So your intuition was correct, although the difference is still less than half a win.

    IIRC, using the full St. Louis lineup (2008 again), Pujols batting 3rd tended to be the best, although there was one batting order with him 2nd that was competitive.

  76. Kerry Says:

    Chuck: “Over 162 games and about 1400 plate appearances, that’s about as insignificant as you can get.”

    Better be careful making absolute statements like that. Since base runners score about a third of the time (counting batters who score on their own HR, which were included in those TOB numbers), those 40 base runners would be worth about 13 runs a year, or 1.3 wins — more assuming the 1-2 guys are faster than average and they have better hitters after them. Not a big difference, but still worth something.

  77. Michael Crowe Says:

    It would seem to me that the standard batting orders of modern day (last 80 years or so anyway) are set up to manufacture runs early more than anything else. OBP, speed, and bat handling in the first two slots, BA in third, setting up RBI situations for the slugging percentage guys four thru six. After the first or second inning I don’t think it matters so much other than having the middle of the order grouped together every three innings or so.

  78. Shaun Says:

    Shaun, I’m not sure where you got your numbers but let’s look at Seattle-Boston. Seattle’s 1-2 hitters got on base exactly 500 times and Boston’s got on 540. That’s a significant difference but it’s still less than 1 base runner every 4 games. Also, that’s with Seattle’s 2nd batters hitting a combined .224/.297.

    That’s what I mean by “ample”. Those 2 teams represent opposite ends of the spectrum but there are still plenty of RBI opportunities for the middle of the order.

    Actually, I must have been looking at this year with Boston versus Seattle or something.

    The Yankees had the most H+BB+HBP last year with 2,321. Seattle had 1,900. That’s a difference of 421 baserunners.

    The Yankees 1st and 2nd hitters had 594 H+BB+HBP. Seattle’s: 500.

    However, Patrick, a team’s runs scoring is not only about how many RBI opportunities for the middle of the order. It’s about how many RBI opportunities for the entire team and how much base-advancement is done by the entire team, obviously.

    It’s not necessarily going to lead to a good offense if a team’s 1st and 2nd hitters are on base a lot. A team may only have two good hitters and they may hit first and second. The ‘09 Mariners are a great example. Their best two hitters were clearly Ichiro and Branyan, and the rest of their hitters were league average or worse. And wouldn’t you know it, Ichiro leadoff most of the time and Branyan hit second 55 times (tied for most times on the team).

  79. Shaun Says:

    Also, Patrick, what if the number 1 and 2 hitters on a team aren’t that good but the rest of the lineup is awesome. Look at the ‘09 Phillies. Rollins sucked and Victorino was a league-average hitter. Every other hitter was pretty darn good except Feliz, and they scored a ton of runs.

    The Phillies, Yankees and Mariners of last year are good anecdotal examples of how batting order doesn’t make all that much of a difference and that how good your hitters are and how many good hitters you have is more important than the order in which they hit.

  80. obsessivegiantscompulsive Says:

    #78 That is proof of nothing about batting order. It is proof that if you have a lot of good hitters, you will score a lot of runs, but I thought the point of your article is that you can optimize the run scoring ability of the lineup by doing some common sense things. These examples could, per your article, have improved their ability to score runs by optimizing their lineups.

    Regarding the discussion about run scoring opportunities, The Book did discuss more on the #3 hitter being less of a hitter than #5: “The reason is that the #3 hitter gets a lot more PA with two outs than the #5 hitter. So, he has less chance to do more damage, unless that damage is done with the HR.”

  81. Patrick Says:

    Shaun, I only have a minute but I only mentioned the 1-2 hitters because your example numbers were so low I thought you may have been taking an excerpt of Seattle and Boston’s lineups.

    I was only showing that regardless of major league lineup, there are “ample” men on base and it’s important that your best hitters are up when most of them are on. That’s why you never bat your best SLG guy leadoff.

    Also, I agree with Obsessive. My base runner research has shown me that the 5 hole has the most RBI opportunities in almost all big league lineups and it’s worth 20 less PA’s over 162 games to maximize that batting slot.

    I basically agree with everything Obsessive wrote so I’ll let him speak for me the rest of the way on this subject.

    Again, welcome back Shaun.

  82. Shaun Says:

    obsessivegiantscompulsive, the point was that the Phillies didn’t optimize their batting order, yet they still scored more runs than anyone in their league. The Mariners did a decent job of optimizing their lineup, yet they were the worst scoring team in their league.

    Yes, optimizing a batting order can improve things but it can only go so far. Again, the quality of your hitters matters more than where you arrange them. That’s not to say where you arrange them doesn’t matter.

    This was what I was trying to get across in the article. Yes, there is definitely a way or in some cases multiple ways to optimize a lineup. But some folks are over-obsessed with batting orders and don’t realize that more good hitters or improvement from the hitters you already have will solve more problems than moving one or two guys from one spot in the order to another. Again, that’s not to say moving a few guys around will have no impact, but it doesn’t have the impact that some seem to think, based on the obsession of batting order on some blogs I’ve visited.

    Patrick, you are probably right about batting your best slugger leadoff. Kerry’s research seems to back that up, based on what he’s telling us.

  83. Lefty33 Says:

    “Every other hitter was pretty darn good except Feliz”

    Let’s not forget Ruiz.
    He truly sucks as a hitter, but calls a great game and is well loved by the pitching staff.

    “Victorino was a league-average hitter”

    How do you figure? He hit .292, led the team in hits, had thirteen triples, and stole 25 bases. He was a very good hitter last year.

    Average would have been Feliz and Ruiz.

    Shaun the only thing that I disagree with you on is the reason why Phillies were successful is that they had speed at the top of their lineup.

    Rollins, Victorino, Utley, and Werth all stole twenty or more bases. That makes the Phillies not a one dimensional team that sits back and waits for the three run home run all of the time.

    They were the ultimate combination of a team that could beat you playing small-ball with stealing bases, taking an extra base, or playing hit and run. While at the same time having five guys who hit more than twenty home runs and they could beat you in a high scoring shootout.

    To me the teams that are successful are ones that can be hybrids like that and not just be one dimensional.

    So to me the Phillies did maximize their lineup.

    They put their five best guys who have the combination of speed and power one through five. And the one dimensional hitters six through nine.

    Obviously based on last season production it worked pretty well for them.

  84. Shaun Says:

    Ruiz had an OPS+ of 104 in 2009; pretty darn good for a catcher.

    Victorino had a 109 OPS+.

    Feliz was well below average at an 81 OPS+.

    Lefty33, actually the three-run homer is what makes a good offense…well, not literally. But on-base and slugging is offense. No team nickels and dimes its way to a good offense. I do agree somewhat that it helps to have more than on-base and slugging but on-base and slugging is necessary to have a great offense. I agree that it helped that the Phillies were so good on the basepaths, but if they were the same team on the basepaths with a horrible on-base and slugging, they wouldn’t have been a good offensive team.

  85. Dugout Central » Blog Archive » Batting Orders – A 50 Year Perspective, Part I Says:

    [...] a recent Dugout Central article, Shaun Payne argued that the primary rule in making a batting order is to bunch your best on-base [...]

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