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One of the beautiful things about baseball is the history.” James Abbott

 

My earliest recollection of baseball was the late 1960’s. I remember when Curt Flood took his case to court, and while too young to fully understand the ramifications, I knew I would probably not like whatever change the case would create. I remember thinking the designated hitter would only be an experiment, and in two years it would be back to baseball as we know it. I hated seeing lights in Wrigley Field and when that first night game was rained out, took it as a sign the Gods of Baseball Past were saddened. Just thinking of the Pace of Play catchphrase and all it entails makes my blood boil. It is because my feelings on the above issues, as well as many more, I consider myself a baseball traditionalist. The rich history of the game should be savored, cherished, and passed on. I have always felt baseball is played with more heart than any other sport, so never count out the underdog. In truth, the ever-growing statistical information in baseball overwhelms and bores me. So why do I get so aggravated when both the fans and managers refuse to optimize the batting order? Because that is one change in the game I feel can make it more exciting, competitive and strategic without taking away any honesty or integrity.

 

I told myself last year I would not debate or share my thoughts on the batting order ever again because those that stand behind the traditional batting order, refuse to see any reason to alter their thinking. To me, it is the most obtuse debate in baseball, yet it continues throughout each season. The social media coaches and journalist manager wannabes refuse to understand how optimizing the batting order can win more games. They continue to complain Joe Maddon overthinks and demand he create a set batting order and line up. They blame Maddon for the games lost due to his choice of lead off man and his inconsistent batting order. I hate to tell ya folks, but that is the reason the Cubs have been winners. Sabermetrics can not only build a team, but keep that team winning if more managers would give in to it and use the numbers at hand.

We all know the story of Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s, but sabermetrics were being talked about long before Billy. In 1954, Branch Rickey wrote one of the first articles about the combination of statistical analysis and personal observation in both scouting and developing ball players. Statistics, he said, cannot tell the whole story. They cannot measure the intangibles-courage, effort, intelligence and disposition. It does however, provide objective evidence which is why it was developed.

 

I, personally, am not a numbers gal and as I said am a traditionalist in the majority of my baseball beliefs. Sabermetrics can be fit into every aspect of baseball however, since I  dislike both change and numbers, the batting order is the only area I have researched and agree with it being a needed change. If the bottom line is winning baseball games, why are we not using optimized batting orders? There have been scores of research done using numbers galore in various think tanks, which frankly is over my head, but, what I do understand is the batting order should be constructed to create as many scoring opportunities as possible and capitalize on them which is what an optimized order does. It will not be consistent through the year and there will always be variables and intangibles but it will always be put together to score runs.

 

Basically, to optimize the batting order you only need to look at two statistics—on base percentage and slugging percentage. The lead off hitter, who is only guaranteed to “lead off” once per game, should be the guy with the highest OBP. Speed is a non issue. You only want the guys who can get on base, via hit or walks, at the top of the order. These are the guys that will get the most bats so makes sense to have them there. The one, two, and four spots should be your three best hitters, considering OBP first, SLG second. Number three will slot your 4th best OBP and number 5 will be your home run hitter or the highest SLG. The rest of the order will be the order of OBP, however, you should also have your speed and base stealer at number 6. The pitcher hits number 8 and your worst batter 9.

The statistical research of it all, as I said, will make my eyes cross and smoke will come out of my ears when I read about it but I can tell you this:

The number 2 hitter will come up in critical situations twice as much as the number 3 guy, so number 2 in the line up should be one of your best hitters.

On average, the number 3 batter comes to the plate more often with no base runners. Quite a lot less so make sure your producers are hitting in the 4th and 5th spots.

The number 5 hitter gets more plate appearances with men on base than any other. So your power hitter should be here.

The number 6 hitter should have a high OBP and the ability to steal bases.

Batting the pitcher 8th allows you to put a guy with a better OBP in the nine slot which allows him to get on base with the top of the line up having a good chance of getting him home.

 

This is a very abbreviated explanation, but, in a nutshell, this gives your best hitters more at bats and more chances to hit with runners on base therefore increased chances for scoring. So why do fans and managers balk at this change? It is not a drastic change, and yes there will always be variables but I think everyone needs to be open to using sabermetrics in constructing the batting order. Many argue the players have a certain mentality regarding where they are in the batting order and would be resistant to anything but old school order. I find that difficult to believe; the old school fan is most likely the one who will resist. I continually see complaints about the way Maddon is always changing he batting order-traditionalists believe it should stay the same throughout the year. Consistency is key they say. Now how does that make sense to folks but optimizing the line up so odds favor you to produce more runs does not?  Joe Maddon does not fully optimize the order but also does not use the pure traditional batting order rules.

 

Therefore, I will say this year, what I said last year (and was run out-of-town tarred and feathered) the only choice for the lead off hitter is Kris Bryant. Based on last years data, the line up today would be:

Bryant

Happ

Schwarber

Contreras

Rizzo

Baez

Heyward

Pitcher

Russell

 

The debate will continue but I am convinced teams that optimize their batting orders will come out on top.

 

photo/Pinterest

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