First thing's first: batting order is not particularly meaningful. The typical lineup that managers spew out and the "ideal" lineup are not very different over a long season.
But, we sports fans love to discuss strategy, and there are few more interesting elements of baseball strategy than batting order. From whether or not your lead-off man should get on base or be able to run (the former), to who deserves the prestige of hitting third, it's a tremendously common debate.
And it's fun, so there's nothing wrong with going ahead and having the conversation, as long as you're not treating it as especially important. The problem is, people stop simply at stuff like "we should flip Elvis Andrus and Michael Young," instead of actually looking how best to optimize the lineup. If we're going to pretend we're manager of the Rangers and mess with the batting order, why are we going to stop at simple moves that change little to nothing at all when we can rearrange the entire lineup in our fantasies?
A few years ago Beyond The Boxscore took a look at how best to optimize your batting order, citing the excellent research of Tom Tango from his book The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball. Let's use this information to go a bit farther when talking about what we'd like to see the Rangers' batting order look like.
In short, the third spot is overrated, the second spot is the most important, the fourth after that, and your lead-off hitter should get on base a lot.
Following the information here, and using the in-season updated ZiPS forecast for the Ranger hitters, our best every-day lineup would look something like this:
- Ian Kinsler (.382)
- Mike Napoli (.391)
- Adrian Beltre (.355)
- Josh Hamilton (.390)
- Michael Young (.340)
- Nelson Cruz (.348)
- David Murphy (.341)
- Elvis Andrus (.319)
- Mitch Moreland (.318)
The number in parenthesis is weighted On Base Average; think of it as an all-encompassing offensive measure scaled to look like OBP.
Kinsler is actually the perfect lead-off man; one of the team's three best hitters, and a brilliant on-base guy. Napoli is almost as perfect a No. 2 hitter, as maybe the team's best hitter and also an OBP machine. Beltre is a great No. 3 hitter, since so much of his value comes from homeruns (Cruz could also fit here). Young is ahead of Cruz due to the value of batting average in the five spot, but that could actually be a mistake.
The biggest problem with the current lineup is hitting Andrus -- maybe the weakest hitter on the team -- in the most important spot in the order. In this lineup, we also get his incredible baserunning in front of a hitter with relative inability to advance runners, a big plus, and more valuable than putting that skill in front of good hitters.
This still does not go quite as far as we can go with this. It ignores platoon splits (Napoli will not hit as well against righties, Moreland will usually sit against lefties), for one thing, and the Rangers will not be playing the same lineup every day. However, it didn't take a lot of work, and we've now gone farther in the discussion of what the Rangers' lineup should look like than we normally would.
Once again, though, it needs to be stressed that batting order really does not make a lot of difference, relative to how much time is spent griping about it. The difference between hitting this lineup every day and the lineup Ron Washington typically runs out -- at least against right-handed pitching -- is only a handful of runs over a full 162 games; seven total projected runs, to be exact (per this fun toy). In total, five runs of difference over a full season. It's pretty easy to believe stuff not accounted for -- like where certain hitters are comfortable, protection, splitting up lefties, etc. -- can more than make up for that difference.
So, the next time you engage in a conversation about batting order, refer to the BtB link above to take in a little bit farther. Tango's excellent book is also a must for anyone even remotely interested in baseball analysis, and he provides a lot of information in his blog as well. Just don't waste too much of your time complaining about it, when you could be spending more time complaining about bunts and reliever usage!
This post prompted by frequent discussion in the excellent community of Lone Star Ball.