A Lineup By The Numbers. How Would It Look?

Baseball is a game driven by numbers. Ardant fans pour over page after page of numbers. Mind numbing stats, situational numbers and all kinds of info. With the advance of computers, the numbers game is bigger than ever. So, if you look at the numbers, what should the Phillies lineup look like and how would it work?

Bobby Abreu: Perhaps no hitter in the Phillies lineup – with the possible exception of Jimmy Rollins – has had people talking about where he should be hitting. Both Terry Francona and Larry Bowa would have liked to try Abreu in the leadoff spot, but Abreu never felt comfortable there and has balked at taking over the job on a regular basis. Abreu's early season struggles were the main reason for the first lineup switch of the season, moving Abreu from fifth to third and putting him in front of Jim Thome.

Abreu has mainly been a number three hitter in his career. The addition of Jim Thome brought up an interesting question though of what to do with Abreu, since Bowa wanted to keep the left-hand hitting Abreu and Thome seperated by Pat Burrell.

As it turns out, the numbers point to Abreu hitting – are you ready? – fourth. As a cleanup hitter, Abreu is a .316 hitter with a .411 OBP. Both numbers are better than any of his numbers in any other spot in the lineup. Not surprisingly, his second best position is third.

Jimmy Rollins: Rollins looks like a leadoff hitter. He's got the speed for the job, there's no doubt about that. Problem is that Rollins considers himself an RBI man, which isn't suited for a leadoff job. Early in the season, Rollins was hitting seventh with Marlon Byrd leading off. Since both were struggling and Rollins swore that he had seen the light and could handle the leadoff job, Bowa switched the two. Good move?

While the sample numbers aren't quite high enough to be sure, it looks like the best spot for Rollins isn't leadoff or seventh; It's sixth. Rollins has been a number six hitter for 84 at bats in the last three seasons and has hit .345 with a .368 OBP out of the sixth spot. Those are by far his best numbers.

Can Rollins drive in enough runs to hit sixth? Again, the sample size is small, but Rollins drove in a run every 8.4 at bats as a number six hitter. Current number six hitter, Mike Lieberthal, has driven in a run every 10.8 at bats from the sixth spot.

Rollins second best spot is eighth. He gets on base at a .366 clip out of the eighth spot in the order over the last three seasons.

Marlon Byrd: Of all the Phillies hitters, it's hardest to tell the best spot for Byrd, since he is such a young player. It looks like Byrd might simply be one of those slow starters, not unlike another former Phillie, Ron Gant. Every year, Gant would get off to a horrible start, but by the end of the year, the numbers would be there. The point is that Byrd did well in the leadoff spot last season and he should probably be there now.

The righty/lefty issue: This may be one of the most over exagerrated issues in baseball. In most cases, you're talking minor adjustments to stats. Is that true in the Phillies case?

If Thome and Burrell hit back-to-back against a left-hander, their combined numbers are 207-824 (.251) with one homerun every 16 at bats. If they're facing a right-hander, they're a combined 659-2407 (.273) with one homerun every 13 at bats.

Put Abreu and Thome back-to-back and they're 256-979 (.261) with one homerun every 33 at bats against left-handers. Against righties; 716-2342 (.306) with one homerun every 12 at bats.

So, are the Phillies really hurt by having Abreu and Thome back-to-back? Against left-handers, Thome and Abreu actually have a higher average than do Thome and Burrell. Against lefties though, you're twice as likely to get a homerun with the Thome/Burrell combo than with Thome/Abreu. Against righties, Abreu and Thome produce about the same amount of homeruns as Thome and Burrell, but hit about 30 points higher. Keep in mind though that 30 points difference in average is only three hits in 100 at bats. In this case, the homerun difference is enough that you probably do want to separate Thome and Abreu in the order.

So, after crunching the numbers, where do we stand? This would be the suggested Phillies lineup:
  1. Marlon Byrd – CF
  2. Placido Polanco – 2B
  3. Bobby Abreu – RF
  4. Pat Burrell – LF
  5. Jim Thome – 1B
  6. Jimmy Rollins – SS
  7. Mike Lieberthal – C
  8. David Bell – 3B

Using just the numbers is interesting, but it leaves out important factors. While we were able to split Abreu and Thome well enough, does Jimmy Rollins really give enough protection for Jim Thome? Probably not.

You also need to factor in what you're looking for. The proposed lineup by the numbers goes primarily for getting the best averages out of your hitters and fitting guys into the right spots. If you really want homeruns, you want Thome hitting fourth. Since he goes deep once every 9 at bats in the fourth spot and once every 11 times hitting fifth, over 500 at bats, that could be a difference of about 10 homeruns per year if the numbers held. Having him hit fourth rather than third gives a difference of about 22 homeruns per season.

As interesting as numbers are and as much of a numbers game as baseball is, the bottom line is that it takes more than a calculator to figure out the lineup. There are personalities and other factors to consider. Bottom line? The Phillies have won four in a row and the lineup seems to be working. Don't mess with success.

Batting Average and OBP Based on Position in the Batting Lineup


All stats are based on the 2001-2003 seasons. The number in parenthesis is the number of at bats in that spot in the order. Keep in mind that if a player enters the game as part of a double switch, he is considered to be hitting in the spot in the order that he is inserted.

 

1st

2nd

3rd

4th

5th

6th

7th

8th

Jimmy Rollins

.263/.321 (936)

.251/.300 (748)

-

-

.000/.250 (3)

.345/.368 (84)

.258/.352 (62)

.275/.366 (80)

Placido Polanco

.272/.341 (81)

.294/.336 (1307)

.550/.625 (20)

.000/.000 (2)

.440/.517 (25)

.333/.349 (42)

.253/.323 (87)

.200/.304 (20)

Bobby Abreu

.250/.348 (20)

.000/.500 (1)

.298/.406 (1249)

.316/.411 (396)

.250/.364 (64)

.000/.333 (2)

-

-

Jim Thome

-

-

.253/.374 (292)

.308/.435 (715)

.276/.418 (439)

.280/.372 (118)

.267/.421 (15)

.000/.000 (3)

Pat Burrell

-

-

.211/.407 (19)

.254/.361 (531)

.229/.323 (328)

.252/.329 (423)

.277/.361 (300)

.125/.125 (8)

Mike Lieberthal

-

.000/.000 (1)

.222/.222 (9)

.293/.361 (133)

.296/.357 (534)

.259/.321 (205)

.314/.398 (188)

.250/.333 (32)

Marlon Byrd

.319/.374 (326)

-

-

.667/.667 (3)

.500/.500 (4)

.357/.471 (14)

.000/.000 (10)

.271/.348 (144)

David Bell

.254/.344 (189)

.225/.259 (111)

-

-

.074/.138 (27)

.190/.280 (200)

.251/.316 (395)

.278/.346 (320)


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