The Pittsburgh Pirates had Andrew McCutchen in the third spot in the order earlier this season. Aki Iwamura batted leadoff. How many times would Cutch come to the plate with nobody on base?
When Jose Tabata came up from AAA, the Pirates had McCutchen in the third spot again. It bothered us. We didn’t like Cutch in the three hole.
Since we are not nearly as smart as some of the writers on Fansided, we knew if we looked around we could find someone who could do a nice job explaining the reasons why McCutchen is not currently the optimal solution in the Pirates third spot in the batting order.
Michael Jong explains the third spot in his excellent ‘Third Is Not The Best’ article. Jong discusses lineup optimization in the article at Fansided’s new baseball blog.
Here is a tease:
Managers are of course correct in that the #3 hitter does see a lot of runners on base. From 1999-2002, #3 hitters averaged 2.23 PA per game with runners on, the second highest amount among all lineup slots. However, the slot also saw an average of 3.00 runners per game, only third among lineup slots. The #4 and #5 hitters all saw more runners on during the course of a game on average than the #3 hitter.
We feel McCutchen belongs in the leadoff spot. The importance of the leadoff spot is also discussed by Jong, in his article ‘Learning Leadoff.’
Because the leadoff spot is first in the lineup, it also garners the most plate appearances. This is often a forgotten aspect of the lineup, but it is nevertheless an important one. Leadoff men saw 4.82 PA per game in 1999-2002, 0.12 PA/game more than the next closest slot (#2). With more PA comes more opportunities, both to fail and succeed. That is why OBP is so important for leadoff men: it is not necessarily that they need to “set the table” so much that they need to make sure the table is set a decent amount of times. A player who makes too many outs on a rate basis (OBP is a measure of how often a player does not make outs) will accumulate more outs by batting leadoff and thus hurt his team.
Remember how awful the Pirates were early in the season? Iwamura had anemic production in the leadoff spot. Pitiful. Even though Tabata is hitting the ball extremely well right now, he has been unlucky, a .258 BABIP attempts to show that fact. But overall, Tabata in the the top spot didn’t spark the club. His OBP is .293, while McCutchen has a .372 OBP. Combine the OBP of McCutchen and the 2009 production, if I was the man to make the lineup, Cutch would be etched in the top spot.
So, let’s trust Tabata and McCutchen keep improving their on-base percentages as the season progresses. A successful top of the order would set the stage for the Pirates new three hitter Neil Walker. How nice would it be to see The Pittsburgh Kid hit a couple dozen or so doubles to plate Cutch and Tabata?
Tonight against the Milwaukee Brewers would be a good place to see the optimized Pirates lineup in action.