The Lineup Doesn't Matter

You know what would be a really stupid thing to do? Argue with someone who tells you that the Pirates offense is bad.

Let me tell you something. The Pirates offense is bad. If you argue with me you’re stupid.

Something slightly less stupid would be to say that the offense is bad because of the order of the lineup that Clint Hurdle throws out. Alright, that would still be stupid – but it might just be due to ignorance. McEffect is here to educate. 

First of all let’s kick this thing in terms of baseball in general. A few years ago Baseball Prospectus did a study program that they called Baseball Lineup Order Optimization Program (BLOOP). Without getting too heavy on details, BLOOP ran tens of thousands of simulation games and played with all kinds of different batting orders. They first used a lineup of players similar to what a major league team would field. They ran every possible lineup combination enough times to get rid of the element of randomness that a small sample size would lead to, and what they found was surprising. Here’s a quote from Baseball Between The Numbers, where I’m getting all of this information.

the difference between the most optimal (lineups ordered by descending OBP or slugging average [SLG]) and least optimal batting orders (for example, lineups where the pitcher bats leadoff and the best players bat a the bottom of the order) was 26 runs, a similar finding to several other previous studies on batting order. Although 26 runs (about 2.5 wins in the standings) may seem like a big difference, that’s the gap between the most and least optimal lineups; few managers ever reach these extremes. The standard baseball lineup actually comes fairly close to achieving optimal results based on our simulation. Changing a lineup from the industry standard to our ideal model typically nets at most 10 runs over a whole season, or about 1 win. This small range of available improvement means that minor changes to the lineup for brief periods of time have virtually no discernible effect on run scoring.

There’s not much else to say from that. According to this study, the minor tweaks in the lineup that Clint Hurdle is making aren’t helping or hurting the team in any way.

That doesn’t mean they are entirely worthless. It’s good to get guys looks early in the season and try to feel out where guys are more or less comfortable, and I think that’s largely what we have been seeing. Also, for a team like the Pirates that are going to play a ton of low scoring games, the individual run means a lot – which means a 10-15 run swing could actually correlate to an above average win improvement.

All of that aside, the lineup isn’t as important as you may have thought. Personally I don’t really buy into the ordeal where certain players are more comfortable in certain spots. You’re up there to get on base; that doesn’t change. Some guys are better with the bat in terms of bunting and situational hitting, which factors in to the lineup order, but in general it doesn’t make a noticeable difference.


Tags: Clint Hurdle

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