Putting together a lineup in baseball is really much more of an art than a science, with many baseball insiders having very different ideas about how to construct the perfect lineup.
This article is going to take you through the process, shed some light on rules of thumb and discuss what a lineup should look like in a perfect world. The catch, as always, is getting the players to match the system – after all how many pure leadoff men are in the game today?
The first tip is to try and alternate lefties and righties as much as possible. The hope here is to make your opponent use a left handed specialist late in the game and have him face only one hitter before going to the pen for another right hander.
One mistake a lot of folks make is treating all switch hitters like wildcards, when all hitters aren’t near equal from both sides. Putting a switch hitter who is much better from the left side of the plate in between two lefties is screaming for the specialist to come out and foil your plans.
You should also try and avoid stacking two or more big strikeout guys. Nothing can kill a rally quite like two big bashers coming to the plate and striking out. Sure you have the chance for a big inning, but if neither put the ball in play nothing good can ever happen.
So with that said, here we go …
Perhaps the one spot in the lineup where there really are few players available. Almost everybody has a .300 hitting third hitter – not everybody has a .300 hitting, 50 SB spark plug at the top of the lineup. Ideally that is what you are looking for here. A player who gets on base at a regular clip, doesn’t strike out too much, with a lot of speed.
Ideally you’re looking for a guy who can steal bases at a high clip, but that isn’t always an option. If you need to you can settle for a player who might not have base stealing speed, but can score from 2nd on a base hit up the middle.
One mistake people make, however (including pro managers) is forcing a speedy player into this spot despite the fact he doesn’t get on base enough. You can be a spark plug if you aren’t standing on first base, so OBP and average really are your first concerns here.
Personally, I don’t like my leadoff guy having a lot of pop in his bat. This day and age I don’t mind a guy hitting 20 HR from the leadoff spot, but when you start getting to guys who are hitting 30+ HR I’d prefer to have them a bit lower in the order.
You can almost think of this guys as a lead-off hitter with no speed and a bit more emphasis on making contact. Again I don’t like having a player with a ton of pop in his bat at this slot in the line. He should be able setting the table for the guys immediately following him, not swinging for the fences himself.
A player hitting second should also be a really good bunter, and by a similar token be able to situationally hit. In both cases this is all about moving a player from first base to second (bunt) and second to third (hitting a grounder to the right side of the infield) for your big boppers to drive in.
You also don’t want your second hitter striking out a lot. In fact, since you tend to be looking for a player with exceptional bat control, they usually strikeout less than anybody else on your team.
Your best all around hitter. While players hitting third often have a great deal of power, they also tend to have higher batting averages and OPS than the players behind them. If you are lucky enough to have two players that qualify to hit third, whichever hits for the better average and strikes out the least should be your choice.
Ahhh the cleanup hitter. Scorn of mediocre pitchers every where. This player is usually your second best overall hitter, but one who tends to hit for more power and strike out a bit more than your three hitter.
In a lot of ways your third fiddle players. A guy who’s got good power and contact but not quite the same as your three and four-hole guys. This spot in the lineup is all about the RBIs and often being the last chance to drive in any ducks on the pond your top two hitters left.
Or in many cases driving in a cleanup guy who hit a double and is sitting on second. Here you are looking for a player who strikes out less than the player you’re sticking in the six spot, with a bit more emphasis on hitting doubles if your choice comes down to doubles and homers with strikeouts.
You also want to make sure this player has some decent power – enough that he makes teams think twice about walking your clean-up guy, and can make them pay.
If the four hitter is the cleanup guy, the 6 hole is your last chance guy. The average lineup really isn’t going to offer much from your 7 to 9 guys, so this is going to often be the last spot you can expect good production out of.
For this reason you really don’t mind having a good home run hitting, striking out, average OBP/average guy in this spot. The six spot is tailor made for those guys who swing from the bottom of their shoes every pitch with no regard for situation or circumstance.
The seven spot is where American League and National League lineups really start differing. In the NL this spot is usually reserved for your worst overall hitter. The eight spot has some special jobs and circumstances that require him being a bit better hitter than your seventh guy.
In the AL your seven hitter tends to be a less talented version of your 6th hitter.
In the AL this is the same as the seven hitter in the NL – generally your worst overall hitter.
In the NL this is one of the more important spots in the lineup that nobody really pays attention to. Gamers also tend to put their worst hitter in this spot – which is silly.
In the NL this player has a number of jobs and responsibilities depending on the situation. Most often, he’s called upon to get on base and make sure the pitchers spot in the lineup is cleared. If there are 2 outs in an inning you would much rather have your pitcher make that final out and start with the top of the order than have your 8-hole end it and have to start with your pitcher.
(This is particularly true in the 5th or 6th inning when you might have to take a pitcher out early for the sake of your lineup).
It also means taking what your opponent is giving you and not swinging at bad pitches. Teams will often work around an eight hitter to get to the pitcher, and many times you have no problem letting them do this.
A player hitting in this spot should also be a good bunter with good bat control, who is able to either sacrifice a player, hit to the right side of the infield to move a player to third, or hit the ball into a hole and get on base. Each of these comes in handy late in the game when you need to mount an offense and plan on using a pinch hitter.
In the NL this is your pitcher. He is generally worthless and you should almost always plan on this spot in the lineup being an out. Any time you start thinking “well IF my pitcher can get on base …” you’re in trouble.
In the AL this player is considered more of a secondary leadoff hitter than a secondary … umm … second hitter like in the NL. With professional hitters (no matter how bad) stocking a lineup from top to bottom in the AL, you really don’t have a need for a player to concentrate on turning over the lineup.
This is a great spot for a speed demon type who isn’t the greatest hitter in the world – especially if he can drop the occasional drag bunt and get on base. If he can get on and cause problems that’s great.
This is another great example of why the AL tends to have an advantage head to head over the NL. In the NL you really need to reserve spots on your roster for versatile utility players. With the amount of double switching that goes on, you need to safe guard against potentially not having a skilled player to play shortstop or third base.
The AL will tend to us these spots for corner outfielders and hard hitting backup first basemen.
Ideally I like to have two players I can count on for pinch hitting late in the game – both a lefty and a righty. Obviously they won’t be super stars, but you’d love to have good contact, good power guys.
One tip is to have your pinch hitters play the same positions as your 6, 7 and 8 hitters. This will allow you to do a pre-emptive double switch and keep your pinch hitter in the game.