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Art of Baseball Lineup Making

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 …

1st
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.

2nd

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.

3rd
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.

4th
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.

5th

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.

6th
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.

7th
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.

8th

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.

9th
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.

Pinch Hitters
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.


Member Comments
# 1 jrod1981 @ 03/05/08 03:22 PM
I'm gonna have to print this out! Makes me realize what the cubs are doing wrong. They are trying to make guys fit where they really aren't designed for.
 
# 2 jake44np @ 03/05/08 03:46 PM
Decent article filled with some common knowledge if you a baseball fan.
 
# 3 Trevytrev11 @ 03/05/08 03:46 PM
Kind of funny...this year LaRussa is going to bat his pitchers 8th. In hopes that Pujols will have a few more RBI opportunities later in the games.
 
# 4 Steelerfan2k1 @ 03/05/08 03:48 PM
Great article! You know - much of this actually applies to slowpitch softball as well (only you have 10 hitters instead of 9).
 
# 5 jdros13 @ 03/05/08 04:23 PM
I applaud the effort of writing articles, but you guys need to do a much better job editing if you are going to do this. In the third paragraph it is "here" not "hear" and in the 5th paragraph it is "two", not "to". I haven't read the rest of the article yet.

Many won't care, but it really looks bad to be "published" with these blatant errors. If it was a forum post I wouldn't even comment.

Just my $.02....again I applaud the effort. I'll finish the article now...
 
# 6 Jistic @ 03/05/08 04:28 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by dkgojackets
Everything I've read says that batting order actually matters very little...if you assume the pitcher bats 9th than the difference between the optimal lineup and worst lineup possible is just 6%, and that required some really ridiculous stuff in the worst order.

It's much more important what players the manager chooses to have bat, not the order they hit in, although ideas like alternating lefties/righties and keeping the real slow players with double play potential separate have merit.
You are dead on. They've done countless studies on this, lineup means very little.
 
# 7 ChaseB @ 03/05/08 04:55 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by jdros13
I applaud the effort of writing articles, but you guys need to do a much better job editing if you are going to do this. In the third paragraph it is "here" not "hear" and in the 5th paragraph it is "two", not "to". I haven't read the rest of the article yet.

Many won't care, but it really looks bad to be "published" with these blatant errors. If it was a forum post I wouldn't even comment.

Just my $.02....again I applaud the effort. I'll finish the article now...
Yea that was our bad. Writers submit articles the day before, but this one slipped through the editing process and wasn't checked I guess. Inexcusable, but now fixed.
 
# 8 snepp @ 03/05/08 06:44 PM
Well, since the grammar/typo can has already been opened....

In the 3rd paragraph under "1st" it has OPB rather than OBP. And then under "3rd" it has OBS (assuming it should be OBP again).
 
# 9 KRS-One @ 03/05/08 09:32 PM
I'd disagree slightly with the 6 and 7 spots in an AL lineup. It's common knowledge (at least, as far as I know, it's common knowledge...if that makes sense) that the 7th hitter is the "second cleanup hitter." Your 6th hitter should be a guy who makes good contact, can move guys around the bases, etc. (much like your #2 hitter) and then your #7 guy should have decent power to the gaps so that he can drive in any guys still on base from the meat of the lineup.
 
# 10 ChaseB @ 03/05/08 09:58 PM
So you'd say NL and AL lineups start to differ at #6 rather than #7 KRS?
 
# 11 Cletus @ 03/05/08 10:22 PM
I think you're forgetting there's more than one way to do a lineup. There's the Speed, Control, Contact way. It isn't used in MLB at all because of the abundance of power hitters. basically you have your line up split into 3 sections. The first hitter is your speed guy, second guy can move runners along and 3rd guy is the contact guy. It is a very useful lineup if you do not have sluggers on your team. Sometimes in lineups, I like to arrange my 3rd hitter as my power hitter and my 4th guy as my contact guy, it just depends on who is getting on base and if I need my 4th hitter to get on base or not.
 
# 12 SHO @ 03/05/08 11:01 PM
Good stuff.
 
# 13 Cletus @ 03/05/08 11:07 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by snepp
Well, since the grammar/typo can has already been opened....

In the 3rd paragraph under "1st" it has OPB rather than OBP. And then under "3rd" it has OBS (assuming it should be OBP again).
I'm almost sure that OBS is On Base + Slugging %
 
# 14 sbmnky @ 03/06/08 03:20 AM
This is one of the reasons I love the game of baseball. We can debate endlessly about the "art" of making a lineup. Most have differing opinions. There is no cut and dry answer! I love it!
 
# 15 gamerk2 @ 03/06/08 03:20 AM
Someone PLEASE read "Historical Baseball Abstact". It's quite clear only a handful of people understand what stats are important in baseball.

1st: Highest OBP player who hits fewer than 25 HR a year. HR hitters should be deeper in the lineup (will likely have more men on base when they go deep).

Speed is welcomed, but the ability to get on base comes first. You can't steal if you can't get on base. Look at Juan Pierre, who got a $40 million contract based on his speed, yet he doesn't get on base enough to help his team win. He'll get 40+ SB this year though, and apparently, thats all that counts.

2nd: Second best OBP non HR threat on team. Same reasoning as above

3rd: Best all-around hitter

4th-5th: Top power hitters, preferably a lefty/righty combo.

6th: Think Jorge Posada through most of his carrer. .270 with 20+ HR's every year.

7th-8th: fill in based on above and below hitters in lineup

9th: pitcher/speedy runner with low on-base-percentage (especially if your leadoff man has speed). This creates problems when he does happen to get on base, as the other hitters will likely score him on any hit to the outfield.


Remember, the only stats that matter are OBP and OPS. (On-base-percentage, and on-base-plus-slugging). Artificial stats like RBI's, HR's, and Runs scored do not and should not be a factor (yet, Tejada got an MVP based on 150 RBI, which is a function of how other players get on base...). HR's are influenced by league and ballpark, RBI's are based on overall team OBP, and Runs is based on how good the batters behind you are.
 
# 16 BlyGilmore @ 03/06/08 09:09 AM
Gamer - just because somebody put it into a book doesn't mean we should take every single thing they say and hold it as gospel.

I lot of what James and others say rings true, but in my opinion they often take things too far and get too focused in on numbers taking the human out of the equation.

For instance, saying RBI guys are just a product of team OBP. That completely negates the fact that certain players raise their game in situations where a runner is in scoring position - take Manny Ramirez as an example.

Another hallmark of SABR folks is there's no such thing as a clutch hitter. Most folks with an eye for the game will argue that tooth and nail.

I a lot of cases what you say is in the article. Take your explaination of the first hitter. Here is one of the paragraphs I wrote ...

Quote:
One mistake people make, however (including pro managers) is forcing a speedy player into this spot despite the fact he doesnít get on base enough. You can be a spark plug if you arenít standing on first base, so OBP and average really are your first concerns here.
Doesn't that address your concern about Pierre? And another way of saying OBP is saying "get on base."
 
# 17 BlyGilmore @ 03/06/08 10:42 AM
did i say last year? you see baseball has these things called seasons. they play more than one of them.

Manny career overall: .313 average, 1.002 OPS
Manny No Runners on: .297 average, .953 OPS
Manny Men On Total: .330 average, 1.052 OPS
Manny RISP: .328 average, 1.056 OPS

here is my favorite ...

Manny runners on 2nd and 3rd: .356 average, 1.274 OPS
 
# 18 BlyGilmore @ 03/06/08 10:55 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by dkgojackets
Futhermore, let's take everyone's posterboy for clutch, David Ortiz.

His career OPS is a very nice .943.

With RISP, this drops to .923.

With 2 outs and RISP, it is .921.

In the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings, .887.

In the ninth inning only, .774.

Clutch is a product of sportscenter highlights and remembering what you want to remember.
So over a span of two years in 2004 and 2005, Ortiz having something like 25 game winning hits in the 9th inning or extra innings, including several in the postseason, should just be ignored?

Here is the biggest problem with SABR folks I have, and your argument is a perfect example. They take all stats and put them on a platform where you have to consider all things are equal.

Comparing the 9th inning to other innings is flawed in and of itself, simply because if its a close game you are facing a teams closer. Hitting .300 with a 1.000 OPS against Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning isn't the same as doing it for a season.

Your stats above also take all 9th innings and put them together as if always hitting in the 9th inning requires clutch hitting. I'm sure some of those ninth inning stats are from games that are already over.

Find me the following and we can talk about Ortiz ...

- 9th inning or extra innings in a situation where one swing can mean the difference and his stats in those situations.

- The rest of the leagues stats in that same situation (after all clutch is coming through when most people don't - that's why you want Ortiz there and not say A-Rod, because Ortiz is going to come through more times).

(btw Ortiz before 2003 or 2004 isn't the same as Ortiz after that - in this arguement I wouldn't consider anything he did in Minnesota to be part of the argument because frankly he's not the same player now as he was then).

To me this is a classic case of SABR folks talking themselves out of something any 8 year old kid can notice while watching a game - that there are certain players you want up in certain situations over other players.

Like many things in life all baseball answers aren't strictly old school thinking or SABR thinking - they lie some place in the middle. And in a lot of ways the whole SABR thing is still evolving. To me this is a classic argument example - just because you can't accurately measure it doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
 
# 19 BlyGilmore @ 03/06/08 11:07 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by KRS-One
I'd disagree slightly with the 6 and 7 spots in an AL lineup. It's common knowledge (at least, as far as I know, it's common knowledge...if that makes sense) that the 7th hitter is the "second cleanup hitter." Your 6th hitter should be a guy who makes good contact, can move guys around the bases, etc. (much like your #2 hitter) and then your #7 guy should have decent power to the gaps so that he can drive in any guys still on base from the meat of the lineup.
There are certainly different schools of though on constructing a lineup. What I presented just happens to be one. As I mentioned its really an art form more than a science, and of course a huge factor in this is the players you have available to you.

The one flaw I see in the "second cleanup hitter" theory is a player who has the attributes you mentioned would be better served batting higher up simply because it means he'll see more at bats.

To me a big part of the bottom slots in the lineup is turning it over to get back to your top players. So I'd rather take that contact you have hitting 6th, put him 7th or 8th (assuming NL) and move that second cleanup guy to 6th - giving him a chance to mop up any RBIs your 4 and 5 guys have left, or to drive in the 4 and 5 guys if they hit doubles.
 
# 20 BlyGilmore @ 03/06/08 11:08 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Trevytrev11
Kind of funny...this year LaRussa is going to bat his pitchers 8th. In hopes that Pujols will have a few more RBI opportunities later in the games.
I know he's been threatening to do that for a while, and if i'm not mistaken he's done it a few times in spring training games before. It'll be interesting to see how that works out.
 

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