First off, I will state that this batting order analysis is not intended to predict the line up that John Farrell will use this season. It is instead a look at the way in which the Blue Jays can optimize run production by using sabermetric batting order principles. My main source for these ideas is The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball by Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman and Andrew Dolphin. In conjunction with their research on batting order composition, I will be using both the Marcel* statistical projections for the 2011 season and the actual career statistics of Blue Jay batters.
There are a number of conventional ideas about batting order construction that have, through advanced statistical research, proven to be false. Through analysis of the number of times each position in the batting order is at a given base/out state**, the authors of The Book were able to determine more accurately which types of hitters would be best suited for each order slot. In short, their research showed how often each spot in the batting order would have an opportunity to affect the outcome of a game (in terms of run production) with the various events in baseball (walks, singles, home runs, strike outs ect.).
The findings of this research were that the best hitters on the team should bat in the first, second and fourth spots, with the fourth and fifth best hitters in the third and fifth spots. The players with the best OBP should lead off and hit second, while the player with the most power should hit clean up.
This is of course, hardly ground breaking information. Anyone who knows anything about baseball could tell you that. However, sabermetric research diverges from traditional baseball norms on one of the most important spots in the line up: the three hole. According to the research by Tango, Lichtman and Dolphin, both the second and fifth hitters should be better overall than the third hitter. This is because (through analysis of thousands of games and tens of thousands of plate appearances), the run values per event (single, walk ect.) are higher for the second and fifth spots than the third hitter. The differences are slight, but they are real. The one caveat that should be mentioned, is that the run values per home run are actually marginally greater for the third spot than the fifth. Therefore, if a manager has two players of roughly equal hitting skill to fill those spots, the one with the most home run power should hit third.
Overall, the general consensus in the sabermetric community is that batting order construction has only a marginal impact on run production. That is, if it is done with even the slightest baseball common sense. However, when it is done using the proper statistical analysis, the amount of runs that typically determine several games (average win is accomplished with approximately 5 runs), can be gained or lost. Playoff spots are won and lost by single wins or losses, so it goes without saying that much is at stake.
With that basic outline, here is my Blue Jays batting order for the 2011 season:
1. Lead Off: CF Rajai Davis
Career: PA 1455/ AVG 281/ OBP 330/ SLG 383/ OPS 713/ wOBA 326
Marcel: PA 524/ AVG 324/ OBP 324/ SLG 385/ OPS 709/ wOBA 323
Last Season: PA 561/ HR 5/ 2B 28/ 3B 3/ RBI 52/SB 50/ CS 11
Rajai Davis may not have the type of OBP of a typical lead off hitter, but unfortunately few Jays do. Davis is instead the leadoff hitter by default. He gains the edge because of his tremendous speed, 143 career stolen bases (79%). If Davis can get back to his 2007 and 2009 form where he had an OBP of 360 and 361, he will be a very good lead off hitter for the Blue Jays.
2. SS Yunel Escobar
Career: PA 2113/ AVG 289/ OBP 364/ SLG 397/ OPS 762/ wOBA 338
Marcel: PA 544/ AVG 273/ OBP 350/ SLG 378/ OPS 728/ wOBA 326
Last season: PA 567/ HR 4/ 2B 19/ 3B 0/ RBI 35
Yunel Escobar had a dreadful first half last season: 238/334/284. After being traded to the Jays (along with Jo Jo Reyes) for Alex Gonzalez, Tim Collins and Taylor Pastronicky his numbers moved closer to his career averages: 275/340/356. Escobar will be just 28 this season, and if he is able to hit close to his career OBP (.364), he will be the ideal Jay for the second spot in the order.
3.1B Adam Lind
Career: PA 1992/ AVG 271/ OBP 322/ SLG 473/ OPS 796/ wOBA 341
Marcel: PA 572/ AVG 268/ OBP 324/ SLG 464/ OPS 788/ wOBA 340
Last season: PA 613/ HR 23/ 2B 32/ 3B 3/ RBI 72
Adam Lind is another Blue entering his prime years this season (turns 28 on July 17th). After an extremely productive 2009 season where he hit 305/370/562, Lind struggled last year hitting 237/287/425. His main problem was left handed pitching: 117/159/182. It is too early to put Lind into a platoon role, as he has just 471 career PA against LHP, however that change could come as early as the all star break. On the positive side, even with last year’s awful numbers, Lind is still a 271/322/473 hitter who could easily explode for a 2009 like performance this season.
4. 3B Jose Bautista
Career: PA 2721/ AVG 244/ OBP 342/ SLG 453/ OPS 794/ wOBA 346
Marcel: PA 582/ AVG 246/ OBP 346/ SLG 486/ OPS 832/ wOBA 362
Last season: PA 683/ HR 54/ 2B 35/ 3B 3/ RBI 124
Last years Hank Aaron award winner, and reigning home run champ is clearly the Jay best suited for clean up. Last year Bautista slugged an incredible .617, and also got on base at a very respectable .378 clip. Still just 30 years old, Bautista should be very productive batting fourth for the Jays this season.
5. LF Travis Snider
Career: PA 675/ AVG 255/ OBP 318/ SLG 446/ OPS 764/ wOBA 331
Marcel: PA 387/ AVG 264/ OBP 329/ SLG 444/ OPS 773/ wOBA 338
Last season PA 319/ HR 14/ 2B 20/ 3B 0/ RBI 32
This may be a controversial selection, however I believe that the numbers Snider has already put up in the major leagues at such a young age make him a perfect candidate for a huge break out season. The kid can flat out rake, with prodigious power to all fields. If he stays healthy this year, his power numbers are going to be monstrous.
6. DH Edwin Encarnacion
Career: PA 2548/ AVG 258/ OBP 336/ SLG 453/ OPS 790/ wOBA 344
Marcel: PA 417/ AVG 244/ OBP 321/ SLG 444/ OPS 766/ wOBA 334
Last season: PA 417/ HR 21/ 2B 16/ 3B 0/ RBI 51
Edwin Encarnacion cannot play third base, period. He can however, hit with very impressive power. Case in point, 21 long balls last season in just 417 PA’s. Even more remarkable is the rate at which Encarnacion mashes lefties: 264/370/470 over his career (606 PA). If Lind continues to struggle against left handed pitching, he could be a viable platoon option at DH or 1B. In a full season, 30+ jacks are not out of reach for the 28 year old.
7. 2B Aaron Hill
Career: PA 3213/ AVG 270/ OBP 325/ SLG 427/ OPS 752/ wOBA 327
Marcel: PA 563/ AVG 247/ OBP 305/ SLG 426/ OPS 731/ wOBA 320
Last season: PA 580/ HR 26/ 2B 22/ 3B 0/ RBI 68
Aaron Hill nearly hit below the Mendoza line last season .205, and got on base at a rate of .271. Shockingly bad numbers for a player in his prime coming off an outstanding season. Surely he won’t be as bad as he was last year, or as good as he was in 2009. Regression to mean should put Hill back to respectable second baseman production.
8.RF Juan Rivera
Career: PA 2927/ AVG 280/ OBP 328/ SLG 461/ OPS 789/ wOBA 337
Marcel: PA 485/ AVG 259/ OBP 311/ SLG 426/ OPS 737/ wOBA 320
Last season: PA 455/ HR 50/ 2B 20/ 3B 0/ RBI 52
Juan Rivera has had some good seasons in his career, but unfortunately last year was not one of them. Rivera hit 252/312/409 in 2010 and is likely starting to regress as he gets deeper into his thirties (turns 33 on July 3rd). If he can play at least league average defense in right field, he should be able to find a regular spot in the batting order as a stop-gap measure this season.
9. C J.P Arencibia
Career: PA 37/ AVG 143/ OBP 189/ SLG 343/ OPS 532/ wOBA 232
Marcel: PA 218/ AVG 250/ OBP 318/ SLG 418/ OPS 736/ wOBA 324
2010 AAA: PA 459/ AVG 301/ OBP 359/ SLG 626/ OPS 986/ HR 31/ RBI 85
J.P Arencibia must get the majority of starts behind the plate for the Jays this season. There is absolutely nothing left for him to prove in AAA (PCL MVP 2010), so no matter his struggles, this season should be his. He won’t hit for average or OBP, but Arencibia has plus power and should be an above average offensive catcher as early as this season.
Another option for the line up, would be to move Adam Lind down in the order (to 7th) when facing left handed starting pitching. In his place, could be a right handed batter like Edwin Encarnacion (career wOBA 365 vs LHP) or Aaron Hill (career wOBA 338 vs LHP). I would however, suggest that more time is needed to determine whether or not Lind can handle lefties. Lind was horrible against them last year, but the sample size is too small to make an accurate judgment. Lind had also shown the ability to hit LHP prior to 2010, batting 275/318/461 in 2009. If he continues to struggle early this season, a change will be necessary.
The biggest key to the success of this lineup will be the ability of Davis and Escobar to get on base. The Jays were first in home runs last season, but just 9th in runs scored. This is primarily due to the fact that they ranked 26th in the MLB in OBP. If they can get more men on base before hitting home runs, they will likely move up the runs scored list.
*Marcel is a projection system created by Tom Tango. Tango is a widely respected sabermetrics researcher and author.
**Base/out stats refer to the 24 possible states of men on base, and the number of outs. For example, one base/out state is: man on first with one out.