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April 13, 2012; Toronto, ON, CANADA; Toronto Blue Jays manager John Farrell (52) prior to a game against the Baltimore Orioles at the Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-US PRESSWIRE

Blue Jays Batting Order Optimization

About a year ago, I wrote a post about batting order optimization. Two main points were covered. First, a team’s best hitters should bat first, second and fourth in the lineup. Second, batting order optimization doesn’t make nearly as much of an impact as most people think. Research has shown that the difference between the worst lineup configuration and the best is roughly one win per 162-game season.

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 etc.).

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. However, sabermetric research diverges from traditional baseball norms on one of the most important spots in the lineup: 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 etc.) 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.

Don’t take my word for it though.. Check out The Book by Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman and Andrew Dolphin. Lots of great statistical analysis in there, it’s a must read for every serious baseball fan.

Also, check out this post  by Sky Kalkman on Beyond the Boxscore. Kalkman lays out the basics of The Books research into batting order optimization. His post contains exactly the info that I would like to pass on in this piece, so I’m going to take the liberty of copy and pasting some of the most relevant bits (remember, The Book literally means The Book by Tango, Lichtman and Dolphin):

On the lead off hitter:

The Book says OBP is king.  The lead-off hitter comes to bat only 36% of the time with a runner on base, versus 44% of the time for the next lowest spot in the lineup, so why waste homeruns?  The lead-off hitter also comes to the plate the most times per game, so why give away outs?  As for speed, stealing bases is most valuable in front of singles hitters, and since the top of the order is going to be full of power hitters, they’re not as important.  The lead-off hitter is one of the best three hitters on the team, the guy without homerun power.  Speed is nice, as this batter will have plenty of chances to run the bases with good hitters behind him.”

On the two hole:

The Book says the #2 hitter comes to bat in situations about as important as the #3 hitter, but more often.  That means the #2 hitter should be better than the #3 guy, and one of the best three hitters overall.  And since he bats with the bases empty more often than the hitters behind him, he should be a high-OBP player.”

On third in the order:

The Book says the #3 hitter comes to the plate with, on average, fewer runners on base than the #4 or #5 hitters.  So why focus on putting a guy who can knock in runs in the #3 spot, when the two spots after him can benefit from it more?  Surprisingly, because he comes to bat so often with two outs and no runners on base, the #3 hitter isn’t nearly as important as we think.  This is a spot to fill after more important spots are taken care of.”


The Book says the #4 hitter comes to bat in the most important situations out of all nine spots, but is equal in importance to the #2 hole once you consider the #2 guy receives more plate appearances.  The cleanup hitter is the best hitter on the team with power.”


The Book says the #5 guy can provide more value than the #3 guy with singles, doubles, triples, and walks, and avoiding outs, although the #3 guy holds an advantage with homeruns.  After positions #1, #2, and #4 are filled, put your next best hitter here, unless he lives and dies with the long ball.”

Sixth through ninth:

“Stolen bases are most valuable ahead of high-contact singles hitters, who are more likely to hit at the bottom of the lineup.  So a base-stealing threat who doesn’t deserve a spot higher in the lineup is optimized in the #6 hole, followed by the singles hitters.”

Otherwise, it’s the best hitter still available descending to the worst.

So you might be wondering, what is the Jays’ optimal batting order? Here it is, based on The Book and career wOBA’s vs righty’s and lefties:

Against right-handed starters:

1- Yunel Escobar: SS

Career: wOBA: .338/ OBP: .363/ SLG: .399 /wOBA vs. rhp: .339 / vs. lhp: .341 / Career SB: 21 of 38 attempts

2- Kelly Johnson: 2B

wOBA: .344 /OPB: .344/ SLG: .442/ vs rhp: .341/ vs. lhp: .350/ SB: 58 of 85

3- Brett Lawrie: 3b (small sample size)

Career wOBA: .384 / OBP: .363/SLG: .vs. rhp: .401/ vs. lhp: .328/ SB: 8 of 11

4- Jose Bautista: RF

wOBA: .363/OBP: .362/ SLG: .479/vs.  rhp: .358/vs lhp: .377/ SB: 32 of 48

5- Adam Lind: 1B

wOBA: .335/ OBP .316/ SLG: .464/ vs. rhp: .358/ vs. lhp: .269/ SB: 5 of 9

6- Colby Rasmus: CF

wOBA: .326/ OBP: .321/ SLG: .431/ vs. rhp: .336 /vs. lhp: .296 / SB: 21 of 32

7- Eric Thames: LF (small sample size)

wOBA: .328/ OBP: .312/ SLG: .446/ vs. rhp: .343/ vs. lhp: .273/ SB: 2 of 3

8- Edwin Encarnacion: DH

wOBA: .344/ OBP: .335 / SLG: .454/ vs rhp: .334/ vs lhp: .366 / SB 31 of 38

9- J.P. Arencibia: C

wOBA: .395/ OBP: .268/ SLG: .417/ vs. rhp: .289/ vs. lhp: .316/ SB: 1 of 2

Against left-handed starters:

1- Yunel Escobar: SS

Career: wOBA: .338/ OBP: .363/ SLG: .399 /wOBA vs. rhp: .339 / vs. lhp: .341 / Career SB: 21 of 38 attempts

2- Kelly Johnson: 2B

wOBA: .344 /OPB: .344/ SLG: .442/ vs rhp: .341/ vs. lhp: .350/ SB: 58 of 85

3- Brett Lawrie: 3B (small sample size)

Career wOBA: .384 / OBP: .363/SLG: .vs. rhp: .401/ vs. lhp: .328/ SB: 8 of 11

4- Jose Bautista: RF

wOBA: .363/OBP: .362/ SLG: .479/vs.  rhp: .358/vs lhp: .377/ SB: 32 of 48

5- Edwin Encarnacion: 1B

wOBA: .344/ OBP: .335 / SLG: .454/ vs rhp: .334/ vs lhp: .366 / SB 31 of 38

6- Ben Francisco: DH

wOBA: .332/ OBP: .321/ SLG: .429/ vs. rhp: .331/ vs. lhp: .336/ SB: 30 of 46

7- Rajai Davis: LF

wOBA: .318/ OBP: .319/ SLG: .377/ vs. rhp: .293/ vs lhp: .337 SB: 179 of 228

 8-J.P. Arencibia: C

wOBA: .395/ OBP: .268/ SLG: .417/ vs. rhp: .289/ vs. lhp: .316/ SB: 1 of 2

9- Colby Rasmus: CF

wOBA: .326/ OBP: .321/ SLG: .431/ vs. rhp: .336 /vs. lhp: .296 / SB: 21 of 32

Stick Jeff Mathis or Omar Vizquel in the 9th spot whenever they are in the lineup.


John Farrell has shuffled the lineup quite a bit to start the 2012 season, but he has not gone far enough. Farrell needs to recognize the inability of some of his lefty bats to hit left-handed pitching. Specifically Lind, who has had more than enough big league at-bats to prove his platoon split deficiency.

Farrell has been pinch-hitting in righty/lefty situations which is a positive development. Now he just needs to move Bautista to the cleanup spot to maximize his value.

What do you think? Let me know if you love or hate my lineups in the comments section!

Stats courtesy of Fangraphs


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