Spring Training games begin today! And that means we get our first Orioles lineup of the season. As just tweeted by MLB.com beat writer @Britt_Ghiroli, here's how the O's will look today (positions guesstimated for now):
CF Adam Jones
SS Cesar Izturis
RF Nick Markakis
3B Miguel Tejada
CA Matt Wieters
LF Luke Scott
1B Garrett Atkins
DH Josh Bell
2B Justin Turner
The Orioles are obviously without Brian Roberts and Nolan Reimold as those two ease into spring training while recovering from injuries, but once those guys are back, what will the lineup look like for Opening Day? Most importantly, what should the lineup look like for Opening Day?
Let's make a few assumptions:
1) Reimold will start in left field
2) Atkins will start at first base
3) Scott will DH
3) Everyone is healthy
I've been reading The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball by noted sabermetricians Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman, and Andrew Dolphin, and these guys have quite a bit to say about lineup optimization. Let's highlight their key point:
Your three best hitters should bat somewhere in the #1, #2, and #4 slots. Your fourth- and fifth-best hitters should occupy the #3 and #5 slots. From slot #6 through #9, put the players in descending order of quality.
They draw several other optimization conclusions regarding speed, baserunning, and strikeouts, but the above rule of thumb should be simple enough that everyone can understand it. So, who are the Orioles best hitters? The diagram above shows each starter's projected wOBA according to CHONE.
Nick Markakis is the Orioles best hitter. We'll stick him in the #2 slot to get him the most at-bats. Next up is Adam Jones, who derives more of his value from power than OBP; sounds like a clean-up hitter to me. Reimold, Wieters, Scott, and Roberts are up next. Where should each fit? Here are the OBP and SLG projections for each:
Since Roberts derives more of his value from his on-base abilities, we'll put him lead-off (and, also, I don't think it would be possible to convince Dave Trembley that he should bat anywhere else). Reimold and Wieters project pretty evenly, so we'll put Matt Wieters in the #3 hole since that has traditionally been the place managers slot their best hitter. Reimold gets penciled in at #5. Rounding out the lineup we'll just go straight down the list: Scott, Tejada, Atkins and Izturis. Here's what we have:
2B Brian Roberts (S)
RF Nick Markakis (L)
CA Matt Wieters (S)
CF Adam Jones (R)
LF Nolan Reimold (R)
DH Luke Scott (L)
3B Miguel Tejada (R)
1B Garrett Atkins (R)
SS Cesar Izturis (S)
According to the awesome lineup analysis tool at Baseball Musings, this lineup would be good for 5.239 runs per game (849 runs for the season). This may seem high, but keep in mind that this lineup wouldn't play together every day, and the expected performance of replacements would be lower. How does this compare to the optimal lineup (according the tool)? The optimal lineup would score 5.249 runs per, or 16 runs more over the course of the season, a difference of a win and a half. What's that optimal lineup?
That's pretty close to the lineup we constructed above, and I'm pretty surprised that swapping Reimold and Jones and moving Scott from 6th to 8th makes that big of a difference.
Looking at the optimized lineups, comparing them to Trembley's creation, and drawing a few (perhaps hasty) conclusions, what can we say? I think we can make two: First and foremost, Dave Trembley does not understand the importance of the #2 slot in the lineup. Cesar Izturis batted second 28 times in 2009. TWENTY-EIGHT TIMES. He posted a .294 on-base percentage. He. Should. Not. Bat. Second. Ever. Even when Trembley got the top of the lineup right last season, he got the reason wrong. He would move Markakis and Jones to the second slot in order to protect them in the lineup, often when they were perceived to be struggling in the middle. In fact, he should have been moving the hot hand to the second slot (we won't get into streaks right now). Secondly, I think Trembley is overrating the "veteran presence" and "run producer" reputation Tejada brings to the middle of the order. Tejada accumulated RBIs in the past because he was a good hitter; he was not a good hitter because he had some special RBI generating power. I think his days as a good hitter are pretty much over, so he should be hitting lower in the order, letting Reimold and Wieters clear the table set by Roberts and Markakis.
In 2010, I'm going to keep track of loony lineup construction, bad bullpenning and silly strategizing with the Twitter tag #Trembleyfail. Follow @theorioleway to keep track, and let me know when you see the same. Together, we can be the force that brings the Orioles an extra win just by not screwing up the lineup.