Joe Maddon loves changing around his lineups. In fact, if you were to see his Tampa Bay Rays utilize the same lineup multiple times, you would be seeing a very rare sight. But let’s sit back and pretend that the Rays wanted to have two set starting lineups in place, one against lefties and one against righties. What would their ideal lineups look like if they used pure sabermetrics to construct them?
First of all, it is necessary to look at lineup construction. Of course, no two people are going to have the exact same philosophy about how to fill out a lineup card, but that is where sabermetrics come in. What they tell us is different from conventional ideas about lineups. In the leadoff spot, you want a guy who gets on base and is one of your best three hitters, but you actually want to save your best basestealing threat for the six hole, as guys behind him are more singles types of hitters. The number 4 spot is the most important spot for driving in runs, and that is where you want to put your best hitter. The number two spot is the second-most important, followed by fifth and third. You want a base stealer at number six, followed by your worst three hitters from seven to nine, with nine ideally being the best at getting on base. This is a very simple run down of how sabermetrics say you should create a lineup. If you want to read a bit more in-depth you can check here. Here is how the Rays would look using this strategy.
Zobrist gets the leadoff nod because he is the Rays’ third-best hitter and is also the most consistent at getting on base. Longoria is the best the Rays have, so he would hit cleanup. Myers is the Rays’ second-best hitter and takes the number two spot because it actually comes up in more important spots than the number three spot does. Joyce and Loney are fairly interchangeable at three and five, but I ended up giving the more important five hole to Joyce because his career power numbers are slightly better. Jennings is the Rays best basestealer, so he gets the number six spot, with the Rays’ worst three hitters in DeJesus, Escobar, and Hanigan coming in a 7-9. DeJesus hits in the seventh spot because he is probably the best of the three, with Hanigan taking number nine because he is better at getting on base than Escobar. All-in-all, this is a fairly unconventional lineup, but one that Joe Maddon could very well use this upcoming season. Sabermetrics tell us that a lineup like this would be the best way for the Rays to score runs against righties.
This lineup has the same idea as the one versus righties, but a few changes are needed. I moved Jennings up to the five spot because he hits lefties very well, and is more valuable there against them than the number six spot. Logan Forsythe becomes the DH against lefties, but he would bat in the eight spot because he lacks as potent of a bat as Joyce has against righties. Brandon Guyer replaces DeJesus and would slot in the six hole thanks to his solid baserunning ability, as he stole 22 bases in 25 attempts last season in Triple-A. Once again, it is an unconventional lineup, especially with Jennings hitting 5th, but is also one that we could see Maddon use.
Joe Maddon isn’t going to use just two lineups during the season, but if he wanted any kind of regular lineup these two could be his best bet. It is interesting to see how sabermetrics can affect a lineup, but according to the statistics these are around what the Rays should run out each and every day. The Tampa Bay Rays are known for using sabermetrics in their evaluation of baseball, so we will have to see if they implement some of these ideas in their lineup construction during the 2014 season.