There are many things for which the Tampa Bay Rays became known during the managerial tenure of Joe Maddon. Many of them, like the Rays’ excellent starting pitching and ability to build outstanding bullpens off the scrapheap, will hopefully continue to hold true. On the other hand, the Rays’ reputation for using a million different lineups is about to come to an end.
Kevin Cash told Marc Topkin that he is going to give his team a more stable lineup. There will be one batting order against right-handed pitching and another versus lefties, with only minor tweaks from game to game.
"“Ultimately we would like our core guys to have a good sense of where they’re hitting in the lineup,” Cash said. “Some would be planted, whether in the No. 3 spot or No. 4 spot or wherever. And some we’d like to have it be, ‘You’re going to hit either fifth or sixth’ or ‘You’re going to hit first or second,’ something of that degree.”"
The argument against the change that Cash is instituting is that it makes it more difficult to optimize performance based on the opposing pitcher. However, was that really happening? Other than the Danks theory lineups from Maddon where he used a lot of lefties against a left-hander with reverse splits, Maddon usually only made switches in his lineup to account for injury, poor performance, or on the other side, a player who had broken out.
It is not as though Cash is going to create these lineups and set them in stone no matter what happens. Frankly, the Rays have needed so many lineups because they have featured too many platoon situations and too many players who have faltered. As long as those facts continue to be true, Cash will need to be creative just like Maddon was. Cash’s statement was more about a mindset than any significant shift.
While we are talking about the mindset, it could theoretically be a good thing. Rays fans like to talk about Desmond Jennings‘ inability to figure out whether he is a patient leadoff man or a more aggressive hitter farther down in the order, and maybe more stability could remedy that situation. Whether that actually makes sense is debatable, but for a player like Jennings who has yet to reach his potential, it may be worth a try.
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For the Rays’ young players, meanwhile, it would be nice for them to know when they will be hitting game after game. Having that sort of continuity would help them adjust to their role and know that they will be in the batting order again even if they have a few rough performances. When Maddon saw that Kevin Kiermaier had fallen down to earth, he started putting him at 9th more consistently and that sort of reasoning could have been a factor. And that was Maddon! Cash could try that even more.
We know that the Rays’ offense was substandard in 2014, and Kevin Cash has to do everything he can to change that for this season. It won’t be easy, but give him credit for making his approach clear and trying to do something impactful. How big of a shift he is trying to make and how much it will help are far from obvious, but he certainly isn’t doing something that is absolutely wrong and his idea deserves a chance.