If you were wondering after Lineup D how I was going to come up with six more lineups, now you have your answer. Once we add in lineups featuring both Wilson and Rivera, we have even more permutations to talk about.
It is worth noting that you won’t see any lineups with Wilson and not Rivera because it would always be inferior to one with Rivera at catcher and therefore fail to meet the definition of a starting defensive alignment. Also, you can replace Wilson with Casali in each of these lineups and the logic would be basically the same.
This lineup in particular is interesting for a variety of reasons. The first is something I didn’t realize until I was writing this piece: Rene Rivera is the second-most experienced major league first baseman on the Rays with a grand total of three games at the position. He also has 34 minor league games, third to Loney and Souza.
That doesn’t have any practical meaning as Forsythe will probably be ahead of Rivera by the time the season ends. Rodriguez also entered 2013 with just 8 games at first base before appearing in 41 games there the last two years. Forsythe will hope to follow that same pattern. Even so, Rivera could receive a couple of starts at first base before the year is through.
The more important fact in this case is just how good of a platoon bat Rene Rivera is against left-handed pitching. Bobby Wilson will start against left-handed pitching for a disproportionate amount of his games because there is reason to believe that he can be at least a halfway-decent hitter against them. Just because Rivera isn’t starting at catcher, though, does not mean he should be on the bench every time.
In 2014 for the San Diego Padres, Rivera had a .280/.351/.530 line versus left-handed pitching, leading to an sOPS+ 47% above league average. We are only talking about 111 plate appearances here, but even if Rivera regresses to a certain extent, he will still likely be better than Forsythe and Tim Beckham.
With that in mind, it makes sense for the Rays to play Rivera against right-handed pitching even when he isn’t catching. He does obviously need to get some days off, but the Rays have better-quality options against right-handed pitching and it makes more sense for him to get his full days off in those games.
One flaw with this lineup is that all nine Rays hitters would be right-handed. That goes against conventional baseball wisdom, which states that it’s important to have at least one same-side batter in the lineup to give the opposing pitcher more than one look. Of course, conventional baseball thought isn’t always right and the Rays did have four lineups last season that consisted of all righty batters. We will get to lineups later on, though, that fix this problem.