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March 18, 2009 at 3:45 pm ET
8 Comments
What the Dodgers batting order SHOULD look like:

The catcher is the lead-off hitter.1. Russell Martin
2. Manny Ramirez
3. Orlando Hudson
4. Matt Kemp
5. Andre Ethier
6. Casey Blake
7. James Loney
8. Pitcher’s spot
9. Rafael Furcal

This is the line-up that gives the Dodgers the highest probability of maximizing runs scored. This does not mean that it will be the most efficient run producing line-up but it is the most likely to end up that way. (all of the stats used below are Marcel the Monkey’s projected 2009 stats – or at least really close to those projections)

Lead-off: Russell Martin. Martin is not the lead-off batter because of his speed. He is the lead-off batter because he gets on base with the second highest frequency of all the Dodgers (according to his 2009 projections – at the bottom). The most important value for a lead-off hitter is the ability to get on base. Juan Pierre may be extremely nimble but he is not very good at getting on base. Rafael Furcal, who Torre will inevitably cast at the top of the line-up, is fast and has a decent OBP ( .352) but Martin is better at getting on base (.378 projected OBP) and according to the work of Cyril Morong an increase of .021 in OBP (Martin is projected to be .026 better than Furcal) is worth an additional 10 runs per season which is roughly one extra win. Ask the Minnesota Twins or the New York Mets what the value of one extra win is.

2nd spot: Manny Ramirez. Ramirez is projected to have the highest OBP and SLG on the team. He is not the leadoff hitter (despite the .031 OBP advantage over Martin) because of his .527 slugging percentage. While batting Ramirez first would provide close to an additional 1 1/2 wins, it would also reduce the value of his excellent SLG. Batting Ramirez second will not only increase his plate appearances (the 2 spot had 17 extra plate appearances last season than the 3 spot for the Dodgers and 32 more than the 4 spot) but it will not be all that different than batting him 3rd as Furcal (if I had my way) will be in the 9 spot acting as a back of the line-up lead-off hitter.

3 spot: Orlando Hudson. With Martin and Ramirez batting 1 and 2, the 3 spot doesn’t need to be a power hitter. If both men are on, all that is needed is a single to drive in Martin. A successful at-bat for Hudson can even be to simply move the runners along so that the batters behind him can drive them in. If neither is on, Hudson’s job is to get on base so that Kemp and Ethier can move him around.

4 spot: Matt Kemp. Kemp provides a good OBP and SLG with speed. He is possibly the 2nd inning lead-off hitter and his stats are good enough that he is someone you don’t mind having at the plate with runners on-base. His ability to get on base 35% of the time makes him good at moving runners along and warrants his being in the top half of the line-up.

5 spot: Andre Ethier. With all 4 batters before him reaching base 35% of the time, Ethier should often be batting with runners on base. Ethier has a better OBP and SLG than Kemp which makes their situation mirror the Martin-Ramirez relationship. Like Kemp, Ethier is good at both moving runners along and driving them in.

6 spot: Casey Blake. Blake is the Orlando Hudson of the middle of the line-up. Like the pitching spot, he has to bat somewhere and it’s better to spread your weakness out than pile it all at the bottom. To many managers will stick two guys who can’t hit before the pitchers spot and create a dead zone in their line-up. Loney – who bats next – is a much better all around hitter than Blake, but batting the two weakest hitters back to back is not the best way to maximize runs.

7 spot: James Loney: see Blake. (also, Loney and Kemp are interchangeable in this line-up as switching them results in the same number of projected runs per game)

8 spot: Pitcher. Pitchers should bat 8th. Any NL manager who doesn’t bat his pitcher 8th is not doing his best to help his team win. The odds of a manger not batting his fastest guy first are pretty small, but the advantages of hitting the pitcher 8th should be easy and obvious.

9th spot: Rafael Furcal. This is the second lead-off spot. Furcal is fast and creates problems when he gets on base, but he doesn’t get on base enough to warrant batting in the 1 spot. As a bonus to Torre, every time Furcal leads off an inning, Ramirez will bat 3rd which is where Torre thinks he is most valuable anyway.

This, of course, will never happen as managers – like Joe Torre – continue to use their blinders when it comes to hearing about the value of parting ways with the traditional batting-orders they grew up with. St. Louis and Milwaukee have at least broken the seal on batting the pitcher 8th. Seeing an untraditional batting order is likely years off but perhaps sooner than later we won’t be seeing the pitcher in the 9 spot anymore. That, at the least, will be a good start.

Using David Pinto’s line-up analysis tool the above line-up projects out to 5.360 runs per game. The line-up below, which is much more realistic due to Torre’s lack of imagination, projects to 5.161 runs per game. Over a 162-game season that is an additional 32 runs which could be 3 additional wins.

The projected OBP and SLG used for this exercise are as follows:

Player OBP SLG
Rafael Furcal 0.352 0.406
Orlando Hudson 0.360 0.432
Manny Ramirez 0.409 0.527
Andre Ethier 0.368 0.476
Matt Kemp 0.355 0.475
James Loney 0.363 0.472
Russell Martin 0.378 0.432
Casey Blake 0.336 0.440
Pitcher’s spot 0.224 0.196

photo: malingering

further reading

David Pinto’s take on batting the pitcher 8th

Tom Ruane’s work on optimal line-ups

Dugout Central’s take on why the pitcher shouldn’t bat 8th

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8 Responses to “What the Dodgers batting order SHOULD look like:”
  1. n/a says:

    This would be correct if baseball was played on paper, it isn’t, it’s played on the field. Therefore Furcal leads off because that is where he has success, Hudson the same who does the little things Manny doesn’t like to, Manny bats third because he drives in actual real life runs not runs typed into a computer or worked out using an algorithm.

  2. it’s okay to be afraid to think outside the box. it’s always possible that players will not perform well in a spot they are not comfortable with but we won’t know any of that until we try it. And if you’re arguing that batting Manny Ramirez less and Orlando Hudson more is beneficial for the Dodgers, I’m not sure i can agree with that under any circumstance.

  3. Steve says:

    n/a –

    I find it counterintuitive to suggest that taking plate appearances away from Manny Ramirez and giving them to Orlando Hudson could possibly make the Dodgers a better team.

    You are correct that some players may have trouble batting in a spot that they are unaccustomed to. However, not only will we not know if that will happen until we try it, but the actual number slot of the batting order is meaningless after the first inning. A lead-off hitter is only guaranteed to lead-off in the first inning and the clean-up hitter is only guaranteed to bat 4th if he also bats in the first inning. After that it’s a crap shoot. It’s the order of appearance that matters, not the actual number in the order.

  4. threio says:

    Flip Ramirez and Hudson, Manny doesn’t have the legs to hit 2nd (1-3 on a base hit).

    Plus why would you want Manny taking the responsibility of moving runners over?

    Kemp clean-up is suspect but I like your argument.

  5. Alfred says:

    I don’t know why batting the pitcher 8th is an easy and obvious solution to the pitcher’s batting spot. Can you devote a little more space to that or direct me to another page where you already have? I presume it has something to do with pinch hitters? I want to get on board with forward thinking baseball strategy, but I’ve seen that pitcher in the 9th spot my whole life. Heck, in MLB 2K9 for Xbox 360, you can’t even move the pitcher out of the 9th spot in online play.

  6. Xeifrank says:

    10 runs isn’t bad, but I wonder what the standard deviation or magin of error is for this algorithm that spits out these numbers. 10 runs may or may not be statistically significant.
    vr, Xei

  7. Alfred –

    I added some links at the bottom of the article that should help you form an opinion on the matter. It is a little strange to variate from something we’re all so accustomed to.

    Threio –

    batting Manny second doesn’t give him the responsibility of moving runners. you need to break away from the traditional understanding of line-up spots in order to understand how this works. the line-up is designed to both create two mini orders and to increase at-bats for the best players. 9-1-2 and 3-4-5 create two mini orders that give your best two hitters (2 and 5) the most opportunities to bat with runners on base and thusly drive in runs. At the same time, while it’s true that Furcal is a much better hitter than the pitcher, Martin is even better so giving him Furcal’s at-bats should make the team better offensively.

    Xeifrank –

    the standard deviation amongst line-up possibilities is extremely small as their are 362,880 different possibilities and in the case of the Dodgers’ projections i used here there is a difference of less than .5 per game between the best and worst teams.

    Where the line-up projection fails is in individual performance. The spots are chosen based upon projected OBP and SLG and if players don’t perform as expected their spot in the line-up would change. The names of the players aren’t nearly as important as the stats of the player. In this scenario, the lead-off hitter should have as high as possible OBP without having an impressive SLG (as that would make him the 2 or 5 hitter). If James Loney becomes an even greater OBP force he might warrant moving to the 1 spot in place of Martin. The manager’s job would not be to stick with this exact line-up but rather to use the theory behind it and slot the players accordingly.

    oops, i just realized you were referring to the correlation between a lead-off batter’s OBP and runs scored. That number comes from regression analysis done by Cyril Morong. I admit that I need to brush up on my statistics knowledge to truly critique his work but Cyril is an economics professor and is regarded to be a pretty smart fellow so i’m trusting his work here. However, even if his numbers were too high, it would be silly to argue that increased OBP in the 1 spot doesn’t lead to at least some amount of additional scoring in which case Martin’s advantage over Furcal substantiates the positioning.

  8. Steve H says:

    Alfred –

    I added some links at the bottom of the article that should help you form an opinion on the matter. It is a little strange to variate from something we’re all so accustomed to.

    Threio –

    batting Manny second doesn’t give him the responsibility of moving runners. you need to break away from the traditional understanding of line-up spots in order to understand how this works. the line-up is designed to both create two mini orders and to increase at-bats for the best players. 9-1-2 and 3-4-5 create two mini orders that give your best two hitters (2 and 5) the most opportunities to bat with runners on base and thusly drive in runs. At the same time, while it’s true that Furcal is a much better hitter than the pitcher, Martin is even better so giving him Furcal’s at-bats should make the team better offensively.

    Xeifrank –

    the standard deviation amongst line-up possibilities is extremely small as their are 362,880 different possibilities and in the case of the Dodgers’ projections i used here there is a difference of less than .5 per game between the best and worst teams.

    Where the line-up projection fails is in individual performance. The spots are chosen based upon projected OBP and SLG and if players don’t perform as expected their spot in the line-up would change. The names of the players aren’t nearly as important as the stats of the player. In this scenario, the lead-off hitter should have as high as possible OBP without having an impressive SLG (as that would make him the 2 or 5 hitter). If James Loney becomes an even greater OBP force he might warrant moving to the 1 spot in place of Martin. The manager’s job would not be to stick with this exact line-up but rather to use the theory behind it and slot the players accordingly.

    oops, i just realized you were referring to the correlation between a lead-off batter’s OBP and runs scored. That number comes from regression analysis done by Cyril Morong. I admit that I need to brush up on my statistics knowledge to truly critique his work but Cyril is an economics professor and is regarded to be a pretty smart fellow so i’m trusting his work here. However, even if his numbers were too high, it would be silly to argue that increased OBP in the 1 spot doesn’t lead to at least some amount of additional scoring in which case Martin’s advantage over Furcal substantiates the positioning.

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