Tom Tango’s “The Book,” a sabermetrician’s bible of sorts, has an entire section devoted to lineup optimization. Is your team getting the most out of their offensive players on the basis of where they hit every day? Is your team sacrificing potential runs because they live by conventional wisdom? Read here if you’d like to see some in-depth rendering of the Book’s juice, but a quick summary of desirable qualities at each spot, in order of importance:
- Leadoff: Speed, preferably a high OBP
- Second: Better than the third hitter, high OBP
- Third: Relatively unimportant; fill after 1-2 and 4-5
- Four: Best hitter on team with power
- Fifth: Third best hitter
- Sixth: Base stealer with low OBP or next best hitter
- Seventh: Next best hitter
- Eighth: Next best hitter
- Ninth: Next best hitter
That all being said, I wanted to look at both last year’s most common lineups and the projected lineup for the opening day Bombers. Is Girardi running things by “The Book,” or is he sticking to the old managerial tricks and clichés?
The most common lineup in 2011 looked like this, with eleven occurrences:
The second most common lineup of last season occurred only nine times:
The meat of both lineups are similar, and the next four lineups also feature similar names at the top:
The effectiveness of Girardi using a whopping 94 different batting orders is an entirely different question. These questions are more pressing: Was batting Derek Jeter leadoff in roughly 60 percent of 2011’s games worthwhile? How about Granderson hitting second for about 70 percent of the season? Did Mark Teixeira really deserve to reside in the three-hole nearly 80 percent of the time the Yanks took the field? And while we’re at it, was hitting Rodriguez in the cleanup spot nearly 30 percent more than Robinson Cano a deft managerial move?
Let’s look at the lineup spots in order of importance:
Jeter in the leadoff spot (96 games)
A quick look at career OBP and stolen bases will, of course, tell you that Jeter is a prototypical and perfectly molded leadoff hitter. He has a career .383 OBP and 339 stolen bases, coupled with rare pop for a shortstop (eighth all time, and will pass Vern Stephens, Jose Valentin, and Robin Yount with only 12 more this year). You don’t need me to tell you he’s a first ballot Hall-of-Famer, so where is the debate, you may ask?
An unscientific and quick-hand average of his last two years’ OBP gives me .348, which, while good, clearly stands below Gardner’s two year average 16 points higher. Jeter has 34 stolen bases in the last two years to Gardner’s 96. Jeter’s walked 8% of the time while Gardner’s reached base via the free pass four percent of the time more. Garner has the best speed rating in all of baseball over the last two years; Jeter doesn’t even crack the top 30.
So Gardner is clearly speedier and clearly more adept at getting on base at this juncture. One caveat is that Jeter still kills it against lefties. Gardner’s profile shows him as walking more than Jeter against lefties– as is always the case – but Jeter reaching base more due to his hitting prowess. Let’s say Gardner should lead off against all righties, while Jeter should lead off against only lefties.
Rodriguez in the cleanup spot (94 games)
See: Granderson in the two hole. This would likely be seen as a radical change, as Granderson played not a single game in the cleanup spot last year, nor did Rodriguez ever slot into the two hole.
Rodriguez has a .320/.381/.567 triple-slash in the second spot in the order over his career (in over 2000 at-bats), while he sports a .291/.384/.544 line in the cleanup spot. Granderson, however, has started only one game in the four hole. Hey, at least he homered!
To reiterate, the career profile of A-Rod and the career direction of Granderson support this move. Still, it’s hard to see it as realistic, with no manager ever trying Granderson in the cleanup spot. Speed, folks, is unimportant in the two hole, and there’s a better leadoff hitter on the team already. Get it done!
Granderson in the two hole (112 games)
The second spot in the lineup calls for a high OBP guy who profiles as a better hitter than the guy succeeding him, but not as good of a hitter as the No. 4 guy. Usually, the separator is power, with the cleanup hitter providing a boon in the power department after the No. 2 guy has gone on base. So who is the Yankees second best hitter, one who also hits for power? The case can be made for Curtis Granderson, and if the case is indeed made, then one would argue that he should be hitting fourth – not second – the brunt of the time.
Granderson has a career OBP of .345, though the number did shoot up nearly 20 points as he displayed more patience at the dish (walking upwards of 2 percent above his career average). Rodriguez, on the other hand, has displayed unbelievable on-base skills even in his clear decline. He has a career .386 mark in the department and last year, in his most injury-riddled season to date, still managed a .362 OBP that rivaled Granderson’s career high.
One thing that is declining in Rodriguez’s player profile is his power; gone are the days of 40 home runs. Injuries are partly to blame; he hasn’t reached 600 at-bats in the past four seasons and has missed, on average, 37 games per season. His ground ball rate has also spiked steadily, and Rodriguez is lining fewer balls and hitting more grounders.
Granderson is trending in the opposite direction. Everyone and their grandmothers know that the September 2010 power boom for the Yankees centerfielder was legit, and the 41 round trippers last year cement that truth. He’d always wrestled with 30 home run potential – reaching that number once before in his Tigers day – but his new-found approach to driving the ball, coupled with his generous new home stadium, put Granderson among the league’s elite power hitters.
Rodriguez still has the knack for getting on base, and Granderson now has the edge in the power department, I’d argue. I would switch them if I were Girardi.
Now one potential question would be, “Why not Jeter here?” Jeter did slot into the two hole 35 times last season, but he was barely above average offensively last year (an 104 wRC+ translates to being 4% above league average in offensive output) and had the fourth best OBP of Yankees’ regulars. He shouldn’t be hitting so high anymore.
Another righty/lefty lineup conundrum: Nick Swisher absolutely owns versus the southpaw, with a three-year average of a .416 OBP. The profile fits in such a situation, so A-Rod would be delegated to, perhaps, the seventh spot against the lefty. While that may seem rash – they are playing him a ridiculous sum of money, after all – Rodriguez’s .357 OBP is trumped by the Swish, as is, for what it’s worth, his .815 OPS.
Cano batting fifth (107 games)
“After positions No. 1, No. 2, and No. 4 are filled, put your next best hitter here, unless he lives or dies on the long ball.”
Well, the candidates here are Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, and the aforementioned Cano. Hell, that’s a good problem to have.
Using wRC+, Cano’s two-year mark clocks in at 37 percent above league average, while Teixeira’s two-year mark is 25 percent above and Swisher’s 27 percent above league average. He provides power and good contact skills, and is an ideal fit in the fifth spot.
Teixeira in the three hole (129 games)
“This is a spot to fill after more important spots are taken care of.”
It comes down to a debate between Swisher and Teixeira versus righties (versus lefties, Swisher is so skilled at getting on base he gets slotted in the second spot). The long ball doesn’t carry as much value in the three spot as conventional wisdom suggests, so quite simply, who’s a better hitter?
Teixeria has been, historically, 32 percent above league average while Swisher’s merely been 17 percent above the mark (pun legitimately not intended, because it wouldn’t make any sense). Despite Swisher’s well-documented on-base skills, Teixeira actually has a slightly higher OBP and OPS than his heralded teammate, and has even battled with what is seemingly bad luck versus the righty over the past three years.
The rest goes chalk in order of best hitters, with “a caveat: a base-stealing threat who doesn’t deserve a spot higher in the lineup is optimized in the No. 6 hole.”
If you want to throw more respect towards Jeter, and call him “a base-stealing threat” still – admittedly a stretch – you can slot him ahead of Swisher when he isn’t leading off. If not, it’d look something like Swisher, Jeter, Martin, and Raul Ibanez against righties, with some small tweaks versus lefties.
Joe Girardi did an alright job of weighing the Yankees injuries and bench and rendering a competitive lineup everyday. How much credit he gets for the AL East Championship is up to you, but his batting of Brett Gardner against righties Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and Doug Fister in losses couldn’t have helped their case in the ALDS. They lost each of their playoff games by one or two runs, and a little bit of lineup optimization could’ve helped the Yanks’ case, in theory.
So I present to you: the 2012-2013 New York Yankees lineup… optimized.