When Joe Girardi would put his lineup card together in the past, he would tend to pencil in the name ‘Robinson Cano‘ (the best hitter at the time) in the third spot of the batting order. Many teams follow the tactic of having their most talented players bat third, but many baseball fans tend to wonder, why? It’s because baseball teams believe the best hitter should hit third in order to increase run production. Sure, it seems to work when you watch game by game, but is placing your best hitter third the best lineup overall?
The Motley Fool wrote an interesting piece of analyzing the number three spot in the lineup by WAR, how much a player is paid and where teams placed their best hitter last season. Ultimately, they believed an unconventional lineup (where the best hitter on the team doesn’t bat third) is the lineup that would be the most productive.
In that sense, I agree.
My ideal lineup would have three players at the top who are known for their OBP (on-base percentage). If we used the Yankees as an example, I’d place Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter in the top three spots since those three are known to get on base and have a knack of playing ABC Baseball.
Hypothetically, let’s say the bases are loaded with Ellsbury at third, Gardner at second and Jeter at first; it’s a crucial game that could mean the Yankees wind up in the postseason or sit at home for another year. Would you want your best hitter to come to plate and have a chance of putting the Yankees in the lead? Of course you would, which is why it’s ideal for your best player to hit in the clean-up spot, or fourth in the order.
In 2013, out of the 30 teams in the league, 3 of them had their best hitter batting second, 14 of them had their best hitter batting third, nine of them had their best hitter batting fourth and two teams a piece who had their best hitter batting fifth and sixth. Out of the 15 highest scoring teams in the league, 40% of teams had their best hitter batting third.
There’s no right or wrong way to put together a lineup that circles around your best player, but the best hitter on the team doesn’t always have to bat third. Research shows the lineup that is unconventional often scores more runs, and some MLB teams are beginning to listen to statistics.
It’s an ideal thought to have the best player hit fourth: there’s the power, there’s the high contact rate and a greater chance for an RBI. Teams form their lineups in ways their best hitter can increase run production, but maybe it’s time teams broaden their minds and start toying with the lineup a bit. It’s not only about having the best players, it’s also where you put them to make an effective lineup.