Should your best hitter bat third in the lineup? 14

yankees 13

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.

14 thoughts on “Should your best hitter bat third in the lineup?

  • Hondo

    It should go lefty – right- lefty – Gardner – Jeter- Ellsbury as Ellsbury has more power than the other two combined at this stage of their careers. Plus, it makes the lineup longer. There's no sense to put Gardner at the bottom. Nuff said.

  • Murray

    The jump to”hypothetically, if you have the bases loaded,” is just to far of a leap. It is far more probable that one, perhaps the first 2 batters reach base. I would prefer to have my best hitter up 3rd to capitalize more often on that situation. Baseball is a game of #s. The #s say this is the best approach, and managers have been doing it for decades. Although I enjoy the discussion, your best hitter should hit in the 3 hole.

  • Rob Abruzzese

    This is an idea that has been discussed to much length in the past including on this website. Basically what the numbers show is that batting order only has a minimal effect on how many runs are scored over the course of the year and that you want your best hitter batting 2nd. This is based purely on stats.

    Here is a great article on the subject:

    This is what the gist of the article is:
    1 – best OBP guy
    2 – best overall hitter (this person gets more at bats during the year than the No. 3 hitter)
    3 – Statistically less important than the No. 4 or No. 5 spots, should be a power hitter
    4 – best power hitter
    5 – Next best hitter, better than the No. 3 hitter
    6 – Base stealing is important here
    7 – 7th best hitter
    8 – 8th best hitter
    9 – 9th best hitter

  • Dave Guarnieri

    Time will tell obviously but I don't believe in entitlements in sports. I firmly believe that Derek Jeter has to earn the number 2 spot in the line-up. He should, IMHO, have to earn his way onto the line-up. The season is about winning not Derek's Victory Lap. I love the guy and don't mean to diminish him and what he has meant to the Yankees the past 20 odd years. But it is all about winning.

  • Robert Rufa

    In 1961, Roger Maris batted third and Mickey Mantle batted fourth. Maris hit .269 but drove in a team-leading 142 runs (w/ 61 homers), while Mantle batted .317 and drove in 128 (w/ 54 homers). Meanwhile, Elston Howard hit .348, arguably making him the best hitter that year, but had just 77 RBIs. I guess when you've got a number of very good hitters, it doesn't matter where your best one bats as long as your pitchers give up fewer runs than you. (Crucially, the 1-2 hitters — Bobby Richardson and maybe Tony Kubek, if I remember correctly — were on base a lot, despite having modest averages in the .270 range.)

  • Omega Zero

    I honestly think the strategy in Nippon baseball and perhaps Taiwan league teams have better strategies but their way of shaping the lineup is rather strategical.

    Here's the lineup que.

    1. Leadoff man with highest On base percentage
    2. Either best bunter on the team or second highest on base percentage or lowest strikeout percentage.
    3. Highest batting average.
    4. Either highest On base plus slugging or isolated power
    5. Second highest batting average.
    6 – 9. Decreasing talent in either on base percentage or batting average.

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