Disclaimer: If you haven’t read The Book by Tom Tango, you should check it out as what I am about to talk about is merely a glimpse inside the sabermetrics and principles covered in the text.
We all know the traditional lineup used in baseball:
Lead-Off: speed rules hitting ability - little to no power
Two Hole: great bat control to bunt and move runners
Three: your best hitter - high average
Four: cleanup - power hitter
Five: another cleanup hitter
Six - Nine: decreasing talent with the worst guy in the nine.
There are several flaws with the traditional lineup that will be exposed as we look at a more optimized batting lineup below:
Lead-Off: One of the best hitters on the team. Speed is good here, but on base % (OBP) is more valuable here. During the course of a game the lead-off hitter only comes to bat about 36% of the time with a runner on base, so slugging % is not very valuable here. Since this hitter is batting in the first spot, there will be more plate appearances seen here. With that being said, getting on base should be a priority - make less outs!
Two Hole: One of the best hitters on the team. The #2 hitter is guaranteed to hit in the 1st inning and is likely going to see a plate appearance in the last inning of the game, when the game could be on the line. As a result, we aren't going to benefit from giving away an out here by simply making contact or moving runners, instead we need one of our best hitters in this spot. The Book says the #2 hitter will come to plate in key situations similar to the #3 hitter, but will come to the plate more often! Since this hitter will most likely come to bat with the game on the line, I want my best guy to hit here -- better than my #3 with good OBP and power! I don’t want my best hitter left on-deck, never getting a chance to bat during the final outs of a game.
Three Hole: A quality hitter - a combination of your 1, 2, and 4 hitters. Everyone usually puts their best hitter in this spot, but that may not be the smartest thing to do. We’ve already mentioned why the #2 hitter should be viewed as more valuable than this spot in the order but there’s more. The #3 hitter comes to plate with fewer runners on base during the course of a game compared to the #4 and #5 hitters. The #3 hitter needs to be a good hitter with a preference towards on base % over slugging %.
Four Hole: You will need one of your best hitters here with a preference towards home runs and extra base hits - slugging %. Strikeouts in this spot are detrimental because of the RBI opportunities presented in the cleanup spot. This is a spot where you need a guy similar to your #2 hitter because this spot in the lineup comes up to the plate in key situations, but with more runners on base during the course of a game.
Five Hole: Another good hitter like your #3 hitter. Due to the quality of the 1-4 hitters, the #5 hitter usually comes to the plate with more base runners than the #3 hitter. Singles, doubles, and triples are more valuable from this spot; therefore, a slight advantage should go to the #5 hitter. Why you might ask? Over the course of a game, the #3 hitter has slightly more plate appearances with less runners on base.
Six - Nine: As the order continues, the plate appearances with runners on base for each spot decreases; therefore, you should list the rest of the lineup in order of decreasing weighted on base average. Speedy guys that can steal bases are good to put in front of singles hitters!
Should the worst hitter bat 8th? Placing a better high OBP hitter in the nine spot actually increases the opportunity for the top hitters to come to the plate with runners on base.
Is this the only way to write a lineup? Of course not. However, studying the trends of your hitters and optimizing each spot in the order can help increase run production. When writing a lineup, I look at overall batting average (least important), on base %, slugging %, and weighted on base average. Weighted on base average simply weights each way of reaching base safely with a correlating value. For example, a home run is more valuable than a walk. I also use Quality At-Bat %, Barrel %, and Plate Discipline (BB + HBP - K) when determining the complete story of a hitter.
An optimized lineup might look something like this:
1. OBP (walks and singles) trumps slugging: one of the top hitters on your team
2. Increased power and good OBP: one of the top hitters - possibly your best hitter
3. Quality hitter - a combination of your 1, 2, and 4. Good OBP and slugging %
4. High slugging % - one of the top hitters - power and good plate discipline (low K rate)
5. Similar to the #4 and #3
6 - 9 The rest of the lineup would decrease in overall wOBA or production. Speed is more valuable in front of a singles hitter!
Optimizing a lineup is an ongoing process that may lead to different lineups based on how your hitters are performing on a daily or weekly basis. Tracking data helps identify trends within the scope of an offense!
In summary, hit your best hitters 1, 2, and 4 with your next best in the 3 and the 5 spots. Knowing information related to each batting position, such as plate appearances during a game and plate appearances with runners on base can help you place your hitters in situations that maximize run scoring potential.
For more information on optimizing lineups and a deeper dive inside the numbers check out the following resources:
Hope this helps
See you on the diamond!