Monday, April 30, 2012

Deep Baseball

It's a miserable day here. Cold, wet, windy, dreary, dismal...and that's just the weather. A lot of varying degrees of bad and awful news has been coming our way in the past 24 hours or so and everyone around my neck of the woods is pretty morose today. So to try to give myself a bit of a lift, I've decided to write about two of my favourite intertwined spring things: baseball and baseball statistics.

This is not by any means a light read, like my ode to the sport of baseball from a couple of weeks back. If you're not really into the game, this may not be the post for you. If you are, however, then I would love to hear your views on what I will be writing here.

Blue Jays opening day lineup 2012
I consider myself to be a student of baseball. I used to play Fantasy Baseball to the point where I could name you the number of strikeouts the long-relief pitcher on the Kansas Royals had at any given moment in the season. One of my favourite baseball gurus was Bill James; I bought his annual Baseball Abstracts every year and pored over them like they held the Caramilk secret. I followed the Expos from their very first pitch to their very last one; I've been a Blue Jays fan since that snowy day in April of '77. I've seen virtually every conceivable batting order possible in my many years. And, in my opinion, there is something very wrong with the Blue Jays' batting order (the Opening Day version is pictured at the left) this season.

Last year John Farrell was a rookie manager. After many years as the Red Sox pitching coach, Farrell was hired on to take over from the fan favourite, Cito Gaston. Not an easy gig, I would think, so I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for much of last season while he got his feet wet. But he is showing no signs of progressing and learning from his experiences of 2011 and I am starting to find it troubling.

Whitey Herzog once said that every major league baseball team will win 65 games and lose 65 games no matter what anyone does. It's the other 32 games where the manager makes the difference. Now, I'm not the kind of person that thinks a manager should spend all game long pulling strings and overreacting to one situation after another. Joe Maddon of the Tampa Bay Rays is one of those; he makes me itchy to watch. But I do believe a manager should at least put his team in the best possible position to win when they take the field each night and I just don't think Farrell is doing that, not with this batting order.

Not that you can completely fault him for starting the season with the order I posted above. But the season is a month along now and, when you dig back as far as last year's All-Star Break, there is plenty of information to pull from when figuring out which player should bat where. Jose Bautista is the 2-time defending home run champ of the entire sport and last season he hit over .300; of course starting him batting third this year seems to make sense on paper. But I went deeper today in looking over all the stats and it couldn't be more obvious to me that he is actually one of the worst players to have in that position right now.

The rule of thumb is your team's best overall hitter should be batting third in the order. Your team's best RBI guy (and usually the top home run hitter) should be in the clean-up position (fourth, although if you've read this far I can't imagine that I had to elaborate there). Bautista, since last July, is neither. I can make a very good case that he should be 5th or 6th in the order at best; however, he does have one important skill that is still there: he draws a lot of walks.

John Farrell has said more than once that the "key" for him is to make sure Bautista comes to the plate in the first inning of every game. My idea, then, is to move him up to second position, because despite having the 6th-best batting average (.239) of all the regulars he is actually first in on-base percentage (.397). All the numbers I will use here, by the way, are from last year's All-Star Game through the games of this past weekend.

And what on earth does Edwin Encarnación have to do to move up in the order? Farrell even said a little over a week ago that he had earned the right to be the Jays' cleanup hitter from then on; that lasted all of one game where EE went hitless. That's just ridiculous.

I could spend a lot of time talking about the statistics I have put together (and it's killing me to not do that, trust me) but I want to cut to the chase here. The batting order is not cut in stone; it's not anyone's inalienable right to a certain spot in the lineup and a manager should be able to shuffle things up to maximize the impact of the best hitters while they are the team's best hitters and I just don't think John Farrell does that. So, if I were running this team.....

(Stats in brackets are HR, RBI, BA/SLG/OBP overall since the All-Star Break, 2011; I also have looked at the splits for these hitters vs. RHP and LHP and this has informed my suggestions as well.)

Yunel Escobar

My batting order against LHP

1. Escobar (3, 24, .268/.340.344)
2. Bautista (15, 48, .239/.397/.437)
3. Lawrie (11, 38, .290/.356/.508)
4. Encarnación (18, 56, .296/.377/.542)
5. Thames (10, 29, .257/.309/.436)
6. Lind (11, 42, .203/.251/.354)
7. Arencibia (12, 50, .211/.268/.414)
8. Rasmus (6, 24, .193/.231/.358)
9. Johnson (7, 17, .260/.369/.417)

Kelly Johnson

My batting order against RHP

1. Johnson (7, 17, .260/.369/.417)
2. Bautista (15, 48, .239/.397/.437)
3. Thames (10, 29, .257/.309/.436)
4. Encarnación (18, 56, .296/.377/.542)
5. Lind (11, 42, .203/.251/.354)
6. Lawrie (11, 38, .290/.356/.508)
7. Rasmus (6, 24, .193/.231/.358)
8. Arencibia (12, 50, .211/.268/.414
9. Escobar (3, 24, .268/.340/.344)

I know Farrell likes to alternate left-righty-lefty through his entire lineup to make it tough for the other team to make pitching changes; my order against right-handed pitchers would continue that practice. However, I think it's quite important to "load up" a lineup against left-handed pitching with tough right-handed batters as high up in the order as you can do it. The Jays don't have any platoon players so their regulars should be moved around accordingly, in my opinion.

If taking the pressure off of Jose Bautista for a while gets him back on the beam again, then this is an even more necessary move to make. But no matter what else happens, he is simply not a true number-three hitter at this stage of his career. I think Farrell's stubbornness is costing the Jays runs and in the division they play in they cannot afford to give anything away at all.


*****UPDATE May 1*****

Today comes this article from Sportsnet talking with John Farrell about this very situation. In it Farrell says that 100 at-bats is a good sample size to assess a hitter’s performance. To which I say, it's been a lot longer than 100 at-bats. So clearly he's going to continue to be stubborn. And, in my opinion, wrong.


  1. An excellent distraction on an unpleasant day! I love your illustrations of left- and right-handed batters with the stats.

    1. Thanks, hon! I just thought it was incredibly dry without pictures. Don't know how much it helped. :) I love that you read this and commented on it when it's likely that this was the least interesting post of all 30 for you! Thanks!


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