Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Constructing the Indians' Lineup by the Numbers

With Spring Training right around the corner, I know Eric Wedge has a lot on his plate. Does he grow the porn star mustache this year or does he leave that upper lip bare? How does he respond when Slider shoots him a suggestive belly jiggle in the hall? Where will he go to cry when Andy Marte begins clubbing home runs for his new team this season?

To ease Wedgie’s burden, I’ve decided to aide in constructing the perfect Indians’ lineup for the upcoming season. In fact, I’ll construct two different versions – one for when the Indians are facing a right-handed pitcher and one for when they face a lefty. Earlier this week, Biff made reference to the fact that the Indians' lineup reminds him of an empty hot dog bun, lacking the expected "meat" in the middle. And although I’m a vegetarian, I’ll even attempt to address Ol’ Biff’s concerns, devising the most efficient lineup the Indians have seen this side of Moneyball, and answering his query of "where's the beef?" So Wedgie, sit back, relax and read this, I’ll handle all the heavy lifting.

In constructing the perfect lineup, I’m going to focus on several factors. First, on-base percentage or OBP. OBP is figured by taking (H + BB + HBP), divided by (AB + BB + HBP + SF). The average major league baseball player has an OBP of .340. Why use OBP instead of the standard batting average statistic, you may ask? Well, batting average, though an obvious indication of a batter’s value, fails to tell the complete story. To really simplify matters, assume player X has 10 plate appearances, gets one hit, makes an out 4 times, and walks the remaining 5 appearances. Even though player X is hitting right at the Mendoza line (.200) he has still reached base an amazing 60% of the time or has an OBP of .600. OBP takes into account the ability of a player to reach base in any manner, and therefore reflects the greater chances that an individual player will either a) move another runner ahead or b) be in a position to score, even if he failed to get a hit.

In addition to looking at the OBP statistic, I’m also going to focus on a how a player hits in varying spots in the lineup. My goal is to find a spot in lineup in which each player hits higher than the average .340 OBP. Essentially, I’m going to try to maximize the efficiency of each player, hopefully resulting in the most productive lineup possible for the Tribe. And again, I’m going to try to do this for when the Indians face both a right-handed pitcher or for when they face a lefty. It may sound complicated and number intensive, but I promise it will be easier to follow than it seems. Let’s get started.

First, I'll present to you the lineups I would use on an almost daily basis. Then, I'll explain my seleictions by examining the overall numbers of each player.

THE LINEUPS:

Against a RHP:


1) Grady Sizemore, CF

2) Shin-Soo Choo, RF/LF
3) Travis Hafner, DH
4) Jhonny Peralta, SS
5) Victor Martinez, C
6) Ryan Garko, 1B
7) Ben Francisco, LF/RF
8) Mark DeRosa, 3B
9) Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B

Against a LHP:


1) Grady Sizemore, CF

2) Shin-Soo Choo, RF/LF
3) Ryan Garko, 1B/DH
4) Jhonny Peralta, SS
5) Victor Martinez, 1B/DH/C
6) Kelly Shoppach, C/DH
7) Ben Francisco, LF/RF
8) Mark DeRosa 3B
9) Asdrubal Cabrera 2B


Below, I provide a comprehensive justification for why I put a specific player where I put them in the lineup, focusing mainly on their OBP and their comfort hitting in a certain spot in the order.

Outfielders:

Grady Sizemore: (Bats: left-handed)
  • Against RHP: 2141 PA (“Plate Appearances”), .298 AVG, .389 OBP

  • Against LHP: 968 PA, .238 AVG, .328 OBP
Analysis: Unlike every other Indians' hitter, I'm not going to assess Grady's numbers in any other spot than the lead off position because other than a few PA here and there, Grady has been the Indians’ lead off hitter since the 2005 season. In 2810 PA in that span, he has put up impressive numbers, with a .281 average, a .373 OBP, 111 SB, 103 HR (including 18 HR to lead off a game) and 312 RBI. In fact, the only other spot in the lineup that Grady has more than 100 PA is hitting 8th, where he has amassed a dismissal .263 AVG and .288 OBP.

There has been talk about moving Grady out of the lead off spot further down the lineup to take advantage of his power numbers, but the fact remains the Indians really don’t have a viable alternative to hit at the top of the order other than Grady (or possibly Michael Brantley, who I’ll discuss briefly below). Grady has only had 41 PA in the 3rd slot of the lineup, where most people want him hitting if not at the top of the order. Despite the fact that Grady's power numbers may suggest placing him near the middle of the order, necessity dictates that he remains batting first. Plus, Grady has indicated that he likes leading off the game and it since it obviously seems to be working, whom am I to mess with success?

The one downfall Grady has a lead off hitter is the rate at which he strikes out. For his career, he has struck out 604 times in 3109 PA, or about an average of one strikeout per every 5 PA. That’s a pretty high rate for a lead off hitter. And if we really want to nitpick, Grady’s numbers against LHP are rather mediocre. But, given the lack of alternatives and the fact that Grady is the Indians’ most popular player, expect to see him leading almost every game this season regardless of who's on the mound for the opposing team.

Shin-Soo Choo: (Bats: left-handed)
  • Against RHP: 474 PA, .300 BA, .390 OBP, 14 HR

  • Against LHP: 116 PA, .257 BA, .322 OBP, 3 HR
Hitting 3rd:
  • 81 PA, .343 AVG, .420 OBP, 5 HR
Hitting 5th in the Lineup (Most Career Plate Appearances):
  • 285 PA, .278 AVG, .363 OBP, 6 HR
Hitting 6th:
  • 84 PA, .416 AVG, .452 OBP, 4 HR
Hitting 7th:
  • 51 PA, .220 AVG, .353 OBP
Hitting 8th:
  • 75 PA, .180 AVG, .333 OBP
Analysis: Like Grady, Choo hits right-handed pitchers much better than he hits lefties. While his OBP and AVG aren’t terrible playing against lefties, Choo’s numbers are far above the league average when he has the favorable match up against a right-handed pitcher. Choo actually finished near the top of the entire AL last season with an OBP of .397 which indicates that he should probably be playing everyday.

Choo’s lineup numbers show that he would be a productive 3rd, 5th, or 6th hitter. However, because his OBP is so high, placing him second in the lineup makes some sense, despite his lack of experience hitting there. While the numbers seem to say that Choo should hit 6th, with his ability to get on base close to 40% of his plate appearances, I'd prefer to see Victor, Hafner and Peralta hitting behind Choo, rather than Asdrubal or Ben Francisco. Because of that, I think Choo might be an ideal second hitter in the Tribe's newly constructed lineup.

Ben Francisco: (Bats: right-handed)

  • Against RHP: 423 PA, .266 BA, .323 OBP, 13 HR

  • Against LHP: 142 PA, .270 BA, .345 OBP, 5 HR
Hitting 2nd:
  • 79 PA, .261 AVG, .354 OBP, 2 HR
Hitting 3rd:
  • 304 PA, .257 AVG, .322 OBP, 11 HR
Hitting 6th:
  • 20 PA, .389 AVG, .421 OBP, 1 HR
Hitting 7th:
  • 21 PA, .333 AVG, .429 OBP, 1 HR
Analysis: Francisco has shown a rather consistent ability to hit both right-handed and left-handed pitchers, hitting with a slightly higher than average OBP against LHP. Though the majority of PA Francisco has gotten have been in the 3rd position in the lineup, in limited appearances in the 6th and 7th slots, Francisco has shown the ability to be a productive hitter. Slotting him further down the lineup might help to remove some of the pressure off him as he enters his sophomore season.

David Dellucci: (Bats: left-handed)
  • Against RHP: 2827 PA, .266 BA, .350 OBP, 96 HR

  • Against LHP: 365 PA, .194 BA, .258 OBP, 5 HR
Dellucci has had over 400 PA hitting in the 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th and 7th spots in the lineup. Since I don’t really want to see Dellucci hitting anywhere for the Tribe, here are the spots where he has put up his best numbers:

Hitting 2nd:
  • 492 PA, .302 AVG, .370 OBP, 21 HR
Hitting 6th:
  • 543 PA, .268 AVG, .350 OBP, 16 HR

Analysis: Dellucci should NEVER, EVER, EVER play against a left-handed pitcher. Dellucci is the very definition of a platoon player. What's sad is that the Indians have so much money tied up in what amounts to half a player. With the talent of minor league outfielders that the Indians have, it seems apparent that the team would be better served cutting bait with the Looch, as even one mediocre whole player is better than one mediocre half player. However, knowing how the Tribe operates, Dellucci will get his fair share at-bats until it becomes apparent (or well after it becomes apparent) that he cannot get the job done anymore. If, and this is a big if, Wedge ever feels the maddening compulsion to insert Dellucci into the starting lineup, he should hit him 2nd against a right-handed pitcher only. NO EXCEPTIONS.

Michael Brantley: (Bats: left-handed)

And who might be that minor league candidate to take Dellucci's spot on the major league roster? My choice is Michael Brantley. Now, I realize Brantley has never played beyond Double A. But look at the numbers he put up for Class AA Huntsville last year, before being traded to the Indians, .319 AVG, with 80 runs, 17 doubles, two triples, four homers and 40 RBI in 106 games. He also stole 28 bases in 36 attempts and had 50 walks against only 27 strikeouts. What I like best about Brantley however, is his career .399 OBP, which not only would have been best on the Tribe last year, but fourth in the entire American League. And, Baseball America rated Brantley as having the best strike zone judgment and the best base running skills in the Southern League last season.

What makes Brantley so attractive is both his ability to get on base and the he brings some speed to this team (something which it greatly lacks). In fact, Brantley appears to be an almost prototypical lead off hitter. His emergence could potentially allow the Indians to begin to slot Grady further down the lineup. Or, Brantley could be a more than adequate second hitter in the lineup.

Still not convinced? Look at this information from the http://www.indiansprospectinsider.com comparing Brantley to a former Cleveland Indian lead off hitter, near and dear to our hearts:

Brantley's Minor League Career (Age 18-21):
  • 383 games, 1392 AB, 53 2B, 7 3B, 6 HR, 199 BB, 142 K, 104 SB, .311/.399/.372/.771
Kenny Lofton's Minor League Career (Age 21-24):
  • 363 games, 1423 AB, 46 2B, 24 3B, 6 HR, 159 BB, 266 K, 168 SB, .300/.370/.379/.749
I’m just saying….

Catchers:

Kelly Shoppach: (Bats: right-handed)
  • Against RHP: 528 PA, .238 BA, .306 OBP, 19 HR

  • Against LHP: 188 PA, .293 BA, .373 OBP, 12 HR
Hitting 6th:
  • 94 PA, .316 AVG, .426 OBP, 9 HR
Hitting 7th:
  • 128 PA, .254 AVG, .325 OBP, 5 HR
Hitting 8th:
  • 189 PA, .198 AVG, .257 OBP, 6 HR
Hitting 9th:
  • 216 PA, .283 AVG, .325 OBP, 9 HR
Analysis: Despite the breakthrough year that Shoppach had last year, his righty/lefty splits indicate a far greater disparity than one might have initially thought. In fact, Shoppach’s power shows itself at a far greater rate against left-handed pitchers, and his OBP is almost 70 points higher hitting against lefties. Shoppach might even be best served hitting solely against left-handed pitchers.

Obviously, our starting pitcher also impacts Shoppach’s appearance in the lineup. There are going to be days when he's catching Cliff Lee and he faces a right-handed pitcher. But, when the matchups allow for it, Shoppach should be on the bench against right-handed opposition. When Shoppach does play, slotting him in the 6th spot appears to be the Indians’ best bet, as his OBP was far over .400 and he averaged a home run per every 10 PA hitting in that spot. Before we hand Shoppach and everyday spot in the lineup, he really needs to improve against righties. Otherwise, if Shoppach gets exposed more this season, the Indians may have missed an opportune time to trade him when his value was at its highest. Especially with the team's surplus of minor league catching talent.

Victor Martinez: (Bats: both)
  • Against RHP (as a LH hitter): 1989 PA, .303 BA, .368 OBP, 63 HR
  • Against LHP (as a RH hitter): 1019 PA, .289 BA, .373 OBP, 25 HR
Hitting 3rd:
  • 484 PA, .260 AVG, .347 OBP, 9 HR
Hitting 4th:
  • 1595 PA, .301 AVG, .369 OBP, 55 HR
Hitting 5th:
  • 680 PA, .319 AVG, .388 OBP, 17 HR
Analysis: Without a doubt, Victor is the Indians’ most consistent hitter, while also providing the benefit being a switch hitter. Not only is Victor the Indians’ best hitter, he also is one of the best pure hitters in all of baseball. While he exhibits slightly more power hitting left-handed, Victor is the one name, besides Grady’s, who should be penciled in the lineup every single day without a second thought. Though Victor’s numbers indicate that he’d be successful at any place in the lineup, his AVG and OBP indicate that he might put up his best numbers hitting 5th. Again, with the placing players with high OBP before Victor, like Choo and Grady, Victor who has a very high OBP himself, will have runners on base to drive home. As long as Victor is healthy this year, I expect him to return to his All-Star form.

Infielders:

Asdrubal Cabrera: (Bats: both)
  • Against RHP (as a LH hitter): 451 PA, .241 BA, .333 OBP, 5 HR
  • Against LHP: (as a RH hitter) 150 PA, .346 BA, .403 OBP, 4 HR
Hitting 2nd:
  • 191 PA, .259 AVG, .324 OBP
Hitting 8th:
  • 19 PA, .353 AVG, .421 OBP
Hitting 9th:
  • 329 PA, .293 AVG, .379 OBP
Analysis: Cabrera is the other switch hitter in the Indians lineup. Unlike Martinez, however, Asdrubal lacks the same constancy from both sides of the plate, hitting over 100 points lower when batting left-handed. Factoring in his defensive abilities, it’s hard to imagine that Cabrera won’t be getting the majority of the starts at SS. However, from a purely offensive prospective, playing him every day might create a giant hole in the lineup when facing a right-handed starter. When Cabrera is in the lineup, it should be near the bottom, hitting in either 8th or 9th. And though the team has tried to pass off Asdrubal as a potential number two hitter, I'd much rather have Choo's high OBP at the second slot, rather than Cabrera's which is substantially lower.

Mark DeRosa: (Bats: right-handed)
  • Against RHP: 2113 PA, .270 BA, .337 OBP, 44 HR
  • Against LHP: 867 PA, .302 BA, .373 OBP, 25 HR
Hitting 2nd:
  • 400 PA, .281 AVG, .334 OBP, 9 HR
Hitting 5th:
  • 396 PA, .288 AVG, .357 OBP, 10 HR
Hitting 6th:
  • 783 PA, .289 AVG, .371 OBP, 19 HR
Hitting 7th:
  • 521 PA, .259 AVG, .342 OBP, 13 HR
Hitting 8th:
  • 458 PA, .283 AVG, .340 OBP, 8 HR
Analysis: The Indians' newest offensive weapon provides Wedge with a number of options, in terms of where to hit DeRosa in the lineup. As is apparent above, DeRosa has shown the knack to hit successfully from almost where he's been asserted in the lineup. Though most believe that DeRosa will hit second with the Indians, I believe that the Indians should taken advantage the flexibility that he provides the team, and put him further down in the 8th spot. Not only will having DeRosa hit eighth provide some insurance for those hitting in front of him, it also serves to set the table for Grady and Choo. And, if another batter slumps, DeRosa could then be moved up to provide a spark. Having an individual like DeRosa can take the pressure off a number of other hitters in the lineup, especially if he can deliver a key hit from the eighth spot in the lineup.

Jhonny Peralta: (Bats: right-handed)
  • Against RHP: 2024 PA, .267 BA, .331 OBP, 53 HR
  • Against LHP: 787 PA, .271 BA, .345 OBP, 32 HR

Jhonny has hit in a number of spots, and in fact has 200 PA in the 3rd thru 9th spots. His best numbers are in the following spots:

Hitting 3rd:
  • 640 PA, .255 AVG, .340 OBP, 22 HR
Hitting 4th:
  • 378 PA, .300 AVG, .360 OBP, 12 HR
Hitting 6th:
  • 518 PA, .292 AVG, .356 OBP, 14 HR
Analysis: Peralta, like Victor, puts up similar numbers, regardless of whose on the mound. Jhonny really began to flourish last year when he was inserted into the cleanup role on the team, almost by default. Based on the production he showed hitting fourth, I would start the season keeping him in that position. 14 of Jhonny's 23 home runs came last season with no one on base. Moving him into the cleanup spot will allow the team to capitalize on his power by having runners on base when he launches one into the seats. And I can only assume that with his 20/20 vision, they'll be plenty more home runs to come this season.

Jamey Carroll: (Bats: right-handed)
  • Against RHP: 1498 PA, .267 BA, .348 OBP, 6 HR
  • Against LHP: 659 PA, .286 BA, .358 OBP, 4 HR

Hitting 1st:
  • 575 PA, .264 AVG, .339 OBP, 4HR
Hitting 2nd:
  • 995 PA, .264 AVG, .342 OBP, 2HR
Hitting 8th:
  • 286 PA, .293 AVG, .375 OBP, 1 HR
Hitting 9th:
  • 142 PA, .325 AVG, .407 OBP, 2 HR
Analysis: Carroll puts up decent numbers against both righties and lefties, and because of that, he should be used to spell Cabrera when the Indians are facing a right-handed pitcher. As a utility player, Carroll provides an above average OBP, which is good considering he provides almost no power. When he does fill in for a regular, Jamey should hit out of the ninth spot in the lineup. And if Cabrera once again slumps this season, Carroll can be an adequate, but hopefully temporary, replacement.

Ryan Garko: (Bats: right-handed)
  • Against RHP: 962 PA, .271 BA, .339 OBP, 30 HR
  • Against LHP: 352 PA, .315 BA, .392 OBP, 12 HR
Hitting 4th:
  • 327 PA, .280 AVG, .358 OBP, 9 HR
Hitting 5th:
  • 327 PA, .251 AVG, .327 OBP, 13 HR
Hitting 6th:
  • 147 PA, .297 AVG, .359 OBP, 10 HR
Hitting 7th:
  • 115 PA, .300 AVG, .374 OBP, 4 HR

Analysis: Given Garko's up and down season last year, I was surprised to see that his numbers, while better left-handed pitching, were surprisingly decent. In fact, had I seen just the numbers, I would have probably switched Garko's and Shoppach's numbers, just based on the results of last season. And even despite the inconsistent season Garko had put forth last year, he still drove in 90 runs.

The Garko/Hafner/Shoppach/Martinez collection for three positions (1B, DH, and C) is going to require some creative balancing from Wedge. Especially, since both Garko and Shoppach hit left-handed pitching better than right-handed pitching. When we look at Hafner's numbers in a minute, we'll see that he's actually better facing right-handed pitching. The Indians might be best served batting Garko near the middle of the order against lefties, and then using him to fill in every once and awhile against righties, assuming Hafner is at full strength. If not, Garko becomes an everyday player.

Travis Hafner: (Bats: left-handed)
  • Against RHP: 2004 PA, .290 BA, .395 OBP, 111 HR
  • Against LHP: 1003 PA, .267 BA, .382 OBP, 36 HR
Hitting 3rd:
  • 1165 PA, .273 AVG, .392 OBP, 55 HR
Hitting 4th:
  • 918 PA, .294 AVG, .405 OBP, 54 HR
Hitting 5th:
  • 392 PA, .283 AVG, .385 OBP, 11 HR
Hitting 6th:
  • 287 PA, .313 AVG, .392 OBP, 17 HR
Analysis: Hafner remains the great question mark of 2009. Can we assume that a fully healthy Hafner will provide anywhere close to the numbers we saw him put up in his prime? Probably not, at least in terms of power numbers. Something more worrisome to me than Hafner's lack of power was the fact that he seemed to lose his ability to judge the strike zone. Even in 2007, when Hafner's power numbers decreased (only 24 HR), he still had an OBP of .385. Last year, that number dropped to .305. In 2007, Hafner drew 102 walks in 661 PA, or one walk per every 6.5 PA. Last year, 27 walks in 198 PA or one walk per every 10 PA.

I'm hoping Hafner was pressing and trying to overcompensate for his injury by swinging at pitches he normally would have laid off of. I'm sure as he began to feel the pressure, Pronk wanted to crush any possible pitch to show that he was still healthy. After spending an extended period recuperating, it will be Hafner's walk totals, not his power totals, which indicate if he's back to "normal."

Balancing out the impressive OBP that Hafner has shown in the past, while the sudden decline last year and his injury, initially, I might play Hafner solely against right-handed pitchers. Especially because the majority of Hafner's power comes against righties. If Hafner shows he's healthy, moving him back into an everyday role as a DH may be warranted. Again, his role will be shaped in part by how Garko, Shoppach and Martinez are hitting.


Andy Marte: (Bats: right-handed)
  • Against RHP: 399 PA, .195 BA, .239 OBP, 6 HR
  • Against LHP: 162 PA, .252 BA, .329 OBP, 3 HR
Hitting 8th:
  • 163 PA, .227 AVG, .266 OBP, 0 HR
Hitting 9th:
  • 266 PA, .205 AVG, .265 OBP, 6 HR
Analysis: For the sake of comprehensiveness, I'll examine Marte's numbers even though I don't believe that he'll make the team without a monster spring training. Marte has shown no offensive ability in the majors to date, and unfortunately I don't see him breaking the trend in an Indians' uniform. Even the memory of Brandon Phillips doesn't warrant keeping him around unless he shows some life this spring.

Josh Barfield: (Bats: right-handed)
  • Against RHP: 788 PA, .259 BA, .288 OBP, 7 HR
  • Against LHP: 267 PA, .268 BA, .308 OBP, 9 HR
Hitting 8th:
  • 552 PA, .277 AVG, .309 OBP, 8 HR
Hitting 9th:
  • 552 PA, .233 AVG, .258 OBP, 2 HR
Analysis: I was a big Josh Barfield supporter ... until I looked at the numbers. Barfield does not walk. Ever. His OBP is lower than most major leaguers batting average. Barfield has only drawn
44 BB in 1055 PA or about 4 walks out of every 100 PA. Until Barfield can consistently get on base, he's value to the Indians is extremely limited. And with an option remaining, a poor spring may actually keep Marte on the roster.

Luis Valbuena: (Bats: left-handed)

Given the poor choice between Marte and Barfield for the final infield bench spot, Valbuena, acquired in the F-Gut trade, might be find his way onto the major league roster by the end of spring training. His numbers in his minor career include a. 270 BA and a .346 OBP. Given the choice between Valbuena, Marte, and Barfield, the Indians may want to explore bringing in a cheap veteran for the last infield bench spot, if one can be had at a reasonable price. Perhaps a Ray Durham or Mark Grudzielanek, both of who are still available.

Final Thoughts:

Given the number crunching I did above, the lineups I have constructed serve to maximize the OBP numbers and AVG of the team, given the prior history of all the players. While by no means ideal, making minor adjustments like moving Choo up in the order and benching Shoppach against right-handed pitchers will help to make this Indians' team even more productive than last season's squad. While Biff complains that this team lacks the "meat," I believe this team has the ability to play successful station to station baseball, consistently putting runners on the base paths and creating scoring opportunities. I encourage you, Eric Wedge, to consider using both my lineups and to maybe grow out a fu manchu for the upcoming season. (Photos courtesy of Lori Griffin and are subject to copyright.)

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

those are some damn fine pictures if I do say so myself!!!!

Alvaro Espinoza said...

And thanks for them Annon. Keep up the good photographic work.