What’s in a Lineup?


Several years ago, I remember reading an article in Sports Illustrated’s annual baseball preview issue, which dissected the best hitters in the game for each spot in the lineup card (leadoff, second, third, cleanup, etc.). I’ve searched the web in vain today hoping to provide a link to that; alas, you’ll have to trust what I tell you from here on out.

According to the article (and I feel the general consensus around baseball), certain types of hitters tend to excel in certain spots. A manager would like to insert a high-OBP speedster who can get on base and around the basepaths to home as often as he can. The two-hole is best suited for a hitter who makes excellent contact and avoids strikeouts and the double play ball, thus being the most likely to advance the leadoff man into scoring position. The third spot is typically reserved for the team’s best hitter, while the fourth spot is often occupied by the “slugger” on the club. The fifth batter is also a good place for a high-OBP guy, as stats show he is the second-most likely to lead off innings. And the list went on through the nine-spot of the lineup card.

Unlike the team’s pitching that has ranged from mediocre to subpar this year, Twins hitters have been above league average in most major statistical batting categories. So I am not writing this article suggesting that Ron Gardenhire sorely needs to reshuffle or tinker with his lineup. I am, in fact, researching as I write. I hope only to discover if certain Twins regulars hit significantly or even marginally better when they bat in a certain spot in the batting order. Listed below are everyday everyday players, their two or three best batting lines, and the spot in the order those have come from. I’ve omitted Brian Dozier and Chris Parmelee because of their small sample sizes in the big leagues. I’ll follow with a few alternative lineup ideas that Gardenhire could consider, based on these situational strengths of his players.

  • Denard Span – Well…he has 2380 career plate appearances, and only 99 have come in a spot other than leadoff (74 of those coming in the nine-hole). So no one should take issue with him batting number one.
  • Ben Revere – He seems well suited to hit where he’s currently situated: he owns a .308/.328/.376 line from the two-hole and a low strikeout percentage of around 8%. Also notable: .270/.317/.307 leading off and .286/.310/.321 batting eighth.
  • Joe Mauer – Interestingly, Mauer has a higher OPS batting second than batting third…by .001. He’s batted third 3700 times to the tune of .325/.408/.464. Don’t mess with success, especially with someone who can still be the best hitter in baseball.
  • Justin Morneau – We’ve seen Morneau frequent the fifth spot in the lineup this season, so the question is, does he bat better there? Well, from the cleanup spot he’s a .276/.350/.485 hitter; from the five-hole he’s smacking a .300/.363/.542 line. Significant difference there. Also notable: as the third batter, he’s hit .291/.369/.510. Is he best suited as the “slugger” batting cleanup? Is there actually more pressure batting in that spot that negatively affects his performance? (Not that a .835 OPS is terrible, of course.)
  • Josh Willingham – With Morneau producing better over his career in the fifth spot, Gardenhire must already be on his toes as he currently bats him there and has Willingham as the team’s cleanup hitter in 2012. Not only are his stats this year All-Star worthy, but they also reflect his ability to be a club’s big bat. His career line batting fourth is .262/.359/.498, which is very similar to the numbers he’s put up batting fifth (.265/.370/473). I praise Gardy for praising these two thus.
  • Ryan Doumit – Doumit’s batted best in the third (hitting .303/.331/.786 in 175 plate appearances), seventh (.277/.346/.467) and sixth (.272/.340./.435) spots.
  • Trevor Plouffe – The current owner of the Curse Breaker, Plouffe has just 500 career at bats, with nearly half of them coming from the two-hole, where he’s batted a mere .220/.287/.366. His recent power surge has come primarily from the six- and seven-hole, where he has career lines of .241/.327/.517 and .279/.355/.662 respectively. Though he has less than 100 PA’s from those two spots, he has seven bombs (and counting) from each.
  • Jamey Carroll – Currently batting eighth most often for the Twins, Carroll has put up his best numbers from the last spot in the order (.310/..380/.374). This indicates he’s also had success pinch-hitting, due to him spending the majority of his career in the National League. Also notable: a .271/..354/.345 line batting seventh and a .288/.373/.359 line batting eighth.
  • Alexi Casilla – Alexi appears best suited for the eight-hole in the lineup, as he’s produced his best stats and OPS from there (.268/.337/.341).

In conclusion and summary, I have few, if any, changes to propose for the manager to make to the everyday lineup. Here are, however, a few simple observations to take into account:

  • Keep the first five hitters exactly where they are. Don’t feel obliged to return Morneau to his customary cleanup spot. He’s showing he hits best where he currently is.
  • Interchange Plouffe and Doumit in the sixth and seventh spots depending on match-ups. Versus righties, bat Doumit sixth (career .800 OPS from the right side of the plate), and versus lefties hit Plouffe sixth instead.
  • Switch the order of Carroll and Casilla. Their career splits show that each hits better in the spot that the other currently occupies.
  • Get Dozier (at short) and Parmelee (resting starters at first, DH, and in either of the corner outfield positions) as many at bats as possible. Move them around the lineup card and see if there is a niche therein that they can settle into.