The Colorado Rockies are fresh off an opening series that saw them score 20 runs on 38 hits, 16 of which were doubles, en route to their first road series win/sweep since June of 2014. In all three games, the batting order was exactly the same. That means that it must be perfect, right? Actually, it probably isn’t. Let’s take a look at what the Rockies can do to get the most out of their lineup.
First, let’s talk about the way a lineup is traditionally structured. Typically, teams will put their fastest runner at the top of the order, followed by someone who can bunt and handle the bat to get the leadoff man into scoring position. The third and fourth spots are where a team’s two best hitters belong. From the fifth spot on down, the hitters will go in descending order of quality. Is this the proper way to do things? According to The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball by Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman, and Andrew Dolphin, it isn’t.
If baseball statistics and sabermetrics interest you, The Book is an absolute must read. It focuses on a lot more than just lineup construction, but that’s where we’ll stay for now. Using things like run expectancy, how often each spot in the batting order comes up, what types of things (is a walk more beneficial leading off than it is hitting sixth?) were most beneficial for each place in the batting order, and other complicated things that you can read about if you choose, the writers of The Book attempted to create the optimal lineup.
They first looked at some things that seemed fairly obvious, and ended up being just what they expected. For example, the number four hitter should be better than the number five hitter. Then, they looked at things that maybe weren’t so obvious. Who should be better, the second hitter or the fourth hitter? This continued on as they compared various spots in the batting order to each other. I highly recommend getting and reading the book to see exactly how they figured this out, but here are the most important conclusions they came to:
– The top three hitters should bat first, second, and fourth.
– Of those three, the batter with the highest ISO should bat fourth.
– The batter with the most walks should bat first.
– The fourth best hitter should bat fifth.
– The fifth best hitter should bat third.
– The rest of the batting order should be in descending order of quality.
– If the eighth best hitter is significantly better than the ninth best hitter, like in an average National League lineup with a pitcher, the team will actually score more runs batting the pitcher eighth because it creates more RBI opportunities for your best hitters at the top of the order.
Now that we know those “rules,” let’s try to optimize the Rockies batting order. First, let’s sort the Rockies typical starting lineup by their projected wOBA (weighted on-base average) for this season. Here’s that list:
Troy Tulowitzki – .400
Carlos Gonzalez – .370
Corey Dickerson – .365
Justin Morneau – .356
Nolan Arenado – .345
Charlie Blackmon – .328
Nick Hundley – .316
DJ LeMahieu – .306
Looking at that, we know that Tulowitzki, Gonzalez, and Dickerson should go first, second and fourth. Tulowitzki is projected for the highest ISO of the group, so let’s put him fourth. From the two that we have left, Gonzalez is projected to have more walks, so we’ll put him first. That leaves the second spot for Dickerson.
The fourth best projected hitter is Morneau, so he goes fifth. Arenado is our fifth best, meaning he belongs in the third slot according to The Book’s rules. From there, the rest of the job is easy. Blackmon goes sixth, Hundley goes seventh, the pitcher belongs eighth, and LeMahieu should bat ninth. There we have it, the optimal Rockies batting order! Let’s take a look at it, with the player who has actually hit in that spot for the first three games in parentheses:
Carlos Gonzalez (Charlie Blackmon)
Corey Dickerson (Carlos Gonzalez)
Nolan Arenado (Troy Tulowitzki)
Troy Tulowitzki (Justin Morneau)
Justin Morneau (Nolan Arenado)
Charlie Blackmon (Corey Dickerson)
Nick Hundley (Nick Hundley)
Pitcher (DJ LeMahieu)
DJ LeMahieu (Pitcher)
It looks like the Rockies have only been putting one of their nine hitters in the optimal place in the batting order. Does this mean that they’ll never score runs or that they can’t win with the batting order they’re using now? Obviously, after watching the first series of the season, the answer to that question is no. Even perfect lineup optimization for a full season probably only gains a team 10-15 extra runs. Nonetheless, it makes sense to try to gain any advantage you can in baseball and 10-15 runs could become one or two extra wins. This is one area that the Rockies could improve in, even if it’s only by a little bit.
Do you think this lineup would be better than the one the Rockies are using now? Have an idea for a lineup that would be better than both of these options? Let me know in the comments! Don’t forget to subscribe, like View from the Rooftop on Facebook, follow on Twitter, and check back on Monday, April 13, as we look back at the first week of the season, look ahead to the second week of the season, and name the first Rockies player and pitcher of the week.