Talking Baseball

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Posted by Jon on Saturday, June 12, 2004

Hitters Lining Up to Lose

It’s a good thing Major League managers aren’t responsible for devising a coherent batting order before each game. Otherwise, some of the guys managing in the Majors wouldn’t have been hired. Oh, wait. Writing up a lineup for each game is one of the managers more important duties. I must have forgotten whilst checking tonight’s box scores.

One of the traditional rules of thumb in constructing batting orders has always been to get batters in scoring position before the big boppers in the lineup. This is accomplished by reaching base and maybe stealing a few bases. It sounds simple: get guys in position to score on hits from the best sluggers, and generally play your best hitters before your worst. In fact, the Moneyball philosophy, baseball’s newest craze, spouts more of the same, seeking to maximize run production by filling lineups with guys who get on base and others who can knock them in with power. It irks me to no end when managers flaunt their stupidity when writing up lineups. Following are examplary accounts of such buffoonery from today’s box scores.

  • As of yesterday’s games, Adam Dunn’s OBP of .426 ranked tops among Reds hitters. His slugging percentage, .588, was eclipsed only by Sean Casey. All season long, Reds manager Dave Miley had Dunn nestled in the fifth spot of the batting order, behind the likes of Casey, Ken Griffey Jr., and Austin Kearns. Then with the start of interleague play, Miley shook up the lineup, dropping Dunn back one spot to sixth in the lineup. Dunn got bounced one spot for the always-threatening D’angelo Jimenez. Was Miley trying to make sure his team continued to play low-scoring National League baseball, compensating for the increased run production of the added DH by reducing his team’s ability to score runs? Or maybe a win that night against the likes of Billy Beane and the OBP-obsessed Moneyballers would once and for all show the world of baseball just how useless these stats are. But it didn’t work. The Reds mustered a puny two runs, their lowest total in a week.

    The fact that Dunn, with his league-leading 18 dingers and his monstrous OBP (fourth in the league), is relegated to the back-end of the lineup is more than absurd. Dunn should be receiving as many plate appearances as possible. If it takes base runners to win games, Dunn’s your man. If it takes home runs, there’s nobody in the league with more. Yet he’s receiving fewer at-bats than Jimenez, Ryan Freel, Jason LaRue, and Wily Mo Pena. Sure, Adam strikes out in a good portion of his plate appearances, but he’s still quite possibly the best hitter on the team, and Miley’s approach has already cost him a number of plate appearances, and thus a number of baserunners and runs. With guys like Ryan Freel and Jason LaRue getting extra at-bats over Adam Dunn, the Reds have an extra reason to start swooning. Since Miley dropped him to the six-hole, the Reds have gone 0-4 and are no longer the NL Central leaders. After a three-game sweep at the hands of the A’s, I tally the score as follows: “Moneyball 3, Reds 0.”

    How many more losses before Miley realizes Dunn is a better hitter and deserves more at-bats than LaRue, Jimenez, Pena, Kearns, Casey, and maybe even Griffey? I wouldn’t try to wait out the manager.

  • The fact that Frank Robinson would even take the job as Expos manager/babysitter shies me away from the harshest criticisms, but there are no excuses for creating a poor lineup. Managers should know their teams, who their better hitters are, and where they belong in their lineups. He has the biggest boppers the Expos can afford, Tony Batista and Nick Johnson, batting fourth and fifth. But what in the world is Endy Chavez doing batting second, let alone anywhere in the Expos’ lineup?

    Chavez, with his .279/.298/.397 line is a help to nobody. Yes, he’s stolen eight bags in ten tries, but to be productive on the basepaths one must first reach base. If I had free reign with the ‘spos lineup card, I’d be batting Nick Johnson and Termell Sledge second and third behind Wilkerson. Sledge’s poor season numbers date back to a very slow start in April (.122/.163/.146). May (.316/.366/.526) was his breakout month, but thus far June (.385/.429/.462) has been even better. If it were up to me, Endy Chavez would sit squarely on the endy of the bench.

Get back to the basics, guys. Get Jason LaRue and Endy Chavez out of the beginning of their lineups so the better hitters reach the plate more often. It isn’t difficult to construct efficient batting orders, and managers at all levels of baseball should know how to maximize scoring potential.

If they don't, their time spent as manger should Endy, and then they'll be Dunn.

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