When I was a Freshman in High School, I sat in the dugout during our Varsity Baseball games. I was still biding my time at that point, but it was a respectable way to spend my summer evenings. That year, we had a pretty good team and one of my favorite nightly occurrences would take place after the top of the first inning was complete. Whichever bench jockey that kept the book would annouce the upcoming lineup, “Maxell!, Ray!, Roberts!” as the team returned to the dugout. The programmed, but enthusiastic response was always, “Sounds like runs!”
That entire year, I don’t remember the top three in the lineup being any different. Were we good because of that? I’m not sure, but we all took comfort in the consistency of having those three guys bat in the first inning of every game.
One thing that has been interesting to watch this season is the numerous lineup combinations that Ned Yost has posted on the dugout wall. Consistency has not been any part of the formula. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been an option.
The day before the season starts, a manager lays out his perfect formula from top to bottom of a batting order. This is almost always done to a script that has been around forever.
1) Your leadoff hitter is the guy who gets things going. He’s usually the fastest baserunner or the guy who gets on base more than anyone else. He bats more than anyone else in the lineup. Generally, you’d like him to get on & steal a base. If he’s standing on 2nd base when your second hitter comes up, you’re off to a good start.
2) The two-hole hitter is a guy who handles the bat well. Meaning, he can do whatever is asked of him in any situation. This can mean a bunt, hit & run, ground ball to the right side, or sacrifice fly. His goal is to move the leadoff hitter one step closer to scoring.
3) This is where you put your best hitter – period. This guy’s job is to keep the inning going and get the upcoming power hitters to the plate. If the first two guys have done their job, then the guy who hits third drives in a run with his hit. This is where the Hall of Famers hang out.
4) The Cleanup Hitter’s job is to mash. In a perfect world, the first three guys have all reached base and your monster power hitter can come up and hit a grand slam. Ideally, there are always guys on base when this guy comes to the plate because, with his ability to hit home runs, you have a better chance of putting a crooked number on the scoreboard
5) This is an important spot in the order, because it has to be someone who carries their own RBI & power threat. By doing so, he protects the cleanup hitter & forces the other team to pitch to him. This guy can keep the inning rolling with his hitting ability.
6) The sixth hitter will often benefit from the heart of the order’s success. He is the guy at the bar who gets to go home with hot girls because all of his better looking friends are going home with hot girls. He is opportunistic, and hopefully has a high RBI total because of that. Teams are well served to try and stick a guy with a high OBP here to stretch the lineup to the bottom third of the order.
7) This is sometimes the lost batter in the lineup. There is typically less pressure when you’re hitting this low, so it’s a good place to hide a below average hitter. It’s also a good place to bat someone who has been struggling.
8 ) The eighth spot is someone who is a good contact hitter. His goal is sometimes as simple as extending an inning so that the #9 hitter does not have to lead off the next inning. It’s kind of a thankless job, but is necessary. In a lot of cases, you’ll see the team’s catcher hit in this spot.
9) The ninth hitter is commonly used as a second leadoff hitter in the American League. In the National League, this is where you stick the pitcher. This would be a guy who, if he were a bit faster or had a better OBP, would be the leadoff hitter. You would like him to get things rolling for the top of the order when they come up for the second time in the game.
The Royals have had to jumble lineups so many times this year that the same lineup has only been used (in two different combinations) in three games. There are four other lineups that have been used two times. They are posted on Baseball-Reference.com under a section called “Most Common Batting Orders”, which is used very loosely in this case.
The most common lineup for the Royals this season has been:
1)Dyson 2)Gordon 3)Butler 4)Hosmer 5)Francoeur 6)Moustakas 7)Pena 8)Getz 9)Escobar AND
1)Dyson 2)Hosmer 3)Butler 4)Gordon 5)Francoeur 6)Moustakas 7)Pena 8)Getz 9)Escobar
So, with a little bit of a microscope, you see that the only difference in these two lineups is the Gordon-Hosmer flip. For the most part, this lineup slots players in the spots that they should be. Gordon is more of a #2 hitter than Hosmer will ever be, but Yost was desperate to get his young star hitting and he just happened to wind up in the two-hole.
So is having so many different lineups good or bad? The LA Dodgers have MLB’s best record and their most common lineup has been used just seven times. There’s a fine line between a manager tinkering too much and trying to find the magic combo. When guys aren’t hitting, the manager’s hand is forced & he has to move guys around. The added challenge is that once guys get going, he has to decide when (and if) to move him back to his ideal spot in the order. Eric Hosmer, for example, has been hitting a little better recently while batting sixth. If he starts looking comfortable & continues to raise his average, do you keep him there, or risk moving him out of his comfort zone & hitting him higher in the order? Ned Yost recently moved Alex Gordon back into the leadoff spot where he excelled last year & where I think he belongs.
Last year, the most common Royals lineup was only in place for 12 games:
1)Gordon 2)Cabrera 3)Butler 4)Hosmer 5)Francoeur 6)Moustakas 7)Giavotella 8)Perez 9)Escobar
Looks pretty good, no? Especially with Melky Cabrera in there…arrg.
So what’s in a lineup? Ideally, a bunch of hitters. If you’ve got guys who can hit & pick each other up throughout your lineup it really doesn’t matter what order you bat them in. For the Royals, if they can get more consistent at the plate, their lineup will settle in for what is best for them.