Alberto Callaspo and the Revolving Lineup Spot


Royals fans may remember Bob Boone (and probably without fond memories). A former Royal himself, Boone managed Kansas City from 1995 until midway through the 1997 season and was notorious for creative lineup manipulation. In 1996, he used 152 different battling lineups. He certainly wasn’t one to subscribe to the theory of crafting a batting lineup based on player archetypes.

So far in 2010, Trey Hillman has tried to use the same lineup in general, but he just can’t help but tinker.

Last year, there was discussion of moving David DeJesus to the 3rd spot in the lineup. Part of the reason was that he didn’t fit the prototypical leadoff hitter – a speedy base-stealer of the Jose Reyes type. For whatever reason, though, DeJesus produces better from the leadoff position :

Batting 1st62127922465.296.366.440.806107
Batting 2nd88368327.245.319.370.68977
Batting 3rd47207186.263.325.371.69679

So to start 2010, even after the signing of Scott Podsednik (who does fit the prototypical leadoff hitter profile), DeJesus stays in the leadoff position. I’ll give Hillman credit for recognizing that and not trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

He just can’t apply that same idea to Alberto Callaspo.

To open the year, Callaspo was pegged as the #3 hitter in front of Billy Butler. Coming off of splits in 2008 of .305/.361/.371 and .300/.356/.457 in 2009, I understand how that may be a good idea. Callaspo makes good contact and showed the ability to collect extra base hits last season. So what if he hit 5th, 6th, or 7th last season most of the time, a hitter’s a hitter, right? You can just plug them in where ever you need them. That just seems like common sense.

But here’s where the game gets a little more gray. Numbers are great and help dig deeper but there’s still a human element. Hell, Rick Ankiel looked like an emerging superstar pitcher and out of nowhere forgot how to throw strikes. Chuck Knoblauch went from perennial all-star to being incapable of making the shortest throw on the field – a throw he’d made thousands of times with little issue. Some of these things can’t be explained by the black and white of numbers, and some players just feel more comfortable in certain spots. Alberto Callaspo, talented hitter that he is, looks to have his own comfort zone, and it isn’t at the top of the lineup.

The numbers do help, though. In Callaspo’s case, the numbers show a significant difference in production when he hits from the 5-8 spots than the 1-3 spots:

Batting 1st399.222.222.333.55647
Batting 2nd57233213.
Batting 3rd113735.200.243.371.61562
Batting 4th222.
Batting 5th69292262.309.370.462.832122
Batting 6th33125117.291.328.487.815116
Batting 7th54213194.314.362.459.820119
Batting 8th34122112.348.393.438.831123
Batting 9th5910090.233.310.322.63270

That’s a large shift in OPS from .615 batting third to .815 batting sixth. I would say nearly 300 plate appearances is enough to say there’s something to the stark difference in production from one part of the order to the next.

Now, can you blame Hillman for wanting to move Callaspo’s bat up? No, not really. Hillman’s job is to put out a lineup that will create runs and placing Callaspo higher in the lineup makes sense on the face of it. He’d bat more often, come up with DeJesus or Podsednik on base more often, and since he gets on base as well as anyone on the Royals can and also hits a lot of doubles, he’ll be on base for Billy Butler. Fine.

"“I’m hopeful he’ll be comfortable in that No. 3 slot so we don’t have to re-slot him fifth or sixth like we did last year. In my philosophy, I don’t really want a .300 hitter from last year to wait until the sixth slot to come up. We’ll see how we roll for this series and make some adjustments, if we feel like we need to, for the road trip.” – Trey Hillman on 4/10"

But then Callaspo started the year with 5 hits in 25 at bats batting third. Coinciding with moving Jose Guillen to cleanup, Hillman shifted Callaspo down to 6th (and one game in 5th on Ankiel’s day off) in the order on April 13, and he promptly started hitting again, going 9 for 23 with two homers and driving in eight runs. So we’re good. Callaspo’s in the right spot now, the lineup is hitting. Things are good, now let’s focus on the bullpen.

Not so fast.

"“Once he gets settled in I’m not so sure he won’t be fine at three. But we’re scoring runs right now, so I think it would probably be a mistake on my part to switch the order up.” – Hillman on 4/18"

And after that stretch of productivity, Hillman moved Callaspo back to the #2 spot once Chris Getz went on the DL. He went 0-4 and in the last two games was shifted again to the fifth spot. He couldn’t even wait a day before sneaking him back up the lineup.

Well, why? Can’t Hillman just leave it alone and look at where Callaspo’s been productive? He made the same move with DeJesus and has since left him at leadoff. With Butler, Guillen and Ankiel the Royals still have the typical middle of the order kinds of bats which lets Callaspo fit nicely in the the sixth spot.

So maybe the stretch of 4/13-4/18 is a small sample size, as are the first six games Callaspo played in and batted third. But last season, Callaspo exhibited similar differences, hitting better lower in the lineup, usually batting 5th or 7th. Maybe he CAN bat third, but so far, Callaspo hasn’t produced there, and until Butler falters there, he shouldn’t need to try to produce there.

Part of being a good manager, in baseball or in business, is looking at your personnel and putting the right person in the right position for them to succeed and for your organization to succeed. David DeJesus has a track record of producing as a leadoff hitter and tinkering with that can create more problems than it would benefit anyone. Alberto Callaspo rakes batting 5th through 8th. Similar to closing pitchers, some players just can’t get those last three outs, and some just can’t bat third.

I see the same situation with Callaspo right now. Perhaps with another year or two he can make a jump up like Placido Polanco and hit at the top of the lineup. As bad as the Royals lineup can be, there’s still talent. Callaspo doesn’t need to be forced into the third spot. That’s what Billy Butler is for.