So this really started as a way to look at what the Royals lineup might look like if they’d retained either of Miguel Olivo or John Buck and thus, never signing Jason Kendall. There’s a fun little gadget out there at Baseball Musings – a lineup analyzer that allows you to put in a player’s name, OBP and SLG and when you fill it out for a full nine man lineup, it projects an average runs per game for that lineup and also projects the 30 most optimal lineups and 30 worst lineups.
But back to our catchers of days gone by.
There are so many different permutations that I’m not going to get too into all the variations. But let’s say for the sake of argument that the Royals retained Miguel Olivo and slotted him fifth in the lineup.
This lineup, based on the lineup analyzer, would score 5.116 runs per game. Currently, the Royals lineup has scored 377 runs in 85 games, an average of 4.43 per game. Granted, nobody expected Olivo to produce at the level he has in Colorado, but if we plug Olivo’s OBP of .292 and his SLG of .490, the lineup still produces 4.927 runs per game.
Now, does any of this really matter? Yes and no. There have been numerous examinations into how important a batting order is to run production (if it is at all), and it’s mostly inconclusive, but it makes sense that players at the top of your lineup are going to see more plate appearances than those towards the bottom. The table below shows the Royals leaders in plate appearances and those placed in higher spots have logically seen more plate appearances (led by Scott Podsednik, who’s mostly batted first and second). So you want your more productive players higher in the lineup so they’ll get more appearances. Over the course of a season, it can result in a leadoff batter getting 50 more appearances than your second batter, and so on.
That got me to thinking about what the numbers say the most frequent Royals lineup should score per game. Conveniently, the above table turns out what one would recognize as the most frequent lineup put out by Ned Yost‘s Royals:
Based on the lineup analyzer, that lineup should score 4.775 runs a game. So you could say the Royals lineup has underperformed their peripheral statistics.
What I found interesting though was how Jason Kendall fits into the lineup. Remember how I said above that the program will show you the 30 most productive and 30 least productive lineups? In every one of the 30 least productive lineups, Kendall was batting second. In each of the 30 most productive lineups, Kendall was batting ninth. This is true now, and was true about a month ago, too.
That got me thinking about what the best Royals lineup would be. In most of the projections, it placed David DeJesus and Billy Butler in the top two spots. For this exercise, I had to consider that no baseball manager is going to be so revolutionary to follow that pattern. You can see how that would happen, as they both have high on-base percentages. That being the case, if they were both higher in the lineup, the Royals would have players on base (on average) more often.
Now for this practice, I think I settled on a lineup that would both a) be more productive than the current lineup and b) would fit what a “traditional” lineup would look like.
Check it out:
This lineup would score 4.892 runs a game. It both places the highest OBP at the top of the lineup and Jason Kendall at the bottom to reflect the most productive lineups in the projections. The rest fill in to where I think they seem to fit. It’s a little weird with Maier batting sixth and Podsednik batting seventh (as most managers would probably put him ninth in that “second lead off hitter” position), but over the remainder of the season, this lineup would score 9.009 runs more than the typical lineup’s projection of 4.775 runs per game. It’s not much, but that’s still roughly an extra win. Over a 162 game season, they score about 19 more runs with the new lineup than with the usual lineup (as far as how the analyzer projects it).
But the Royals aren’t performing at that level, so this new lineup would produce 35.42 more runs over the rest of the season than what is usually out on the field. That’s about 3.5 more wins (based off of general pythagorean projections) the rest of the way. When comparing this new lineup against the Royals runs per game over the course of a 162 game season (that 4.43 runs per game mark), the new lineup scores 79.52 more runs, or about 8 more wins. That’s all accomplished simply by not batting Jason Kendall second every day.
Maybe it’s just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic considering that, despite Ned Yost‘s optimism, the Royals have about a 2% chance of making the playoffs this year. But the philosophy that allows Kendall to bat second, when he’s the least efficient player for that position of the batting order, should change so that in the future, when hitting prospects start to arrive in Kansas City, the lineup will be constructed in such a way that maximizes everyone’s production.
While the theoretical two win difference between a full season of the new lineup isn’t much for the 2010 Royals, it could mean the difference between winning the division by a game or coming up just short in 2012 or 2013. As a small market team, the Royals need to maximize the resources as best they can to keep up with the juggernauts of the American League.