How Much Do Batting Orders Matter?

Batting orders are one of the most hotly debated topics, possibly in all sports, that have some of the smallest effect on the actual outcome of games. It’s difficult to think of any other item in which more energy is expended analyzing with less gain than the study of batting orders. I guess that’s how sabermetricians minds work. They are always looking for ways to analyze statistics to gain even marginal enhancements to a team’s performance. The difference between batting Nelson Cruz before or after Chris Davis and Adam Jones is so negligible that it is almost not even worth debating.

But that doesn’t mean arguing batting orders can’t be fun. So because exhibition baseball games have started, and meaningful games are still a month away, let’s take the hypothetical batting order debate.

There’s a very fun and interesting website called Baseball Musings that allows you to conveniently input 9 players to determine the best batting orders specific to those players by projecting their run output. It is fun, but it’s by no means scientifically accurate or realistic. When inputting the potential members of the lineup, the only statistics you include are on-base percentage and slugging percentage, and the website gives you many potential batting orders and the run output it expects those players to create. That’s it! So obviously, just by using OBP and SLG you’re missing out on some very valuable inputs to help you determine the best batting order, and different positions in the order clearly require different skills. Different batting slots tend to see different situations – leadoff sees bases empty often, third sees nobody on and two outs quite often, fourth sees most runners, etc. – and therefore a single from a hitter in one slot isn’t necessarily worth the same as a hitter in another.

Either way, this isn’t the best way to determine the most ideal batting order. But with that in mind, it’s fine to take a look at these hypothetical batting orders for entertainment purposes or for baseball talk at a bar.

The Royals lineup has some young, promising hitters, and they are likely to trot out the same batting order everyday, thanks to Ned Yost. Here’s the likely everyday batting order:

1. Norichika Aoki

2. Omar Infante

3. Eric Hosmer

4. Billy Butler

5. Alex Gordon

6. Salvador Perez

7. Mike Moustakas

8. Lorenzo Cain

9. Alcides Escobar

By checking out the Baseball Musings website, we can compare this batting order to the optimal batting order with these same players. The OBP and SLG numbers that we have to input to the website are taken from FanGraphs FANS 2014 projections. So these lineups are hypothetical projections of run output using statistical projections of the 2012 season. Got it?

Runs per Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
4.893 Billy Butler Eric Hosmer Mike Moustakas Alex Gordon Salvador Perez Alcides Escobar Lorenzo Cain Omar Infante Norichika Aoki
4.893 Norichika Aoki Billy Butler Salvador Perez Alex Gordon Eric Hosmer Omar Infante Lorenzo Cain Mike Moustakas Alcides Escobar
4.893 Billy Butler Alex Gordon Mike Moustakas Eric Hosmer Salvador Perez Alcides Escobar Lorenzo Cain Omar Infante Norichika Aoki
4.892 Billy Butler Eric Hosmer Omar Infante Alex Gordon Salvador Perez Alcides Escobar Lorenzo Cain Mike Moustakas Norichika Aoki
4.892 Norichika Aoki Billy Butler Salvador Perez Eric Hosmer Alex Gordon Omar Infante Lorenzo Cain Mike Moustakas Alcides Escobar
4.892 Billy Butler Alex Gordon Omar Infante Eric Hosmer Salvador Perez Alcides Escobar Lorenzo Cain Mike Moustakas Norichika Aoki

Interestingly enough, these projected lineups have Billy Butler batting either first or second in the order. Aoki is batting either first or last, and apparently in these projections, batting your worst hitter in the 6th spot is ideal. Lorenzo Cain has the 7th spot in the order pretty much locked down.

Baseball Musings also calculated the “worst” batting orders with the 9 players that are added to the website. This is not only comical, but informative. Check it out.

Runs per Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
4.678 Mike Moustakas Alcides Escobar Norichika Aoki Omar Infante Lorenzo Cain Alex Gordon Salvador Perez Billy Butler Eric Hosmer
4.678 Mike Moustakas Alcides Escobar Norichika Aoki Omar Infante Lorenzo Cain Billy Butler Salvador Perez Alex Gordon Eric Hosmer
4.679 Mike Moustakas Alcides Escobar Lorenzo Cain Omar Infante Norichika Aoki Alex Gordon Salvador Perez Billy Butler Eric Hosmer
4.68 Mike Moustakas Alcides Escobar Lorenzo Cain Omar Infante Norichika Aoki Billy Butler Salvador Perez Alex Gordon Eric Hosmer
4.68 Mike Moustakas Alcides Escobar Norichika Aoki Omar Infante Lorenzo Cain Alex Gordon Eric Hosmer Billy Butler Salvador Perez
4.68 Mike Moustakas Alcides Escobar Norichika Aoki Omar Infante Lorenzo Cain Billy Butler Eric Hosmer Alex Gordon Salvador Perez

I know Ned loves Mike Moustakas, and the Moose is in the “best shape of his life,” and the Royals are the Royals, but I’m pretty sure they won’t bat Moustakas at lead-off this season. It’s humorous that Escobar was batting 2nd for much of the first part of last season, and here he is in the “worst” batting orders at 2nd. The batting order construction for the worst lineups from these players looks very questionable, but they only score 0.215 runs per game less than the optimal batter order. That’s almost 35 runs over the course of a full season. This batting order would cost the Royals 3-4 wins, determined by the pythag formula for expected win-loss records. You would expect a batting order this poorly constructed would cost the team much more than 3 wins.

Jack Moore at FanGraphs gives a very simple formula for determining a batting order. His thoughts:

Take the best three hitters at #1, #2, and #4 (with power leaning towards #4 and OBP leaning toward #1). The next two go in #3 and #5. Then the worst four go in #6, #7, #8, and #9.

It’s fairly indisputable that the “best” 3 hitters on the Royals are Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, and Alex Gordon. That may or may not be the order of how good they are, and that depends largely on if Hosmer continues to hit like he did the second half of last season. So going by Moore’s formula, you’d put Butler at #1 and Hosmer at #4 because of Butler’s OBP and Hosmer’s power stroke. Gordon would bat #2 in this scenario. The next 2 best hitters are more difficult to determine. Perez would bat #3 because he’s better than any of the other options for the #5 spot in the order. I’ll take Aoki as the next best because of his on-base and low strikeout numbers, so he’ll bat #5. I’ll just list the final four spots in the order by projected OPS, and you get Moustakas, Cain, Infante*, Escobar.

*FanGraphs FANS projections do not like Omar Infante this year. His projected numbers are below Mike Moustakas range, although it is still an upgrade from the Chris Getz years.

So Jack Moore’s Royals batting order would look something like this:

1. Billy Butler

2. Alex Gordon

3. Salvador Perez

4. Eric Hosmer

5. Norichika Aoki

6. Mike Moustakas

7. Lorenzo Cain

8. Omar Infante

9. Alcides Escobar

The batting order argument is a fun and futile debate for this time of the year. There’s conventional batting order methods that meet up with advanced statistical practices. Neither of them make that much of a difference when they are making batting orders with the same principles; getting the most at bats from the best hitters.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: