Twins 2009 Lineup, Via The Book

Over at Beyond the Box Score, Sky Kalkman discusses two ways to construct a batting order.  One of thsoe ways is Old School, the other way is as done by The Book.  Taking excerpts from Kalkman's piece, how would The Book construct the Twins' batting order in 2009?

Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman, and Andy Dolphin are the authors of The Book, which discusses minutia of the game like the base on balls and clutch performance, and then evaluates those aspects of the game historically.  Today, I'm interested in constructing a batting order.

The Lead-Off Hitter:

Old School says this spot is all about speed.  Speed helps manufacture runs, and having a guy who's able to take an extra base or steal a bag makes it easier.

Kalkman's take on what The Book says: 

The Book says OBP is king.  The lead-off hitter comes to bat only 36% of the time with a runner on base, versus 44% of the time for the next lowest spot in the lineup, so why waste homeruns?  The lead-off hitter also comes to the plate the most times per game, so why give away outs?  As for speed, stealing bases is most valuable in front of singles hitters, and since the top of the order is going to be full of power hitters, they're not as important.  The lead-off hitter is one of the best three hitters on the team, the guy without homerun power.  Speed is nice, as this batter will have plenty of chances to run the bases with good hitters behind him.

If on-base percentage is the number one priority for this slot, then there are a number of options.  I'd list Minnesota's three best hitters as Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel, but knowing that we don't want to waste home runs, we'll narrow down our list of potentials to two.

Options:  Denard Span, Joe Mauer

Two Hole:

This should be a hitter with excellent bat control, who can move the lead-off hitter along.  A guy who can put the ball where he wants it, which doesn't always necessitate him being a good hitter.

Kalkman's interpretation from The Book:

The Books says the #2 hitter comes to bat in situations about as important as the #3 hitter, but more often.  That means the #2 hitter should be better than the #3 guy, and one of the best three hitters overall.  And since he bats with the bases empty more often than the hitters behind him, he should be a high-OBP player.  Doesn't sound like someone who should be sacrificing, does it?

No, Sky, it doesn't.  This means no Nick Punto, and no Alexi Casilla, either.  If we're talking about one of the team's three best hitters, and we are, there really aren't a lot of options for this spot.  And none of them are guys who will typically hit second for the Twins.

Options:  Joe Mauer, Jason Kubel

Three Hole:

This is where your best hitter goes.  He's normally a high batting average guy, and if he can hit for power that's icing on the cake.

Cue Kalkman:

The Book says the #3 hitter comes to the plate with, on average, fewer runners on base than the #4 or #5 hitters.  So why focus on putting a guy who can knock in runs in the #3 spot, when the two spots after him can benefit from it more?  Surprisingly, because he comes to bat so often with two outs and no runners on base, the #3 hitter isn't nearly as important as we think.  This is a spot to fill after more important spots are taken care of.

This is entirely counter-intuitive to everything I've ever heard from traditional lineup analysis.  It sounds like this spot is wide open, and can be filled in later.

Options:  Denard Span, Michael Cuddyer, Joe Crede, Delmon Young

Cleanup:

This is where you put your big power hitter.  Being a good hitter isn't necessary, because ultimately power is the number one asset for anyone hitting fourth.

The Book agrees, sort of.  Where it differs is in its insistence that the cleanup hitter is one of the three best hitters on the team; where it agrees is that it's the one with the most power.  This could be two different players, but luckily for us it's one in the same.

Options:  Justin Morneau

Five Hole:

Old School lineups will have the secondary masher in this position, which might be why it's a place where we say Kubel hitting quite a bit last summer.  He's your second chance at driving in all those runners you've put on base, should the cleanup hitter falter.

The Book's perspective, via Sky:

The Book says the #5 guy can provide more value than the #3 guy with singles, doubles, triples, and walks, and avoiding outs, although the #3 guy holds an advantage with homeruns.  After positions #1, #2, and #4 are filled, put your next best hitter here, unless he lives and dies with the long ball.

The Twins fourth-best hitter, unless he "lives and dies" with the home run?  This could be a number of guys, depending on regression, stagnation or improvement.

Options:  Michael Cuddyer, Denard Span, Delmon Young

Six Through Nine Holes:

These are usually your worst hitters, aligned in order of decreasing offensive ability.  Hitting last says you're the worst hitter in the lineup, but hell, it probably also means you're the best option defensively for that position as well.  Although that compliment is relative, so who knows.  Maybe you just suck and there's nobody better because it's a down year.  Get off your high horse, number nine hitter!

Kalkman's take from The Book:

The Book basically agrees, with a caveat.  Stolen bases are most valuable ahead of high-contact singles hitters, who are more likely to hit at the bottom of the lineup.  So a base-stealing threat who doesn't deserve a spot higher in the lineup is optimized in the #6 hole, followed by the singles hitters.

Options:  Carlos Gomez, Nick Punto, Alexi Casilla, Michael Cuddyer, Delmon Young, Joe Crede

Based off what we've been told by The Book, what does your lineup look like?  Is Denard Span still leading off?  Where are you placing Jason Kubel?  Or Joe Crede?  I'd imagine The Book would advocate a lineup like this:  Mauer, Kubel, Crede, Morneau, Cuddyer, Span, Punto, Gomez, Casilla.  Of course that's based off of what we know from 2008, not going forward for this year.

To see what our optimum lineup actually would be for this year, we'll be using 2009 projections by Bill James to plug into Baseball Musings' lineup analysis tool.  Here are James' OBP/SLG predictions.

Joe Mauer:  .412/.463
Justin Morneau:  .362/.504
Alexi Casilla:  .329/.343
Joe Crede:  .300/.425
Nick Punto:  .323/.325
Denard Span:  .358/.381
Delmon Young:  .342/.437
Carlos Gomez:  .310/.379
Michael Cuddyer:  .351/.435
Jason Kubel:  .348/.489

We'll run three lineups, with alternating outfield options to alleviate my own curiosity.

No.

LF:  Young
CF:  Gomez
RF:  Cuddyer

LF:  Young
CF:  Span
RF:  Cuddyer

LF:  Span
CF:  Gomez
RF:  Cuddyer

1

Kubel

Kubel

Kubel

2

Mauer

Mauer

Mauer

3

Casilla

Span

Span

4

Morneau

Morneau

Morneau

5

Cuddyer

Cuddyer

Cuddyer

6

Crede

Crede

Crede

7

Young

Young

Gomez

8

Gomez

Punto

Punto

9

Punto

Casilla

Casilla

RPG

5.338

5.431

5.156

Baseball Musing's lineup analysis tool doesn't take into account anything except on-base and slugging percentages, which are dependent on James' own projections, but in spite of those things we still see that the lineups that score the most runs in each of these three scenarios are still drastically different than what we see any day of the season.  In a debate that won't be dying anytime soon, it's another debate on the tongue's of baseball purists and number crunchers alike.

It's an interesting contrast, although I agree with Kalkman when he says that lineup construction is something to live or die by.  More than lineup construction, it's the players available that will ultimately spell glory or defeat for the offense.  Take it for what it is.

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