Tuesday, March 28, 2017

More on batting orders

The Monday print column explored some of the questions and issues involved in drawing up a batting order for the Twins. Here's a tangent I left out:

Which inning do you suppose has the most runs scored? For most teams -- for the league as whole -- it's the first inning. American League teams last year scored 1,326 runs in the first inning. The next highest: the fifth inning (1,308). Third highest: the third inning. And the inning with the fewest runs (excluding the ninth, which the home team often doesn't hit) is the second (1,166).

This makes sense, because the first inning is the only inning in which the lineup is set up as the manager idealizes it. And if the best hitters are arrayed at the top of the order, that leaves the weaker ones at the bottom -- and they're going to hit in the second inning. One could boost the even-numbered innings by moving some good hitters lower, but that ultimately takes at-bats away from whoever is lowered (about 13 plate appearances a year per lineup slot).

Second question: You may expect that the No. 1 spot in the order leads off the most innings, because it automatically does to start the game, and you would be correct. Which lineup spot leads off the second most innings?

The answer is No. 5. Which is interesting because the stereotypical No. 5 hitter is pretty much the opposite of a leadoff hitter. The stereotypical No. 5 hitter is a slow right-handed hitter with power but lacking on on-base skills. It's a hitter better suited to finishing trouble than starting it -- but he's often tasked with starting it. (For the 2016 Twins, the revolving door in the fifth slot combined for the second lowest OBP, better than only the No. 9 slot.)

Oddly, the 2016 Twins didn't follow the usual pattern of runs scored. Their most productive inning was the third (106 runs), followed by the fifth (95). The first tied with the seventh for fourth place (78), although the Twins lost out on a seventh inning once, so on an average basis the seventh was ever so slightly more productive.

I suspect this is connected to using Brian Dozier as the leadoff hitter so much. Their best power hitter was guaranteed to have nobody on base for his first at-bat. They had to turn the lineup over to have any chance of having somebody on for Dozier,

Batting orders probably have just a marginal effect on runs scored, but managers feed off marginal advantages. I'm not convinced Paul Molitor's batting orders last year maximized the possibilities.

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