Be Cautious With Lineup Analysis Tool

When it comes to sabermetric studies, no single item sees more energy expended with less gain than the analysis of batting orders. The Book basically opened and shut the door on the issue: the best three hitters should bat first, second, and fourth, but even the most egregious of lineup errors won’t cost a team more than a win. It’s also more important to split lefties to avoid LOOGYs than it is to get that perfectly chained lineup.

That doesn’t mean that lineup construction isn’t fun, and I’ve certainly spent my share of time on largely fruitless but enjoyable studies on the batting order. There’s a tool available over at Baseball Musings that seems to make things easier for everybody, spitting out optimal lineups and even run totals for any lineup you can think of. Unfortunately, the numbers it spits out cannot be trusted and are no longer a reflection of reality.

The first tip to how obsolete the tool is comes from the two models the user is allowed to use. One is the 1998-2002 model, which will spit out horrendously large numbers in terms of runs/game due to using data from the offense-inflated days of the steroid era. This results in ridiculous numbers like the Blue Jays scoring nearly 5 runs per game when only two teams managed that number last season. The other option uses numbers from 1959-2004, which smooths things out much more but is still difficult to transplant into the context of 2011 baseball.

The other problem (a much smaller problem, given we’re already dealing with minutia) is the only inputs are on-base percentage and slugging percentage. In The Book, the inputs used are linear weights by each lineup slot. It’s important to realize that 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. Compared to the issues with the run environment, this is minor, but it can still spit out some odd orders.

Use the lineup analysis tool if you must, but be aware that the run totals it spits out have nothing to do with the context of the current game. You’re much better off simply using The Book’s final conclusion. 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. This clean and relatively simple lineup analysis will rarely lead you astray.

Jack Moore's work can be seen at VICE Sports and anywhere else you're willing to pay him to write. Buy his e-book.

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David Pinto
11 years ago

Wow. That was pretty harsh.

What you don’t note is that the tool does indeed work. If you take the composite batting order for a team at the end of the season and plug in the numbers for each slot, you get a very good estimate of the runs scored by the team. The reason the Blue Jays are projected to score so many runs is that the Marcels project them to be a good team.

11 years ago
Reply to  David Pinto

Harsh, but oh so true.

11 years ago
Reply to  David Pinto

The inputs are two of the 4 main factors when creating a lineup: Type/quality of hits produced by players, OBP, speed, handedness. And for the first factor, it muddies it somewhat by using slugging, when the actual distribution of the hits matter.

It’s an extremely limited “tool”.

11 years ago
Reply to  David Pinto

Harsh? He didn’t even get around to mentioning that the entire construction of the tool is completely misguided. It applies a fixed multiplier to the offensive production of each position. But those multipliers (even accepting the questionable method used to generate them) are based on traditional lineup constructions. So, for example, SLG from the cleanup slot is very valuable because the three prior hitters get on base a lot (typically). The tool, however, allows you to construct untraditional lineups, but continues to assign the exact same value to each “slot” even while the lineup being tested places much better or worse hitters in preceding and subsequent slots. The value of a cleanup hitter’s SLG is obviously not the same if you put your best three OBP hitters in the 5, 6 and 7 slots.

The lineup tool as constructed cannot work. It does not work. And it never has worked. I’ve never understood why David keeps it active.