The Optimal Blue Jays Lineups

As much as we’d all like to imagine that Spring Training performances are the least bit meaningful, the truth is that 35 at bats against inconsistent pitching should carry about as much weight in lineup formation as heart, grit and other intangible qualities.  Managers should already have a general idea of their teams’ batting order during the first week of exhibition games based on past performance beyond the small sample size that Spring Training offers.

For years, the thinking has been that a good lineup is put together like this: a speedster who won’t clog the bases leads off, a player who rarely swings and misses bats second, the team’s best hitter fills the third spot, a power hitter goes in the cleanup spot, someone who can knock in runs hits fifth, and the rest of the lineup is filled with the best hitters that the team has placed in descending order.

But as Jason Hanselman points out in his post on regressed platoon splits at Dock Of The Rays, “conventional wisdom [is] often cliché and muttered without thought.”  Hanselman goes on to mention sabermetrician Tom Tango who suggests that the actual differences between a team’s worst possible lineup order and the best possible isn’t really that great.  But for a team in the American League East that will have to eke out as many runs as possible in order to compete against the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays, the Blue Jays should be looking for an optimal lineup each and every time out.

But what does that mean?  Constructing an optimum lineup isn’t as simple as merely plugging in the players with the best possible platoon splits depending on the handedness of the opposing starting pitcher.  As Matt Klassen points out in his excellent post at FanGraphs on estimating hitter platoon skill,

One bad habit many of us might get into is looking at the platoon splits of two players at the same position, one with a career wOBA of .390 vs. RHP, the other with a career wOBA of .400 vs. LHP, and thinking, “Wow, that platoon would be almost as good as Ryan Braun.” It isn’t that simple. As in most other things, regression shows us that the distance from average is closer than it appears.

Klassen goes on to use more of Tango’s research to come up with formulas for projecting platoon splits that take into account the distinction between observed performance and true talent.  I spent some time inputting the data from the careers of potential Blue Jays lineup candidates as well as some Marcel projections into the formulas he developed to find the following platoon projections:

Player Pos OBP v. LH SLG v. LH wOBA v. LH OBP v. RH SLG v. RH wOBA v. RH
Aaron Hill 2B 0.316 0.449 0.328 0.301 0.418 0.317
Adam Lind 1B 0.293 0.409 0.301 0.335 0.483 0.354
C. Patterson OF 0.269 0.348 0.273 0.297 0.383 0.303
E.Encarnacion DH 0.330 0.470 0.341 0.318 0.435 0.332
J.P. Arencibia C 0.335 0.457 0.341 0.312 0.405 0.318
Jose Bautista 3B 0.359 0.508 0.370 0.341 0.477 0.359
Juan Rivera RF 0.323 0.438 0.325 0.305 0.420 0.318
Rajai Davis CF 0.336 0.406 0.331 0.317 0.374 0.319
S. Podsednik OF 0.319 0.357 0.300 0.338 0.389 0.324
Travis Snider LF 0.311 0.418 0.314 0.333 0.450 0.344
Y. Escobar SS 0.367 0.407 0.339 0.343 0.366 0.321

Most of the data entered was found at FanGraphs.  However, for J.P. Arencibia, I used his Minor League numbers to calculate OBP and SLG, and the MLB equivalent numbers for his wOBA calculations.

As Hanselman recommends in his post, I then took these projections and placed them in Baseball Musings’ Lineup Analysis program which measures the projected run value per game of different lineup options.  According to this program, these are the optimal lineups:

Versus LHP:

Runs per Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
5.011 Bautista Encarnacion Davis Hill Arencibia Snider Rivera Lind Escobar

Versus RHP:

Runs per Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
4.829 Bautista Snider Podsednik Lind Encarnacion Hill Arencibia Davis Escobar

The idea of batting Bautista first in any lineup seems ridiculous considering the power that we’ve seen him utilize in the past.  However, as the player most likely not to get out, there’s something to be said for having him see the most at bats on your team, especially when you consider the OBP of the rest of the Blue Jays last season.  Still, these are the most optimal lineups to use when Bautista is placed in the more traditional third or fourth spot:

Versus LHP:

Runs per Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
4.997 Escobar Hill Bautista Arencibia Encarnacion Lind Snider Rivera Davis

Versus RHP:

Runs per Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
4.820 Snider Lind Hill Bautista Encarnacion Podsednik Davis Arencibia Escobar

Snider leading off?  Maybe Cito Gaston was on to something last season.

Another way of looking at lineup construction is to consider that the first, second and fourth spot are the most important because they’re the most likely hitters to come up to bat with less than two outs, and therefore with the highest run expectancy.  Looking at the numbers, using my own judgment, and leaning more heavily on recent numbers (or lack thereof in Arencibia’s case) instead of an entire career, I would construct the following lineups:

Versus LHP:

Runs per Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
4.920 Escobar Davis Encarnacion Bautista Hill Snider Lind Arencibia Rivera

Versus RHP:

Runs per Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
4.766 Podsednik Snider Lind Bautista Encarnacion Hill Escobar Davis Arencibia