Stats Geek: Why not make Pirates' lineup top heavy?
Share with others:
Adam LaRoche is no superstar, but the fanfare for his arrival is deserved. LaRoche is the prototypical Lefty McThump the slugging-deprived Pirates needed, and you can pencil him in for 25 to 30 home runs for the next few years.
The Web page, "Steve's Lineup Toy," allows you to punch in nine players and then suggests a lineup. It says that LaRoche's insertion adds anywhere from two-tenths to three-tenths of a run per game, depending upon who surrounds him.
That fraction sounds goofy, but think of that as somewhere between 30 and 50 more runs this season, and that sounds sweet.
Anyone who goes to Dejan Kovacevic's Pirates Q&A for his baseball fix each morning already knows the hills are alive with the sound of lineup arguments. Before I get to mine, just know that sticking LaRoche's .350 on-base average and .500-plus slugging average anywhere will help.
That said, I'm with Vaughn Schultz of Mount Washington, who submitted a top of the lineup like the one I had in mind:
J. Bautista/J. Castillo
I'm as unsure of the last four spots as I am sold on the first four. Kovacevic offered an argument in yesterday's Q&A on batting Wilson second, Sanchez third and Bay fifth, but here's my bottom line: Get your best guys up as often as possible.
Every position that a player drops in the batting order costs him an average of 18 plate appearances per season. So batting Bay third instead of fifth means he should come to the plate about 36 more times.
Bumping Sanchez up to No. 2 likewise could give him 18 more whacks at the ball, thus providing the two All-Stars 54 more plate appearances between them. Who are these taken from?
From Wilson, who has had a miserable .318 on-base average in the second spot the past three seasons.
Wilson's glove is so good that he can hit that way and still help the team. But the Pirates have no business putting all his outs atop the order, no matter how pretty some of his outs may appear. This team needs baserunners.
Besides, Wilson is slowing down. He had only one triple while grounding into 15 double plays last year. At 29, he isn't going to speed up, even if he sheds bulk and goes back to his old Jack Flash body.
A slowing, right-handed, ground-ball hitter who rarely walks -- you don't give him 100 extra trips to the plate so he can move up guys with outs, particularly not with a base stealer batting ahead of him.
Let Wilson be a good No. 8 hitter. There's a myth that he hits better batting second, but here are his numbers the past three seasons:
Sanchez sprays line drives and rarely whiffs or hits into double plays, so he is the perfect guy to send Duffy scurrying around the bases. Sanchez might not win another batting title, but bet the rent that he finishes among the batting and doubles leaders again.
Then come Bay and LaRoche. This order interrupts the righty-lefty-righty order that managers like for late-inning chess moves, but trade that for sandwiching Bay between two good hitters.
Bay and LaRoche finished ninth and 10th in the National League last year in OPS (OBA plus SLG). LaRoche was well behind Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman among the division's first basemen, but no NL Central team had two hitters in the OPS top 10.
The rest of the lineup is a bag of question marks. As bad as Duffy was in his abbreviated first half last season, that's how good he was after the All-Star break, with a .345 OBA augmented by 23 steals in 24 tries.
Can he repeat that? Who in the name of Adrian Brown knows? But the Dodgers just gave Juan Pierre a five-year deal of $44 million to play not as well (.330 OBA last year with a 74 percent steal rate). Duffy has a career .336 OBA after 440 AB with a 90 percent steal rate.
The Pirates have to hope Nady, Bautista, Paulino or Castillo finds that latent power predicted for each at various times, because the team lacks a legitimate No. 5 hitter. This quartet managed a collective 15 homers in 848 AB after the break last season, though at least Nady and Paulino hit .300.
Taking dozens of home run chances from Bay is no way to fill that power gap.
Put it this way: There are three pretty sure things in this lineup. Why not try to get all three up in the first inning? Forget bunts and imagine big innings.
What must those be like?
First Published January 23, 2007 12:00 am