Rangers Lineup Under Construction

Rangers Lineup Under Construction

Ron Washington has drawn significant criticism for his traditional, old-school, lineup constructions. While Texas fans have been intimately aware of the situation for years, the lineup drew national attention during last year’s World Series when powerful and red-hot Mike Napoli hit eighth, while the slumping Michael Young held on to the cleanup spot. As you can expect, the Rangers 2012 lineup will follow the traditional model.

Tom Tango took on traditional views of lineup construction in 2007’s The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball

Some of his key points were that:

1. The #3 spot in the lineup is overrated.
2. The leadoff hitter should the most likely to draw walks.
3. Lineup construction isn’t really all that important.

In the 1988 Baseball Abstract, Bill James summed up the view of the baseball research community on this subject: “Several people, maybe a dozen, have done simulation studies of lineups, and have all (as far as I know) reported that it really doesn’t make any difference, that one lineup is as good as another. I still don’t buy it.”

There is no conclusive analysis of what an ideal lineup construction looks like. Just like everything else, it’s up for debate, and that’s part of what makes baseball great. Still, it seems like common sense that a team would want its best hitters to come to the plate as often as possible. How well you expect the 2012 Rangers lineup to meet that standard will depend on your own personal opinions of how each hitter will perform. David Pinto of Baseball Musings created a tool that will allow you to see the expected results of various lineups.

Using the 2006 MLB season as an example, here is the average plate appearances per lineup position:

1. 767
2. 749
3. 732
4. 714
5. 697
6. 680
7. 661
8. 643
9. 625

Projected Regular Season Lineups

vs. LHP vs. RHP
1. Kinsler 1. Kinsler
2. Andrus 2. Andrus
3. Hamilton 3. Hamilton
4. Beltre 4. Beltre
5. Young 5. Young
6. Napoli 6. Napoli
7. Cruz 7. Cruz
8. Torrealba 8. Moreland
9. Gentry 9. Borbon

1) Ian Kinsler should return to the leadoff spot, and frankly, is a great choice. While the Rangers will lose some of the benefits of Kinsler’s power (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), he is patient, led the team in OBP, and is a fast and highly efficient baserunner. He was second on the team in OBP at .355, and third in pitches per plate appearance at 3.92 (behind Mike Napoli, and surprisingly, David Murphy). He stole 30 bases and was caught just 4 times, with two of his four failed attempts coming in the final week of the season while in pursuit of the 30/30 mark. The filpside of his power neutralization is that batting Kinsler first also limits the downside of his pop up habits.

2011 – 5 players

Kinsler-143
Andrus-9
Chavez-7
Borbon-2
German-1

2) The number two spot in the lineup is perhaps the most controversial and scrutinized of the nine. That said, Elvis Andrus should return to be the everyday number 2. If we could utilize hindsight to improve the 2011 lineup, Michael Young would seem to have been an ideal fit. Young is an excellent situational hitter, led the team with a .380 OBP, and put the ball in play 80% of the time. However, the 35 year old Young and 23 year old Andrus are heading in opposite directions, and their numbers should consolidate.

2011 – 9 players

Andrus-134
Blanco-6
Chavez-4
Murphy-4
Moreland-4
Gentry-4
Young-3
Quintanilla-2
German-1

3) The Rangers 3 hole belongs to Josh Hamilton. Unless and until he gets hurt, that’s where he will remain. Tango noted in his book that, on average, the #3 hitter comes to the plate with fewer runners on base than the #4 or #5 hitters. On the other hand, #3 spot is the one least likely to lead off innings. Fans can take any side of this they like, but at the end of the day, Hamilton’s hold on the 3 hole is ironclad.

2011 – 4 players

Hamilton-120
Young-30
Kinsler-11
Murphy-1

4) Before his hamstring injury, Adrian Beltre was the Rangers primary cleanup hitter in 2011. Coincidentally, the lineup got hot when he was replaced by Michael Young, and there was no turning back. Ron Washington has already declared Beltre to be he primary cleanup hitter in 2012.

2011 – 4 players

Young-89
Beltre-69
Napoli-3
Davis-1

5) The fifth spot in the lineup represents a conundrum for Ron Washington. Wash is a loyal believer in Young, wants to keep the veteran happy, and barring a substantial decline, he will keep MY in top or middle of the lineup for the foreseeable future. While opting for Andrus over Young at #2 seems like a reasonable decision, its flaws are exposed as it also guarantees that Young hits higher than Mike Napoli and Nelson Cruz. Modern metrics indicate that the fifth hitter should be the fourth best hitter on the team, and if you believe Young will have a repeat of 2011, he should be just that. However, this could be a problem if like ZIPS, you predict a decline. Young features a propensity to put the ball in play (80%), a high ground ball to fly ball ratio (.93), and lack of power (11 HR and .136 ISO) that make him ill-suited for this spot in the lineup, especially when qualified options exist.

2011 – 6 players

Cruz-55
Beltre-51
Young-37
Napoli-9
Murphy-5
Moreland-5

6) Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli will likely share the number 6 slot in the lineup. Both have plus power, but patience describes Napoli’s approach and not that of Cruz. It seems only natural that Napoli should regress, but he should once again have a higher OBP than Cruz.

2011 – 8 players

Cruz-56
Napoli-46
Murphy-33
Moreland-18
Torrealba-4
Beltre-3
Treanor-1
Davis-1

7) Either Cruz or Napoli should land seventh, although Washington could choose to use Mitch Moreland and David Murphy here to play the lefty-righty matchups.

2011 – 8 players
Moreland-54
Torrealba-36
Murphy-32
Napoli-28
Cruz-8
Davis-2
Martin-1
Teagarden-1

8. Yorvit Torrealba should hit 8th when he is in the lineup. When he isn’t, the spot should be occupied by Cruz, Moreland, and Murphy.

2011 – 11 Players
Torrealba-63
Moreland-27
Murphy-19
Napoli-16
Davis-12
Gentry-9
Teagarden-7
Cruz-3
Blanco-3
Chavez-2

9) The last spot in the Rangers lineup will likely be occupied by centerfielders Leonys MartinJulio Borbon, and Craig Gentry. When it’s not Josh Hamilton playing, centerfield represents the weakest offensive position in the lineup, although Martin offers some upside. Borbon and Gentry have elite speed, and Martin isn’t far behind.

2011 – 13 Players

Chavez-53
Borbon-26
Gentry-25
Moreland-16
Murphy-11
Blanco-9
Torrealba-5
Quintanilla-4
Davis-4
Harrison-3