zimwerthharp

By The Numbers: Building The Nats Best Lineup

http://fansided.com/2013/09/04/washington-nationals/

The Washington Nationals have a deep lineup with many capable bats from top to bottom. However, you can’t just put them in any order and expect the best result possible. Rookie manager Matt Williams has a difficult task ahead of him to put together the best possible Opening Day lineup. In this post, I’ve consulted The Book, Beyond The Box Score, and FanGraphs to try to figure out the Nats best possible lineup, according to advanced statistics.

The “old school” lineup has remained prevalent across the league, despite some evidence that mangers are leaving runs, and therefore wins, on the table. The Nats have a high quality lineup, but the “middle of the order” bats, as we’ve thought of them in the past, may have been in the wrong places all along.

With this post, I’ll try to take the prevailing thoughts based on advanced numbers to construct the best possible Nats lineup in 2014. First, here’s some background on what each spot in the lineup should look like.

1. For the number one hitter, on-base percentage (OBP) is the most important factor, despite the previous mentality that “speed kills” for the leadoff man. Meanwhile, The Book cites that leadoff men have an opportunity to hit with runners on base just 36% of the time, while the number two hitter has the same opportunity 44% of the time. So, you probably don’t want a big home run guy at the top.

2. The second hitter actually should be a better hitter than the number three hitter, according to The Book. This is a huge contradiction based on conventional, “old school” wisdom. The two hole hits in situations that are of similar importance to the third batter, but he bats more often, since he is higher in the order. This batter should typically be a high-OBP hitter.

3. This is where your best hitter hits, right? Well, maybe not. The third spot typically bats with fewer runners on base ahead of him than the number four or five hitters, so you may actually want to put your fourth or fifth best hitter here, rather than the best by batting average.

4. The cleanup position his one of those spots where the analytics align with conventional baseball wisdom. This hitter is typically the best hitter with power on the team. However, if you can avoid it, you probably don’t want a guy with lots of home runs that also has a low batting average. You shouldn't give up lots of outs just to get the home runs in this spot.

5. The five spot can actually be more valuable than the number three hitter. This hitter should be the fourth or fifth best on the team. He should be able to amass a lot of total bases, but maybe with fewer home runs than the third batter.

6. The sixth batter is probably the sixth best hitter, but you might want to put a good base stealer in this position, because he probably has the opportunity to hit in front of a number of batters who don’t hit for much power but do slap the ball around for singles with some regularity.

7. This hitter should certainly be one of the worst hitters on your team. Luckily for the Nationals, who have a lot of talented offensive starters, even the seventh batter should be able to generate some good offense.

8-9. According to The Book, these positions are pretty interchangeable between one of your worst hitters, maybe even a speedy guy, and the pitcher’s spot in the National League. Hitting the pitcher eighth may actually be beneficial, but only for about two extra runs per season.

So, to the ultimate question for this article, what is the most optimized lineup, according to advanced analytics, the Nationals could possibly put out this season? The answer: there is no easy answer. However, I did put together my top three possibilities below.

One interesting note: if we’re building a batting order purely based up on advanced stats, Denard Span shouldn’t be hitting at the top of this lineup. It’s just too stacked, and he’s not one of the top five hitters on the team.

 

First

Second

Third

1

Werth

Werth

Desmond

2

Zimmerman

Zimmerman

Harper

3

Desmond

Desmond

Zimmerman

4

Harper

Harper

Werth

5

Ramos

LaRoche

Ramos

6

LaRoche

Ramos

LaRoche

7

Rendon

Span

Rendon

8

Span

Rendon

Span

 

I broke one of the primary rules with my first and second orders by putting Jayson Werth at the top, considering that, as I said, the number one hitter probably shouldn't hit a lot of home runs. However, Werth provides so much OBP potential at the top, you can't discount that value. I try to come up with an alternate with the third lineup to counteract that issue.

I also can't imagine having an issue swapping Zimmerman and Harper in the two and four spots, respectively, in lineups one and two. Those guys are pretty interchangeable in those batting orders for me.

(Photo courtesy FanSided)

Joe Drugan

About Joe Drugan

Joe is the Managing Editor of The Nats Blog and host of the Nats Talk On The Go podcast. He's been blogging about the Nationals since 2010 and with The Nats Blog since 2011.

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