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Formulating a major league baseball lineup is 'not rocket science,' but there is an art to it

Managers such as Angels' Mike Scioscia and Dodgers' Don Mattingly have different approaches, and each of the two leagues dictates different priorities, but the goal is the same: maximizing productivity.

May 23, 2011|By Gary Klein
  • Angels manager Mike Scioscia tries to maximize the potential of his lineups by studying ways to group hitters.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia tries to maximize the potential of his lineups… (Jeff Gross / Getty Images )

Bruce Bochy wants balance.

Don Mattingly puts a premium on protection.

And Mike Scioscia attempts to identify and capitalize on groupings.

When it comes to building a batting order, they and other major league managers all desire the same result: peak production throughout the lineup.

"It's not rocket science," Scioscia said.

However, lineup construction can occasionally be volatile.

Early this season, the baseball world was atwitter when Boston Red Sox Manager Terry Francona dropped struggling big-money acquisition Carl Crawford to the No. 7 slot.

Last week, batting order created a deluge of print, broadcast and online discussion when Yankees Manager Joe Girardi penciled in struggling veteran Jorge Posada at No. 9.

The move brought over-the-top attention to a process usually done quietly by a manager and his staff.

"You try to put a puzzle together," said Scioscia, who guided the Angels to the 2002 World Series title, "and hopefully create as many positive situations as you can."

Formulating philosophy

Four years after arriving in San Francisco, Bochy guided the Giants to the 2010 World Series championship.

"My first year here I had [Barry] Bonds," he said after a victory over the Dodgers last week. "Well, I knew where I'm going to hit him. Now I have to be flexible with my thinking."

As does every manager.

Mattingly, in his first season at the helm of the Dodgers after learning at the elbow of Joe Torre, considers how each batter is going to affect those hitting in front and behind of him.

"You're always trying to protect," he said.

Scioscia, with nine offensive slots to fill — American League managers don't have to worry about a pitcher mucking up plans — studies ways to group hitters to maximize their effectiveness.

The fourth hitter, for example, is "very rarely" connected with the ninth, according to Scioscia. But the first hitter is going to be, especially in the AL, which uses a designated hitter instead of giving the pitcher a turn at the plate.

"You look at the two guys in front of a guy and the two guys after him to make sure that lineup just has some continuity and flow," he said. "You try to juggle to keep those holes in your lineup at a minimum so you're hopefully pressuring teams every inning."

From the top

Speed was once the premium quality for a leadoff batter, but the influence of sabermetrics — the statistical analysis of baseball data — now demands that the first hitter be a player who consistently reaches base.

"He's going to be up more than anyone else," Scioscia said.

In 2003, the Florida Marlins won the World Series with a lineup that featured a young Juan Pierre leading off. Former manager Jack McKeon said last week that the formula was simple.

"He got a hit, stole second, we'd move him to third and then drove him in," he said.

The role of the No. 2 hitter, like that of No. 8, can be different in the National and American leagues.

Bat control, a willingness to take pitches and bunting ability are at a premium in the National League.

Bochy recalled San Diego Padres teams he played on in the early 1980s. Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, a left-handed hitter who won eight batting titles, hit in the second slot behind speedy Alan Wiggins.

"To me, that's your prototypical No. 2 hitter," Bochy said.

Prototypes, however, aren't usually available.

Scioscia, for example, sometimes hit second when he played for the Dodgers. He credits former manager Tom Lasorda for thinking outside the box.

"I was the slowest guy in baseball," he said. "I wasn't the prototypical '2' hitter by a long shot."

The No. 2 spot in the American League "is a different animal," Scioscia said, because lineups are deeper and the need to play for a single run early in a game usually is not as pressing. Without concern about a pitcher's spot in the lineup, managers can utilize leadoff types at the bottom of the order, creating run-producing opportunities for the No. 2 and even the No. 1 hitter.

The No. 3 spot is traditionally reserved for the team's best hitter, a combination of average and power. Somebody, say, like a certain St. Louis Cardinals first baseman named Albert.

"A Pujols-type guy," McKeon said.

Middlemen

The No. 4 spot, the "cleanup" position, has long been regarded as a glamour role, a place reserved for the most powerful hitter in the lineup.

But the optimal sabermetric lineup calls for the Nos. 1, 2 and 4 spots to be reserved for the best three hitters. For some managers, No. 4 is often interchangeable with No. 3.

"Kind of the same but with power," Mattingly said, "Both are run-producing guys."

The No. 5 hitter also must be capable of driving in runs. Opposing managers are wont to pitch around a hot No. 4 hitter. And not every ball he hits goes over the fence.

"If your '3' and '4' guys are your best hitters, they're going to be on base because they're getting singles too," Mattingly said. "You have to have guys to drive them in."

That's where the No. 6 spot also comes in.

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