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Batting Disorder Here's an interesting
2002-07-23 22:09
by Mike Carminati

Batting Disorder

Here's an interesting but, I think, flawed declination on the established and perhaps ossified conception of a batting order that I found on the Dan Lewis sports site. Far be it from me to pick on someone trying to challenge established baseball strategies. Far be it from me to pick on that world-renowned institution NJIT nor on their team nickname, the NJIT Mashing Niblets. But when someone calls homeplate "home base," I've got to let him have it.

First, I have to say that I have read studies by Rob Neyer among others (did Bill James cover this once?), suggesting that batting orders have very little effect on the outcome of a team over the course of a season. Bruce Bukiet, author of the study, found that the "difference between a team's best and worst batting order could change the outcome of as many as 10 games in a season." That raised an eyebrow.

He claims that managers traditionally place the best batter whom he terms "the slugger" fourth. Well, I take issue with his terms. "The slugger" is typically not the team's best batter. He is the man has some pop in his bat, but his on-base percentage is not necessarily great. He tends to be slower, and therefore grounds out a lot. He takes a big hack, and therefore tends to strike out a lot. He does bat fourth typically. The best batter in my opinion is the man with the highest OPS (On-Base Plus Slugging). He combines power and the ability to get on base. I contend that typically this man bats 3rd. His use of "best batter" and "slugger" interchangeably suggests that his definition of what best is does not match what I would like. That's my first problem.

My second problem in his methodology for ordering the batters themselves. He claims that the best batter should bat second in order to get more turns at bat. This is logical, but why not then lead off with him. I'll take his side of the argument and say that the possibility of having a man on-base when the best batter is up tends to increase the number of runs scored. So batting him 2nd has certain advantages over letting him lead off. Okie Dokie.

However, then he contends that the worst batter (typically the picther in NL games) should bat seventh or eighth not the accepted last bcause:

"The pitcher should be far away from the slugger in the line-up," says Bukiet. That lessens the chance that he will be the clean-up hitter responsible for getting the strongest batter back to home base.

But there are two problems here: 1) Does batting the pitcher seventh avoid his batting with the "slugger" on base? And 2) This increases the number of times that the weakest batter will bat over the course of a season which runs counter to his previous argument. As far as issue 1 is concerned, I say no. If the 2nd batter leads off in a given inning, 2 more men get on base, and 2 men make outs, that brings up the number 7 hitter, who would then be the pitcher, with the bases loaded and two outs. I know that this would probably be a rare occurence, but if the goal as stated is to minimize the number of times at bat for the weakest hitter with the "slugger" on base, then batting the pitcher last and the "slugger" 2nd ensures this. Also, who cares who is on base when the worst batter/pitcher bats? The best batter is not necessarily the best baserunner. If he means that the best batter gets on base the most, and therefore, the worst batter should not be in a position where he is expected to drive the high on-base guys in, then he's correct. But his solution does not completely resolve this. As far as issue 2 is concerned, the benefits gained from moving the pitcher up in the lineup mitigate this? I think not. I may be wrong but without further information and a definition of terms, I don't think the argument as a whole makes a whole lot of sense.

It's a nice theory but I think one as misguided as Bukiet's 2002 predictions.

. . .

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