We're in the midst of a great season, but with success come scrutiny over finite details that would be overlooked or passed over apathetically in other seasons. One topic has been a particularly consistent discussion point over the course of the year, and reached new heights with today's game against the Giants: the lineup. Now, it is true that lineup construction - or, at least, the order in which the players in the lineup are assembled - typically has very little effect on the results a team sees over the course of a season. Studies have shown the difference to be at most an extra few runs in a season.
However, it remains a common discussion point because a) it's completely controllable, so optimizing the lineup has no cost to the team, and b) because it's one of the few duties that a Manager has that the entire general public can directly see. With that in mind, here's what I think is a nice balance between the order I would assemble our everyday lineup in and what I think we could reasonably expect from Gibby (LHP/RHP splits taken into consideration in some cases):
1) Gerardo Parra/Ryan Roberts - Yep, a lead-off platoon. This accomplishes two wonderful things. First, it gets Willie Bloomquist as far away as possible from the lead-off spot. Second, it gets two guys with awesome OBPs against pitchers of the opposite hand into the lead-off spot. It very well might be aided by hitting in front of the pitcher, but Parra's line vs. right-handers is a remarkable .299/.361/.439, and even if his OBP takes a 15-20 point dive from more strikes being thrown to him (a dip in walk rate of 1/4 to 1/3 of his current rate), a .340-.345 OBP is fantastic. Roberts, on the other hand, is a godlike on-base animal against lefties, with a .267/.394/.556 line - a 17.3% walk rate - against southpaws. Not only that, but Roberts' BABIP against lefties is .243, a figure almost certain to substantially rise over the remainder of the season. If we're facing a lefty and Roberts isn't in one of the top three spots in the lineup, something is terribly wrong.
2) Miguel Montero - This is a biggie for me. The SABRs claim that the second slot in the lineup is the most important and should be where the best hitter is slotted. While that's against conventional wisdom, I can't exactly find a reason not to believe it - the odds are that the 2-hole hitter will generate more PAs over the course of a season than the 3-hole hitter will, and if the lead-off man is an on-base specialist, he'll have plenty of opportunities to generate runs. However, if I wanted to generate the optimal SABR lineup, I'd just plug it into a program online and post a link to the details. No, I'd rather try to imagine something feasible, and if Willie Bloomquist is moved down in the lineup, we'll have no established 1 or 2 hitters. So why not get Montero as many PA's as possible? He's third on the team in wRC+ behind Ryan Roberts and that guy hitting third, and sports a plenty-good .346 OBP. Seems like a perfect fit to me, position be darned. This also accomplishes the task of putting a left-handed bat in front of...
3) Justin Upton - It's not broken. Don't fix it.
4) Kelly Johnson - If you don't set a minimum plate appearance requirement, the top-eight D-backs this year in ISO are Paul Goldschmidt, Zach Duke, Wily Mo Pena, Brandon Allen, Geoff Blum, Barry Enright, Justin Upton, and Henry Blanco. The ninth D-back on that list, also the only other D-back with an ISO over .200, is one Kelly Johnson. Of course, ISO is not everything needed in a cleanup hitter, but Johnson is sixth on the club among regular bats in wRC+ - behind Upton, Ryan Roberts, Miguel Montero, Gerardo Parra, and Chris Young - despite having a sub-.600 OPS (.191/.255/.329 line) as late as May 22nd, 44 games into the regular season. Since that day, Kelly had hit .236/.329/.505 in 56 games (.269 ISO!!!) going into today's game, streakiness and all. I wouldn't count on him as a top-of-the-order hitter, but if you look past his stature it's not too hard to see the possibility of KJ being a fantastic middle-of-the-order power producer from here on out.
5) Chris Young - Yes, Young is slumping mightily over the last two weeks or so, seeing his OPS drop from .805 after July 20's game to .771 going into today's action. However, despite the .132/.298/.132 line in those 11 games, the fact remains that Young's 105 wRC+ is fifth on the team among regular players, and it wasn't too long ago that he was one of the hottest hitters in the lineup. Every big-leaguer goes through a slump, and we all know that CY has never been an exception to that rule. He'll get out this slump in due time, and return to his high-walk, high-power self - a phenomenal hitter for the 5-slot in the lineup.
6) Ryan Roberts/Gerardo Parra - The other half of the platoon goes here. I like the idea of putting these guys in front of Goldschmidt, trying to set up the big power-hitting first baseman with a small, scrappy OBP type. It's not like starters go the distance every time out, so the other half of the platoon doesn't need to be buried in the eight-hole to avoid platoon disadvantages. On days where Collin Cowgill gets a start over Parra against a tough lefty, I'd still advocate Cowgill being slotted here - I'd take CY against a lefty before Cowgill.
7) Paul Goldschmidt - I do like where Gibson has been slotting Goldy into the lineup. Expecting him to immediately hit cleanup for us and succeed in that role is too much to put on the kid in his first exposure to the major leagues. Unless he puts up a Pujols-ian line in his first month of action, he belongs in the bottom third of the lineup to let him take his lumps in his first exposure to big-league pitching. Although it goes without saying that he belongs above the next guy on the list...
8) Willie Bloomquist - Seeing this guy slotted in the lead-off slot every day might be one of the most infuriating things about following this team this year. Bloomquist is a terrible hitter, and he always has been. Sure, he's been BABIP'ing his way to a high average as of late, but he detracts from his own value by making so many outs on the basepaths (link goes to shoewizard's brief but fantastically-put article) and doesn't walk nearly enough to be more effective as a lead-off hitter than the platoon I have in that slot would be. Continuing to put Bloomquist in the slot of the lineup that gets the most plate appearances per game is doing nothing to help this baseball team.
9) Pitcher - Let's not get too crazy here. Sorry, Mr. La Russa. I can't match your genius.
Needless to say, if any of the other players on our bench - Cody Ransom, Sean Burroughs, or Henry Blanco - gets a start, they belong in the eighth slot behind Bloomquist, with the rest of the lineup being adjusted in some fashion. All other lineup ideas welcome in the comments!