Adam Eaton smiles after getting his first major-league hit. - Tony Medina
Few things have been more constant in the D-backs line-up than Justin Upton in the third spot. You have to go back to 2008 to find a season where he wasn't there more often than anyone else. That won't be the case this year, for obvious reasons. So who might we see? And what will the rest of the batting order look like?
Let's assume the players who are appearing are as follows, which is largely taken from the platoon advantage piece we wrote last month. We will also use the philosophy espoused by Sky Kalkman when writing at Beyond the Box Score, back in 2009.
|vs. RHP||vs. LHP|
|C||Miguel Montero (L)||Miguel Montero (L)|
|1B||Paul Goldschmidt (R)||Paul Goldschmidt (R)|
|2B||Aaron Hill (R)||Aaron Hill (R)|
|SS||Cliff Pennington (S)||Willie Bloomquist (R)|
|3B||Martin Prado (R)||Eric Chavez (L)|
|LF||Jason Kubel (L)||Martin Prado (R)|
|CF||Adam Eaton (L)||Adam Eaton (L)|
|RF||Gerardo Parra (L)||
Cody Ross (R)
Sky says: "OBP is king... One of the best three hitters on the team, the guy without homerun power. Speed is nice, as this batter will have plenty of chances to run the bases with good hitters behind him." While it might be a bit much to expect Adam Eaton to continue to walk as much as he strikes out (in his debut, his K:BB ratio was 15:14), it's not that far off his minor-league numbers (196:166). That's great plate discipline, just what you want from the lead-off man. Add 44 stolen-bases (and at at 80% success rate) last year, and hopefully we won't see Willie B batting first for us, like we did 53 times last year.
Sky says: "Should be better than the #3 guy, and one of the best three hitters overall. And since he bats with the bases empty more often than the hitters behind him, he should be a high-OBP player. Doesn't sound like someone who should be sacrificing, does it?" The traditional approach would be to have someone with a good chunk of speed here as well, but if you're looking for OBP, they don't come much better than Miguel Montero. Only five NL players had more walks than Miggy during 2012 - and even more startling, Luis Gonzalez is the sole qualifying D-back ever to have a better single-season OBP than Montero's .391.
Sky says: "Comes to the plate with, on average, fewer runners on base than the #4 or #5 hitters. Surprisingly, because he comes to bat so often with two outs and no runners on base, the #3 hitter isn't nearly as important as we think. This is a spot to fill after more important spots are taken care of." This is where "new thinking" perhaps diverges most sharply. The old school approach (and the one I suspect we'll see from Kirk Gibson) is that the best hitter hits third, but given the empty bases, I'd go for a hitter who has power as the main attribute. Sounds like a job for Jason Kubel, or Cody Ross.
Sky says: "Comes to bat in the most important situations out of all nine spots, but is equal in importance to the #2 hole once you consider the #2 guy receives more plate appearances. The cleanup hitter is the best hitter on the team with power." That would be the man to post the highest qualifying batting-average by a Diamondback since 2005, who also whacked 26 home-runs last season: Aaron Hill. It would be a dramatic change for Hill, who hasn't had a single plate-appearance in the clean-up spot since coming to Arizona. The great majority of his time has been spent in the #2 hole, where he started 103 times last year.
Sky says: "Can provide more value than the #3 guy with singles, doubles, triples, and walks, and avoiding outs, although the #3 guy holds an advantage with homeruns. After positions #1, #2, and #4 are filled, put your next best hitter here, unless he lives and dies with the long ball." Sounds like a good spot for Paul Goldschmidt, whom I'm hoping can build upon an extremely solid season, and whom ZIPS has down as the projected team-leader in 2013 with 26 home-runs of his own. He'd probably be my pick to lead the team in OPS overall, but I don't think his OBP skills are necessarily good enough to put him higher up the order.
Sky says: "The rest of the lineup should be written in based on decreasing talent... With a caveat. Stolen bases are most valuable ahead of high-contact singles hitters, who are more likely to hit at the bottom of the lineup. So a base-stealing threat who doesn't deserve a spot higher in the lineup is optimized in the #6 hole, followed by the singles hitters." The rest of the line-up more or less fills itself in from this point. Against RHP, Gerardo Parra would be the base-stealing threat mentioned, followed by Martin Prado and Cliff Pennington. Versus southpaws, it would be Martin Prado, Eric Chavez and Willie Bloomquist.
The pitcher of course, hits ninth - even though there may be some benefit to be gained by adopting a LaRussian approach and having them hit eighth. For while that means they bat more often, this is actually outweighed by the benefit of having someone semi-competent come to the plate, in advance of the OBP machines who are at the top of the order. Still, odds of Gibby doing something so contrary to a century-plus of almost universal practice? Probably not going to bet on it!
A hard-core numerical approach
Putting all other considerations aside, we can use the Lineup Analysis tool to generate an "optimal" line-up. For the numbers, I plugged in the ZIPS projections for the right-handed lineup above. Of course, these are not entirely accurate, because those are not just vs. RHP, but this is just for amusement anyway. For the pitcher's spot, I used last year's collective figure of .171 OBP and .135 SLG. This is what the analysis spat out, using the broader 1959-2004 Model (as I think run scoring has declined of late).
That's interestingly diverse, and would apparently score about 2.3 runs more over the course of the season than my favored line-up, as given above. Of course, that would depend on the accuracy of the ZIPS projections: I think I'd be pretty disappointed if Hill only got on-base at a .326 clip, as expected, which is likely why the analysis drops him in to the #8-hole. It's interesting to compare the one to the line-ups generated by Xeifrank, when he did a similar analysis - he broke it down to LHP and RHP.
Gibby's gonna be Gibby. That meant no less than 140 different batting orders, excluding the specific pitcher, were used last year. It does seem likely that Eaton will bat lead-off, with Pennington probably occupying the eighth spot most days. But between those two semi-certainties, who goes where will depend on the opposing pitcher, the hot-hand, match-up stats, phase of the moon and whim. So, if you don't like today's batting order...come back tomorrow. There'll probably be a new one.