Mailbag: On Lineup Construction

We had some good discussion about possible lineups for the 2011 Padres in last week’s open thread. Several suggestions were made regarding specific order, but a few “big picture” comments caught my attention.

Pat raised concerns about sticking Cameron Maybin in the no. 8 hole:

I wonder if hitting 8th is really a good spot for a young player trying to find himself. Seems to me that in the NL, which is where we are, they are often pitched around. Maybin has been struggling with strikeouts and may not be patient enough to lay off pitches out of the zone, thus exacerbating his struggles.

Swingingfriar19 provided a counterexample:

Remember, Khalil Greene’s best year for OBP was when he was in our 8 hole for most of his rookie season in ’04. His discipline got worse and worse after he was moved out of that spot. Batting Maybin in the 8 hole might force him to learn the strike zone. Then again, he’s not going to get to run very often if he’s on base in front of the 9 hole. So yeah, while I hate seeing the pitcher bat in the 8 hole, it would make a lot of sense to do it in this spot with Maybin.

This is an area that, to my knowledge, hasn’t been explored much. The one study I found — done by Jeff Sackmann in 2008 — was inconclusive:

Batters perform better ahead of the pitcher, and they don’t see as many strikes. But the effect is much stronger on some players than others, maybe just because we are working with small samples, but probably, to some extent, because different players handle the role better than others.

So, is batting Maybin eighth a problem? That’s a definite maybe.

Next up, Larry Faria weighed in with this nugget:

I’ll lay off the lineup speculation, since the simulations people claim batting order doesn’t matter much.

What puzzles me is what Jed Hoyer sees in Dustin Moseley. He was a long reliever/spot starter for the Yankees last year and couldn’t win with that team scoring runs in bunches. I’d hate to think of that performance combined with the Padres offense. Josh Geer could do the same thing for less money. So why did Jed pick him up?

First, I lean toward the “batting order doesn’t matter much” camp myself. I like on-base skills up front, power in the middle, and whatever’s left over at the end, but I’m not sure how important any of that is. I used to joke that the Padres offense consisted of Adrian Gonzalez and a bunch of no. 6 or no. 7 hitters. Take Gonzalez away and an already unfunny joke becomes even worse.

As for Moseley, he… um, yeah. I have no idea. He and Bud Black have a good working relationship, and Black likes Moseley’s versatility. On the bright side, he’s filling the role vacated by Edward Mujica, so it’s not like anyone’s expecting much.

mr.daily chimed in with this:

shouldnt u wait till after training

No. As Hoyer recently noted, “As an evaluating tool, spring training games are dangerous and misleading. Evaluations are to be avoided off the exhibition games.”

It makes me all warm and tingly to hear him say that.

The linked article mentions spring training legend John Roskos (whom we discussed not long ago) as an example of what can happen when a team discards a player’s larger body of work in favor of a few weeks in Arizona. It’s great when someone like Roskos gets your attention, but the proper response is, “Interesting; let’s keep an eye on this guy at Triple-A and see if he can keep doing what he did here.”

Spring training is about getting guys prepared mentally and physically for the 162-game (or more, if you’re lucky) grind. Assuming the front office has done its job over the winter, there shouldn’t be a lot of decisions still to be made at this point.

Those that remain should be of minor consequence: Will Rob Johnson or Gregg Zaun serve as Nick Hundley’s primary backup behind the dish? Which of Wade LeBlanc or Moseley gets the no. 5 spot in the rotation? Is there a place for George Kontos on the roster? That sort of thing.

Finally, Parlo delivered a blast from the past:

Where to bat Maybin reminds me of the Bill James essay about Juan Samuel.

This served as an excellent excuse to go rummaging through dusty old books. The bit Parlo refers to can be found on page 134 of The Bill James Baseball Abstract 1988:

Neither [John] Felske nor [Lee] Elia ever found a lineup that met the needs of the Philadelphia offense. Felske often had Mike Schmidt batting behind Samuel (on-base percentage of .335), and ahead of Von Hayes (on-base percentage of .404). Elia recognized this problem, and experimented with Hayes batting second. But then Samuel was still hitting ahead of Schmidt, and not much of anybody was hitting fifth, Glenn Wilson or somebody, so that didn’t work out. Then Elia moved Hayes into the third spot and batted Juan Samuel leadoff. Now you’ve got a leadoff man with a .335 on-base percentage and 100-RBI potential. Chris James got hot, so he moved James into the number-three spot, with Schmidt fourth and Hayes fifth. James had an on-base percentage of .344, not much better than Samuel, so that had all the worst features of the other efforts — nobody on base for Schmidt, nobody to drive in Hayes, who was the best man on the team at getting on base. Then [Lance] Parrish started to hit a little, and they went back to plan R, with Parrish hitting fifth (Samuel/[Milt] Thompson/Hayes/Schmidt/Parrish). I left out any number of intermediate steps.

This provides a nice remember that James is, first and foremost, a great writer; the stats thing is just part of the package. Beyond that, if we want to force a point… I’d be cool with Samuel-like production out of Maybin.

* * *

Notes on early box scores (the usual spring training caveats apply)…

  • Mon., Feb. 28 — Guys are getting pushed as far to the left of the defensive spectrum as their skill set allows: Will Venable in center field, Luis Durango in right, Jorge Cantu at third base, Kevin Frandsen at shortstop. I hope never to see this configuration in a regular-season game, but it’s good that players are getting reps there. Prepare for worst-case scenarios. Pete LaForest at first base, Edgar Gonzalez at shortstop, Josh Wilson on the mound…
  • Tue., Mar. 1 — More of the same: Oscar Salazar at second base, Jesus Guzman at third. Meanwhile, back in the irony department, Aaron Poreda is the only one of seven Padres pitchers who did not walk a batter. He threw 15 pitches, 10 for strikes. Friarhood’s Steve Adler, who was there, said Poreda “looked great.” Mat Latos couldn’t find the plate, walking four of the seven batters he faced. Gameday had his fastball at 92-95 mph, for whatever that might be worth.
  • Wed., Mar. 2 — Frandsen at short, Guzman at third… Aaron Harang needed 23 pitches to make it through 2 innings against a mix of Rockies regulars and scrubs. Gameday had his fastball at 89-93 mph. Harang relied almost entirely on fastballs in the first, mixing in some sliders and a change up in the second. Casey Kelly worked the third with similar velocity on his fastball.

* * *


Tagged as: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

10 Responses »

  1. I think you’re underestimating how the team feels about Moseley.

    Balsley said a couple of weeks ago that it’s all but down to him and LeBlanc for the fifth spot in the rotation and the loser will probably take the Stauffer role, the one that made Tim too valuable to start.

  2. I think this years lineup will be fine…and by fine I mean no worse than a typical Padres lineup. The starting rotation on the other hand could be this team’s downfall.

    Outside of Richards there is really no one who has shown any kind of consistency, Latos is an Ace in waiting but he is entering his second year in the league and is sure to hit some bumps in the road, who knows what we can expect from the Stauff in his first season as a full time starter and we have no clue if the Harang of 2007 still exists.

  3. @Ray: Moseley will make the role considerably less valuable than Stauffer did. I hope LeBlanc wins the starting gig because he seems less well suited to relief work… not exactly a ringing endorsement, but there it is.

    @Steve C: Yep, I share your concerns. More rotation depth would be nice.

  4. You do realize that you’re thinking about this logically and not the way Bud Black does, right?

  5. In re Venable in a different ballpark: Last year someone said to me that Carlos Gonzalez was simply Will Venable + Coors Field. I looked at their career splits and the comparison is shockingly close:

    Venable away: .273/.345/.455
    Gonzalez away: .270/.317/.422

    Crazy, eh?

  6. @GY – It kind of feels like they just found a couple of cheap warm bodies to stick in the rotation until Kelly, Castro and Luebke are ready.

  7. My guess is Moseley is the backup #5 starter in case LeBlanc gets hurt, and that both are long relievers by mid-season replaced by Luebke or Castro. As for the rest, his HR rates will fall in Petco — they had a lot to do with his poor 2010. And his G/F ratio went up somewhat last year, which the front office may believe will continue to improve. There’s not a lot to like here, but Petco has done strange things in the past.

  8. GY, just curious, but what is so jarring about the Jay Bruce comparison? Other than age, there isnt much difference there, plus Venable was predicted to be a late bloomer. Roughly, Venable @ home ~ Bruce on the road. Venable on the road ~ Bruce @ home.

    I am in agreement with most here that we could use another starter, but it seems Jed is content to let the kids play for it.

  9. @Ray: I’m assuming the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

    @zmac: That difference, though, is huge. Compare their age 23 seasons:

            Lvl  PA   BA  OBP  SLG HR
    Bruce   MLB 573 .281 .353 .493 25
    Venable LoA 541 .314 .389 .477 11

    Even if Venable is Bruce’s equal now (which I don’t believe), Bruce could put some serious distance between the two of them in the not-too-distant future.

  10. Um, yeah, Jay Bruce 127 OPS+ at 23 years of age (more PA’s, too) and Will Venable 104 OPS+ at 27 years of age. I’m not seeing the similarity there.

    Jay Bruce Career to Date: 110 OPS+ in 1,412 PA’s and will be 24 this season (IOW, still developing, very likely to improve).

    Will Venable Career to Date: 106 OPS+ in 893 PA’s and will be 28 this season (IOW, not likely to develop or improve much more). Caveats often thrown in at this point relate to his athleticism and late start in baseball; well, caveat emptor, I say!