One of the more frequent requests we get for blog ideas is how to go about building a batting lineup. This is an interesting request as while there are many standard philosophies to building a lineup, there have also been a number of computer-generated simulations that have produced the same conclusion - that the make up of lineups has little to no effect on wins over the course of a season.
So having preambled with that, let's say that it does matter and matter a lot. So now what? When building your lineup, there are many different approaches to what is the best method. Every team is made up of different players and different situations which mean there are no right answers, there are only different perspectives. Here are 4 approaches you can take when filling out your own batting lineup:
1 - Batting your best player 1st
Some coaches will use the strategy of batting their best player first even if he does not fit the typical leadoff hitter profile. The reason for this theory is that no matter what happens, your best hitter will always have the most at bats. You will never have a game end with your best hitter on deck questioning whether you should have batted them one spot ahead in the line up. Another advantage to this strategy will be the first pitch of the game. Almost always a pitcher will start the game with a fastball, this will at least give your best hitter one pitch a game that they will have the advantage of almost always knowing what it will be. This may not seem like a big deal, but one pitch can always be the difference in a baseball game.
2 - Batting your best player 4th
Every coach will have to make the decision between batting their best hitter 3rd or 4th. Everyone has their own opinion on what works best but again, every team is different. The advantage to your best player batting 4th instead of 3rd is that their first at-bat will either be with a runner on base or leading off an inning (unless a run has scored). Your best hitter will never be in a situation that their first at-bat will be with 2 outs and no one on base. This will take out the possibility of them hitting in the least opportunistic situation in baseball in their first at-bat, which as a coach is the only at-bat you can really control.
3 - Keeping it consistent
A lot of coaches like to switch the lineup on a regular basis. Some people may not think that’s a big deal but inconsistencies in the lineup can change a batter's mentality. If you keep changing the lineup, you're decreasing the chance that your hitters will be put in a situation they are used to. For example, if you have a kid that hits 2nd in the order, he will often see situations where the lead-off hitter will get on and either try and steal a base or attempt something that other players will not. The hitter will get familiar with that approach and naturally adjust to those situations. If all of a sudden that hitter moves to the 5th in the order, he may see more situations that slower runners will be on base and different expectations are implemented. When hitters get more opportunity to be in the same situation, they have a better chance to be productive.
4 - The safe strategy
The safest strategy to setting a proper lineup is to try and put your most consistent hitters together. Putting together the players that get on base the most followed by the players who make the best contact is probably the safest strategy. Some coaches get caught up trying to put their fastest players at the top of the lineup, but that’s only effective if they can get on base consistently. There’s nothing wrong with putting a faster, less consistent player, in the 9 hole. It’s important to not get caught up in what looks right and try and do what is right.
So there you have it - 4 basic approaches around which you can build your batting lineup. There are many more. In fact, a manager with 16 players on his team has over 4 billion ways he can fill out his order. Yes, 4 billion! But if the statisticians are correct and the make up doesn't matter a whole lot, then go with what you think is correct, what gives your team the best chance to win, and what allows you to concentrate on other areas of the game and not second guess your own lineup.
Kevin Hussey - The Baseball Zone