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The Batting Order by the Book - Who Wrote the Book Anyway?

Rick Johnston

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| May 29, 2013 9:05:00 AM

The Batting Order

Do you realize players on a team are really pieces of a puzzle that you are trying to mold, massage and fit together to work in harmony with each other. No two players are exactly alike and each has a special place where they best fit to help complete the puzzle. Each is as important to each other and no one in the puzzle is more important than anyone else. Heck, if the smallest piece of the puzzle were to be misplaced, guess what…that puzzle is now incomplete. Thus, the construction of the batting lineup takes the same thoughtful approach as the construction of that puzzle. 

batting orderConstructing a batting order, as thoughtful as one needs to be, can cause a manager or coach to totally over-think the process and place far too much importance on what his perfect batting order should look like versus his best batting order. First of all, is there a perfect batting order? That is like saying the Mono Lisa is the most perfect painting in the world. I know nothing about paintings, but I would certainly say that the Mono Lisa is not perfect to me, but it is to many others.

Now, if you were to read every baseball book out on the market, many would say this is an example of a perfect batting lineup:

1. Fast, uses speed to advantage, takes pitches, is creative, vary rarely strikes out, knows how to bunt for hit, when on base forces the pitcher to throw over, etc …

2. Preferrably a left handed hitter, ability to hit ball through the vacated 3-4 hole, willing to take pitches, adept at bunting, doesn’t strike out much, unselfish, second fastest player in lineup

3. Best hitter on team, hits for both power and average, ideally left handed to be able to yank ball to right side to move runner from first to third, big RBI guy, has speed enough not to clog up the bases, doesn’t strike out much

4. Plus power, most on team, big run producer, clutch, will come to the plate often with two out, should have most RBI’s on team

5. Similar to four hole hitter, but strikes out more, possible base clogger

6. Similar to the lead off hitter in qualities but not as good that’s why he is hitting sixth 

7. Similar to two hole hitter, but less overall tools

8. This hitter is hitting eight for the same reason that the ninth hitter is hitting ninth…they are the eight and ninth best hitters on the team

Now, I want you to read that last line…the eight and ninth best hitters on the team.  As you are reading that turn it around and now say this…who do you want up in the first inning and who would you want to have more at bats during a game? Well, in my opinion that is a simple answer. You would want your best three hitters there, to have as many at bats or plate appearances as possible as well as having them bunched together. 

So now, go back to what many baseball instructional books say about the batting order. The perfect one is one that has the ingredients of the above nine hitters and in that order. However, in that order may mean that your best run producer and the hitter with the most power may not get a plate appearance in the first inning because the “book” says the perfect batting order doesn't look that way.

In a regular nine inning game, when each team is allowed 27 outs before there could be declared a winner, why would you want an inferior hitter in your lineup to have more opportunity to hit than the superior hitter? Do you really think that makes sense? 

Let's look at the Toronto Blue Jays this season (a disappointing one to be sure). They spent the first 36 games of the season creating their lineup in the traditional, by the book way, with such players as Brett Lawrie, Maicier Izturus and Emilio Bonifacio, with their Mendoza Line-like batting averages littering the top of the lineup in the 1 or 2 holes and striking out far too often. But the book says they should have been there because they have speed and/or can bunt and move runners over. Bravo. They started 12-24 and scored just over 3 runs a game.

batting order by the bookSince May 11, they dropped the "book" and slid Jose Bautista into the 2 hole and Edwin Encarnacion at 3. The book says they are classic 3 and 4 guys. But manager John Gibbons, I will assume, said "to heck with it, I am tired of giving away outs to start the game and seeing one of my best hitters either lead off the 2nd or come up with 2 outs." Since May 11 they have gone 9-5 and averaged over 6 runs a game (at the time of writing).

So what do I believe eschewing "the book" and bunching your best three hitters at the top of the linup does? 

While I won't attribute all of the turnaround to this one change, throwing "the book" out and instead having your 3 best hitters at the top of your lineup is likely to lead to (and has for the Jays):

  • Starting the game with runners on base more often
  • Having your best hitters hit with runners on base more often
  • Having your best hitters hit with less than 2 out more often
  • Scoring earlier and more often
  • Chasing the other team from behind less often
  • Getting into the other team’s bullpen earlier and more often (which not only can help with that game but also as the series wears on)

I will attempt to put it into more perspective, hopefully without hurting people's feelings. Picture slo-pitch softball right now…you are playing, however, it is mixed slo-pitch. Now not to offend the females (as some can really hit, many better than their male counterparts), but here is what will happen in most instances. You have to have the lineup go male-female-male-female- and so on. It will very often go something like hit, out, hit, out, hit, out…inning over, little to no damage done. When it doesn't go that way, when you have the typical "out" get on base or you have females that can really hit, you know you are in store for a potential big inning. So why would we NOT avoid this type of set up in baseball if we can avoid it?

So, if you wish to set up your batting order for the perfect “book" batting order, remember in doing so, you are risking taking at bats away from your better hitters. It might be time to take "the book", throw it out and make your own book for success.

Good luck with it!


Rick Johnston

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Topics: baseball strategy, baseball coaching, baseball philosophy, batting order

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