Lineup construction is overrated, but don’t tell me that when I’m shifting my OOTP (that’s Out of the Park, a baseball simulation, for the uninitiated) lineup around. Therein lies the misconception about batting orders: small changes are believed to yield dramatic run improvements. In reality, they probably don’t.
Joe Maddon is going to bat Kyle Schwarber leadoff, which presumably moves Ben Zobrist to the cleanup spot. Unless, of course, Addison Russell rockets to superstardom this year. Maddon also said he was tinkering with the idea of batting the pitcher 8th again, just like many of his 2015 lineups.
As I was almost done preparing the initial substance of this post, Brian Kenny was coincidentally leading a conversation on MLB Network about Schwarber leading off. Kenny’s panel did not like slotting a power RBI bat in the leadoff spot. To these MLB Network people, batting Schwarber at the top of the order is a waste of power. Their opinions are shared by many Cubs fans, too, and I understand the thinking.
But does batting Schwarber leadoff actually translate to less run production for the Cubs? I simulated a few lineups to see if a Schwarer leadoff scenario hurts the Cubs, and I also simulated batting the pitcher 8th in the process.
How, you might ask, did I simulate different lineups? Well, I tried to include sequencing in order to achieve the most accurate results, but keep in mind its unpredictability is extremely challenging to model. So I scaled the number of runs created by each Cubs player according to the number of plate appearances accumulated by each slot in the team’s 2016 batting order. I then assigned a “sequencing weight,” which is basically a number that factors in the probability that a batter will be up with men on base.
Here are the results:
A win is worth about 9-10 runs. While batting Schwarber leadoff might add an additional 8 runs, the outcome amounts to slightly less than a win. Factor in the unpredictability of baseball and this run difference is essentially negligible.
What I found particularly interesting is that there is practically no difference between batting the pitcher 8th or 9th. Maddon could utilize this to his advantage in several ways.
First, batting Albert Almora 9th means the center fielder would theoretically face more pitches inside the strike zone than if he were to bat a spot higher. Maddon said he batted Russell last in 2015 to increase the likelihood that he’d face more hittable pitches. The concept would be the same here, to spur Almora’s development by placing him in situations that yield the best pitches. Second, since there were 23 more men on base for the 8th hitter than for the 9th in 2016, the Cubs could utilize a pinch hitter who is actually better than Almora.
I don’t really care if Schwarber bats first or cleanup because the difference is almost nill. On the other hand, since there is also no difference between batting the pitcher in either of the two bottom spots, batting Almora last might allow him to progress quicker because he should see better pitches to hit.