The other week, Court foolishly challenged me to a batting-order contest. This is my mike dropping response.
As a quick recap of Court’s proposed Nationals batting order– Court went with a straight up Tom Tango, “The Book” approved line up. Putting run producers at the top, doing some fancymath ninjitsu and boom. Mischief Managed, as they say. You should go back and read his full reasoning, but here is the result:
SMH bro, SMDH….
Now, I’m not oppose to Court’s ideas about getting better batters towards the top of the order- but I think some of the choices are suspect. By going second, I have the distinct advantage of not so much having to explain my own reasoning, but simply distinguish mine from Court’s. (Hey, it’s good to be the king).
The problem with stats is always the problem with stats: while they do tell you what happened, and they are a good guide as to what might happen next, they don’t guarantee what will happen next. While I am generally on board with “the guy is what the stats say he is” I think there is an incomplete picture above.
So let me show you what I would do, and then explain why.
- Span (40% of you hate me right off the bat…)
- Werth (…and wish he was hitting first)
Let’s talk about the fairly uncontroversial part of the line up first. Werth, Zimmerman, Harper and Desmond are expected to be the best hitters on the team in just about anybody’s line up. While Werth may be a regression candidate, he’s innocent until proven guilty and was easily the Nats best hitter last year. He needs a lot of at bats, he can drive folks in and if you don’t like Span at the top, he’s your second leadoff guy.
Zim and Desmond have pretty consistently been in the 110+ area of +wRC in the last few years, so sandwiching them around the lefty Harper (who really is an atom-bomb waiting to go off) seems like a good idea to me. Given how aggressive Matt Williams appears to want his team to be, I wouldn’t even hate switching them-but I like Desi 5th because he’s sort of my second lead off man for the bottom half of the order.
Court had Ramos hitting second., While I like his gumption, I can’t fathom the idea of putting a player who’s yet to play a whole season with the team in the two hole. I do, however, fully agree he needs to be higher in the order than the usual “he’s a catcher, so he hits 8th” spot. He’s shown enough to be moved up, no doubt. THat said, he hasn’t even had 400 PAs in the last two years-so even if he is healthy, I have no idea how batting for a full season will treat him. Plus, he’s a player who you know is going to take off about 40 games. Is that going to disrupt the top of your lineup? I feel uncomfortable putting the Nats biggest injury risk/guy who plays a highly fluctuating position in a premium batting slot.
Sixth seems right to me. It’s a much better slot than 8th, he can still use that power to drive in runs because he will have batters ahead of him, but it isn’t the end of the world when he takes a day off. The bottom of the order is easily shuffled to bring other hitters up, but you aren’t asking the backup catcher (or someone else) to suddenly pop into the two hole.
Going back to the top of the order- I know Span is sort of the batting pariah amongst the stats-minded, but I just think he has a better season in him than the one he put together in 2013. That’s it. That’s my analysis. Okay, fine. He might not put up those numbers from 2008 and 2009, I do think he has at least another 2012 type year in him. That’s good enough for me to put in the top slot-especially given that aggressive Matt Williams style. Get him out there stealing bases and stretching singles into doubles. Sounds like runs scored to me.
The last little bit comes at the bottom of the order. I think Rendon is probably the hardest batter to place because he looked really good last year, and could be that much better this year. That said, I’d rather start him slow at the bottom of the order than rely on him and be disappointed. A healthy Nats team has the batters to make it happen without him.
The last slot I have for LaRoche or Espinosa. LaRoche probably makes sense to you since he had a bad year last year, and offers no real skills other than defense if his bat doesn’t work. As such, getting him down and out of the way sounds like a plan to me.
I’m guessing at least some of you are wondering why I’m hitting two second basemen with Espinosa in the lineup. Well, in my fantasy scenario, Danny Espinosa manages to hit as well as 2013 Adam LaRoche-in which case, why is ALR on the team? Espinosa is a defensive maestro at second base, and is much more mobile than ALR. You don’t need to be very good to hit 8th, you just need to be able to kind of hit.
So, in my scenario (get your tin foil hats out now, please), I get rid of LaRoche and put Espinosa at second base. You put the overly athletic Anthony Rendon at first (because he’s already shown he can play a variety of positions in the infield) and play on. You treat Zim and Rendon as interchangeable (switching them as need be), and you’ve eliminated one bad hitter from the line up (and added a much better defender at second.) Rendon is probably overkill at first-but rather too much than too little, I say.
That idea also sort of counts on there being a back-up first baseman on the team, and I guess (in reality) the Nats might not really have one. If anyone in the infield gets hurt, Danny Espinosa will probably be the first guy off the bench. As such, that would leave Rendon back at second, and a vacancy at first. (Zach Walters, sadly, doesn’t look quite ready for prime-time yet, and I don’t think LaRoche is ready to take backup role just yet). In which case, you can probably throw out that whole Espi/Rendon tandem unless a decent bat bench shows up-but hey, I was just trying to construct a great line-up, not a great 25 man roster. Sue me.
And that whole pitcher batting 8th? Sorry-that seems like snake-oil to me. I’m not convinced by that math.
While I know Court’s lineup is derived from some very sound mathematical principals, many of which I hold to, I think the general worry over the batting order is actually an extension of the disappointment of last year. Just like “fire Eckstein” (even though I’m convinced it wasn’t), folks need to tinker with something. Many think there must be something wrong with the way the Nats offensive engine was built. I tend to believe it really was just that some of the parts were broken. Those parts are fixed, and I think a pretty similar lineup to last year is going to produce a lot more runs this year.