[Note: The United Cardinal Bloggers have begun their preseason roundtable discussion. Ben Chambers from The View From Here posed today’s question.]
There have been a few changes this offseason to change the look of the team that will be put on the field. Bourjos and Peralta joining the team, with Freese and Beltran leaving.
With that in mind, if you were in Matheny’s shoes, what would your lineup card look like? What do you think the opening day lineup will look like? Do you think the lineup will change at all during the season (similar to Marp’s move to lead off last year)?
We feel obligated to at least mention the idea that “who” is more important than “where” when it comes to lineup optimization. That said, we love lineup-making as much as the next guy, and this is, after all, what fans do in Spring Training, so here goes.
With the likeliest opening-season starters at this point– Yadier Molina, Matt Adams, Kolten Wong, Matt Carpenter, Jhonny Peralta, Matt Holliday, Jon Jay/Peter Bourjos and Allen Craig — we’d lump the lineup into three sections, numbers 1-2, 3-5 and then 6-8. With a couple of exceptions, we’re not picky on where people bat inside each of those sections.
Section 1 (1-2):
These two figure to boast the highest on-base percentage and slugging percentage on the team, so it’s vital to give them the most plate appearances. According to The Book:
Your three best hitters should bat somewhere in the #1, #2 and #4 slots. Your fourth- and fifth-best hitters should occupy the #3 and #5 slots. The #1 and #2 slots will have players with more walks than those in the #4 and #5 slots. From slot #6 through #9, put the players in descending order of quality.
Section 2 (3-5):
- Craig, Molina, Adams (in any order, but preferably Craig batting cleanup)
Make no mistake, these three comprise a stout middle of the order, literally and figuratively. In both foot speed and offensive prowess, they are largely indistinguishable from each other, though Craig projects to offer both Molina’s on-base skills and Adams’s power and is therefore the best of the bunch. These guys find gaps — think lots of doubles (Steamer projects the trio to hit 96 of them) — so they, like Carpenter and Holliday won’t require the following lesser hitters to hit home runs to drive them in.
Section 3 (6-8):
- Peralta, Jay/Bourjos, Wong (in any order, but preferring the fastest guy sixth)
Contrary to conventional wisdom, speed is most helpful in the lower reaches of the lineup. Some people believe that the most optimal spot for a fast runner is sixth, because a stolen base is most valuable ahead of singles-hitting contact hitters. Conversely, a caught stealing in front of weaker hitters is less costly than doing it with, say, Allen Craig batting (or, say, a pickoff with Carlos Beltran batting). And remember, after the first inning, these are the guys who will be setting the table for the 1-2 batters.
Even without factoring in baserunning, here’s what David Pinto’s old lineup analysis tool says will be the team’s top-scoring lineup based on Steamer projections:
Many fans of course remember the runnin’ Redbirds of the ’80s, which featured speed burners like Vince Coleman and Willie McGee perched atop the lineup card. When the Cardinals blew the league away in runs per game in 1985, they did so not so much because of Coleman leading off — though his 110 stolen bases at an 81% success rate certainly helped — but because McGee batted second most of the year and posted a Holliday-like .384 OBP and .503 SLG, and Jack Clark batted cleanup with a near-identical .393/.502. Similarly in 1987, with Coleman (.363 OBP) and Ozzie Smith (.392) batting 1-2 and Clark (.459) fourth, the team had its top three OBP men in those most vital spots. Mike Matheny has a chance to do the same in 2014 in Carpenter, Holliday and Craig.