You gleefully scoot in several large steps. You rationalize that if there is a possibility this kid might get it out of the infield, it will be a lazy, drooping pop fly, unworthy of you playing him from your normal position. Like an amused spectator you watch the pitcher wind up and deliver the pitch. The sharp ping of the aluminum bat snaps you out of your bemused state just in time to see the ball whistle over your head and careen into the corner.
What happened? Isn't there some Newtonian Law of physics that prevents that event from taking place? No, you just got fooled by your most trustworthy of senses. Baseball is America's pastime for a reason. Illusions are present all the time, just waiting to play tricks on you. No, this article is not propaganda for laser eye surgery, but rather an article explaining why relying on stats is much safer and more efficient than relying on what you see.
Using Stats To Pick Your Player
In general, bigger players hit the ball farther and throw it harder, but that's not always the case. How many times have you seen the second-coming of Baby Huey come up to bat, expecting him to hit the ball into the parking lot, and watch him whiff three uncoordinated times, go back to the bench and pout, like none other than Baby Huey? How many times have you seen some string bean pitcher dial up the heat? Think Mike MacDougal or Leo Nunez (both KC Royals players, can you see the hometown bias?).
This article is intended for coaches as well as players. As you progress through the different levels of competitive baseball, more and more detailed types of stats should become available. If not, find some hyper-obsessive dad to do it (there is always at least one of them).
Stats, as previously mentioned in some of my other articles, can tell a lot more than we give them credit for. For example, take the current struggle going on in the front offices of Major League Baseball teams, where the renaissance of stat-heads has lead to the questioning of grading prospects solely on a few games of scouting and a physical projection and evaluation of their bodies.
In the most basic terms, who cares if a player looks good if he can't play? If a player looks like Jack Black yet somehow hits 40 HR, and gets on base 40% of the time, who cares if he isn't an underwear model? But I digress.
Stats are useful for putting together your batting lineup, as well as assigning pitching roles. Statistics can also be helpful in scouting reports on other teams. While no one in their right mind would march into battle blind as a bat, having a few peripheral statistics you've never heard of could give you the advantage. Let's begin our discussion.
Disclaimer: There will be many statistical baseball terms thrown around in this article, and if you are confused about the definition or how to calculate these stats, you can find them in my
previous articles, or you can Google them.
Piecing Together The Batting Lineup
Let's assume that you have at least the raw stats at your disposal from the current season, and any past seasons as well. We are not looking for highs or lows, but rather trends that seem to permeate through the seasons.
The leadoff spot is somewhat of an enigma. Traditional advice tends to favor using a speedy leadoff guy who could steal bases if he gets on. The quality of speed is only useful if this person can get on.
So if you have a speed demon that is also an OBP demon, by all means stick him in the first slot. But, in most cases, it is best to stick a player who can draw walks and get on base, but really can't hit for power.
To Calculate OBP:
2nd & 5th
The spots 2nd and 5th should be filled with your second tier of best hitters (spots 3 and 4 being first-tier). These are guys who might not be able to get on base as well as the leadoff hitter, but should hit for more power or hit frequently. Stats such as SLG% and OPS can be used to effectively designate your 2nd and 5th hitters.
To Calculate SLG:
Remember that your 2nd and 5th hitters are a sort of defense against your two best hitters. Opposing pitchers should not be able to get past them quickly, allowing them to pitch around your best hitters.
3rd & 4th
The 3rd and 4th spot are the most obvious positions to fill with your best hitters. Both of these players should be excellent hitters, with a slight emphasis on power for the clean up spot (4th). The 3rd hitter should be near the top of the team in OPS, meaning he has an equally impressive OBP and SLG percentage.
While batting average is a moderately useful statistic, you should feel no pressure to solely go by this statistic when choosing your best hitter. As for the clean up spot, again we are looking at OPS, with SLG% taking paramount concern. Your 4th hitter should also be the leader in Iso-Power (SLG%- BA%). This is a measure of just how well this player hits for power, in isolated form.
6th & Up
After the 5th spot, there are a grab bag of strategies you can use. You can mix and match, playing left/right handed matchups between the hitter and pitcher, or you can just use a few more stats.
One great stat that can be used is Pitches Seen per Plate Appearance. This is the total amount of pitches seen divided by the number of at-bats. Even if your 6-9 batters don't hit for power, at least they can wear down the pitchers with a high average of pitches seen per at-bat.
Or you can take their OPS percentages and place them in a descending fashion.
Creating The Pitching Picture
Pitching, unfortunately, is a lot harder to design than hitting. Working around arm injuries, aberrations in the schedule and other nuisances can destroy your perfectly-crafted rotation and bullpen. First, let's discuss the pitching rotation.
- High K/BB ratio
- High strikeouts, low walks and HR's
- Best mechanics on team
- Works efficiently, fast
- Pitches find ways to miss bats
This is hands-down your best pitcher. He throws hard, strikes out a lot of guys, walks few, and works fast, all over an extended amount of innings. Just in case you can't tell whom this pitcher is by observing them (or you would just rather go by the stats), here are a few measures that indicate your top starter:
From here it's simply ranking them in order of next best to worst. You can decide this by looking at the aforementioned stats, or by looking at their attitude, pitch repertoire, velocity or other factors you deem necessary.
Depending on the number of games you play and their proximity to each other, you should use your other starters interchangeably in the bullpen.
Think of this person as a scaled-down version of your No. 1 starter. This is a guy who is lights out in short situations.
He must be able to handle pressure well, and have an attitude suited toward the situation. Low walk rates are a must; walking batters is the cardinal sin of late inning relief.
Moderate to high rates of strikeouts and ground balls (when put in play) are excellent attributes of a successful closer. Don't feel pressured into using just one guy for this position.
As the season progresses keep looking at the statistics and the outcomes of certain events for all pitchers, and you should find the right closer.
Hopefully this article helped clear up some misconceptions of slotting baseball players in a lineup. This article can help coaches as well as players trying to identify where their skills are best applied.