21 March 2016
No, Manny Machado Shouldn't Bat Third
Posted by Matt Kremnitzer
Spring training is long, and it's hard to be patient for the season to start. That's especially difficult to do because nothing outside of injury concerns and fringe roster battles really matters all that much. So it can be easy to get carried away during spring training, and that sometimes leads to articles with headlines such as this: "Orioles' Manny Machado batting third, driving in four runs opens discussion on lineup spot."
The debate about where Machado should bat is hardly new; it was a popular topic last season and has been discussed throughout the offseason. And really, there are two competing viewpoints: 1) Machado should stay at the top of the lineup (preferably batting second) because he's one of the Orioles' top two hitters; or 2) Machado should be placed in a slot that's better suited to driving in runs.
If you're at all familiar with The Book, then you're aware of the most efficient way to order a batting lineup. If you're not, Sky Kalkman provided a nice primer on lineup optimization several years ago that's still relevant today. It won't take long; give it a read if you haven't.
A bunch of these ideas have already been adopted. Contact hitters who generally aren't very good overall don't bat second nearly as often now. Teams sacrifice bunt less often, especially at the top of the order. Blazing speed is no longer a requirement for leadoff hitters. That's just a few.
So back to what this all means for the Orioles, and let's just paint with a broad brush. We're just talking about the basics here. Chris Davis and Machado are the two best O's hitters. They should be batting in either the first, second, or fourth spots in the lineup. Machado makes the most sense in the second spot, but there shouldn't be much of an issue with him batting leadoff. Davis is the team's most feared power bat, and he's going to bat cleanup.
If you're solely focused on the driving-in-runs angle, then your argument should be more for putting Machado fourth or fifth than third. But Davis isn't going to bat second (it's not the worst idea at all, but it's not going to happen). If Machado were to bat third and Davis fourth, then you'd have some combination of two worse hitters (Adam Jones, Nolan Reimold, Pedro Alvarez, Hyun Soo Kim, Joey Rickard (mentioned in that first article above as "a dark horse [leadoff] candidate") batting in front of them. I like Jones just fine, but he's not better than Machado or Davis.
At the very least, the idea of a team's best hitters batting as many times as possible should make sense. Buck Showalter isn't an enormous violator of this policy, but he also is a fan of ordering his lineup with a heavy influence on alternating right- and left-handed batters, if possible. Sometimes that means David Lough, Chris Parmelee, Delmon Young, or, uh, Everth Cabrera bat at the top of the order. Showalter isn't perfect, but seasons are long and baseball is weird. Remember how good Jimmy Paredes was for a stretch last year? You figure it out.
Honestly, it would be interesting to see Showalter order his lineup with Machado first and Davis second. Would a Machado-Davis-Jones-Alvarez-Trumbo-Wieters-Schoop-Kim-Hardy lineup against right-handed pitchers interest anyone?
Anyway, it's always worth noting that batting order isn't nearly as important as many fans think. It's just easy to argue about, and I'm guilty of that at times. Still, I'd prefer not to see Reimold or Rickard at the top of the order just to bump Machado down into what used to be the assumed best place for a team's best hitter. This isn't really about Machado at all; he's talented enough to thrive anywhere.
Photo via Keith Allison