21 March 2016

No, Manny Machado Shouldn't Bat Third

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


Roger said...

Excellent article. Thanks. Just the kind of discussion some of us fans with nothing better to do have been talking about. I read both supporting articles, too. Great stuff. One little quibble. Looking at stats against RH pitching Alvarez has eerily similar numbers to Davis. If your lineup swapped Alvarez (2nd) and Davis (4th), then I would expect to see exactly that lineup going forward against RH.

If you wanted to stack it against LH then Rickard at top, Machado #2, and Reimold #8 with Trumbo at DH. Or reverse Reimold and Rickard whoever is hot. Or Machado #1 and Rickard/Reimold #2. That would match the lineups last year when Paredes was hot.

Some combination of the above two lineups barring injuries or extreme slumps is what we will see all year. And both versions will be really good.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Thanks, Roger.

I would have no issue with Alvarez batting second. I thought I mentioned that in a previous article, but possibly not. I know I did somewhere.

No thanks to Rickard batting leadoff, though.

Pip said...

If Machado doesn't lead off, than who should?
Kim is hitting better, but he is still only hitting around 200, Reimold isn't hitting well at all, and you have put the kibosh on the idea of Rickard leading off.
That really leaves Machado as the only choice. If Davis is 4rth, Jones third, then what?

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I'd leave him at leadoff. Ideally, there would be a logical fit in front of him and he'd be able to bat second. I would have no problem at all with a top four of Machado-Alvarez-Jones-Davis against RHP.

Roger said...

I know you don't like it Matt, but Buck used Reimold at leadoff against LH last September and he has great splits against lefties. I'm not saying the data supports it but there is some logic.

Let me do ask, though, how would you rate a "hot hand" as far as lineup goes? Buck put Paredes at #2 when he was hot. If one of the lesser options is hot then the lineup against lefties could have MAchado at leadoff with the hot hand at #2.

Anybody think Schoop might work at #2 against lefties? Jones with Trumbo 3rd?

Roger said...

Thinking more on it, I kinda like it

Machado, Jones, Trumbo, Davis, Wieters, Schoop, Rickard, Reimold, Hardy

That would work against lefties and the OF defense wouldn't be too bad either.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Reimold doesn't have great splits against lefties.

Roger said...

I'll modify that statement. He had great splits against lefties last year..... Overall, you're right, there's been no discernible difference. Anyway, when I thought about it, I put him at eigth..... :-)

Anonymous said...

No, Reimold should not make this team, any more than Mark Hendrickson! should!!

Anonymous said...

Can't wait to hear Reimold is DFA, me myself and I are gonna drink a little bear, and dear old Grand Dad will be there, too!

Anonymous said...

No, no, no Nolan!!!

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Weird to see the Reimold hate. He's a fine reserve outfielder.

Roger said...

It's the same troll that has posted on several threads - just one guy (gal?).

Heals said...

With a shaky corner outfield defense using Kim in LF and Trumbo in RF, it makes sense to keep Reimold around. Kim is an unproven commodity. If Nolan can stay healthy all year, he's still a good option. DH Trumbo and put Nolan in RF.

Carl said...

Great article. So assuming Rickard does see decent playing time, would there be cause to bat him in the 9 spot, effectively making Machado a #2 hitter 3/4 times in a game with someone with speed/OBP in front of him?

Anonymous said...

I like Carl's suggestion. And I'm pretty confident that Rickard will make the team since we have no OF who could possibly back up Adam Jones if he got hurt. He hurt his shoulder last year and now that he's older we can't expect him to be as durable as he was for several years.

Matt: I'm curious why you would say Machado/Alvarez over Machado/Jones in an optimal lineup? Yes, Pedro draws more walks, but Adam most assuredly would garner more hits. He has a higher contact rate and runs faster than Alvarez, so it is reasonable to conclude that Adam's BABIP would be higher---it has been for years. I understand that a low walk rate usually portends problems, but people have been saying for years that Jones' low walk rate would depress his numbers sooner rather than later but it hasn't happened. They said that about Cano in his earlier years too. Some guys just have that combination of athleticism and pitch recognition that allows them to get away with habits that are otherwise undesirable.

And I can't see how anybody would prefer to have Alvarez as a baserunner over Jones. Alvarez has never managed double digits in steals.

There are also some concerns about Alvarez,i.e., his fly ball rate last year was the lowest since 2011. The only reason that he banged out as many HRs as he did last year was that his HR/FB rate was the highest of his career. Meanwhile, there has been little variation in Jones' HR/FB rate. Wouldn't you prefer him getting the extra ABs?

So why Alvarez over Jones in the #2 slot? The lefty/righty mix that Showalter likes? Is Buck that rigid?

I value your insights. Looking forward to an explanation.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Alvarez has a career 118 wRC+ against right-handers. Jones clocks in at 112. So there isn't a huge difference there, but there is a small one. Jones gets the benefit of being the faster/better baserunner, so all told, it's pretty even. It wasn't a dig at Jones by any means.

Yes, the lefty-righty mix is part of why I do that, since Showalter has shown that's what he prefers. Walk rate wasn't a factor in it for me.

Anonymous said...

Alvarez is Hall worthy compared to Reimold! He stinks, don't get the love!

Pip said...

I think Anonymous is Reimold's ex-girlfriend.

Anonymous said...

DFA day is coming soon for the glass man!!! 0-3, batting a robust .150!!!

Roger said...

OK, so why doesn't Buck ever bat Hardy ninth??? I sorta get it when Caleb is playing but why bat him ahead of Kim and Schoop (betting sixth today)?

Draven X 23 said...

Seriously people? Alvarez 2nd. The guy with a career .309 OB%?

Machado should be batting 2nd with Davis 3rd and Jones 4th (another guy with low OB%). The team doesn't have a leadoff hitter. That is fine. Scoot everyone up a slot. Top 2 team OB% at the top. Pretty much everyone can hit 20+ HRs in a good year.

3B Machado
1B Davis
CF Jones
DH Alvarez
RF Trumbo
C Wieters
2B Schoop
SS Hardy
LF (Whoever)

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Sure, that lineup would also be fine. Machado first and Davis second is intriguing. But it's more realistic that Alvarez would bat second than Davis. And yes, he doesn't have a great OBP. The Orioles don't really have a lot of those guys. But in terms of overall offensive skills, he's one of the team's best hitters against left-handed pitching. OBP is more important, but don't ignore the power.

Roger said...

Hey, Anonymous. That doggoned Reimold dude now batting .280 w/.345 OBP and 3 HR in last 4 (or is it 5) games. Starting to come around.

Jon Shepherd said...

I would think any opinion one had a week ago, they should probably hold the same opinion today. If said opinion was based on 40 spring training PAs, then their right to having opinions should be revoked.

Roger said...

That was kinda the point. We've been hearing so much trash about Reimold - some of which was based upon that he was batting .190 in the Spring - that I just got sick of it. He's hot now and I think showing his true potential but, as everyone says, it's still just Spring and he has to perform in regular season too.

Roger said...

On that note, with the David Murphy and Matt Joyce rumors and Franklin Morales available, how would that change the roster? Morales would supplant Phillips.... But who goes out if Murphy or Joyce are brought in? Kim??? Is all that harumphing about releasing Kim for real?