Looking at Some Potential Lineups to Start the Season
Spring training is in full swing, and I thought it might be a good idea to examine some of the possible batting orders the Red Sox might use to start the season. I'll start by looking at a basic lineup put together using conventional, old-school baseball wisdom. I'll follow up by looking at a lineup put together using instructions from The Book, a book that uses advanced statistics to examine, among other things, lineup optimization. Finally, I will propose the lineup that I believe the Sox should use to start the 2020 season.
The Basic Lineup
Conventional wisdom is that a team should put a speedy player in the leadoff spot, followed by a good contact hitter in the two-hole. The third spot is reserved for the best overall hitter, with the 4-5 spots set aside for big power hitters. 6-9 is typically in order from best to worst of the hitters remaining. According to this line of thinking, the Red Sox lineup would look something like this:
1. Andrew Benintendi
2. Rafael Devers
3. J.D. Martinez
4. Xander Bogaerts
5. Mitch Moreland
6. Alex Verdugo
7. Michael Chavis
8. Christian Vazquez
9. Jackie Bradley Jr.
I don’t love this lineup. You have three lefties in a row (Bradley Jr.-Benintendi-Devers) at one point and not a ton of left-right alternation overall. I also don’t really like having Martinez in the three-hole, for reasons touched on below. It’s not an awful lineup by any means, but not my favorite.
The Lineup by The Book
According to The Book, a team should focus more on maximizing their best hitters’ opportunities to produce, rather than focus on slotting guys into specific lineup roles. This means having your best hitters hit earlier in the lineup, even if they have tons of pop or if they’re not fast. Additionally, the third spot in the lineup is actually calculated to be the least valuable of the top five spots, due to the spot coming up with no one on and two outs more than any other spot in the order. Spots 6-7-8-9 should be filled by the remaining players in order of decreasing hitting ability. According to this philosophy, the Red Sox lineup would look something like this:
9. Bradley Jr.
I’m a pretty big fan of this lineup. Devers and Bogaerts would receive the most at bats, which is exactly what the team should want. Martinez gets moved out of the three-spot, which increases the value of his at bats. The only real issue I have with it is the lack of alternating righties and lefties after the top four, but as far as problems with lineups go, that’s pretty small.
I think The Book gives you a far better lineup than conventional wisdom, but I have a few changes I would make to it. With the new rule that relief pitchers must pitch to a minimum of three batters or to the end of the inning (with a few exceptions such as injury or rain delay), alternating lefties and righties becomes even more important (a team can no longer bring in a lefty to face only one hitter, so having multiple lefties in a row in your lineup gives your opponent the ability to use a lefty specialist regardless of the new rule). Additionally, I absolutely love Devers in the two-hole. He was incredible there last season, and I would like to see him there yet again this season. The lineup I might go with is as follows:
9. Bradley Jr.
This lineup alternates lefties and righties as much as possible. It keeps Devers in the two-hole, where he’s proven to be a monster, and keeps the best hitters out of the three-hole. It still gives Devers and Bogaerts more at bats than anyone else. I’m not sure how I feel about Bogaerts leading off, however, but I think this is definitely a lineup the team could consider, and if Bogaerts proves himself a good leadoff hitter, I think it is the lineup the Sox should use.