Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sky Kalkman Suggests Jeter Should Bat 6th... CRUCIFY HIM!

Over ESPN's new Insider-only saberblog TMI (which stands for "The Max Info" but was clearly named by someone who doesn't care much for baseball's statistical revolution and thinks they are very clever) Mr. Kalkman suggests a lineup that would surely make Dusty Baker's head explode:
1. Nick Johnson (L)
2. Mark Teixeira (S)
3. Curtis Granderson (L)
4. Alex Rodriguez (R)
5. Robinson Cano (L)
6. Derek Jeter (R)
7. Nick Swisher (S)
8. Jorge Posada (S)
9. Brett Gardner (L)
But, but, but... Nick Johnson would clog up the basepaths!!1!1

Seriously though, that batting order kind of blows my mind a little bit as well. In a good way. I like counterintuitive thinking and this certainly qualifies as "outside of the box". The underlying principles for Kalkman's method of lineup construction can be found in this piece.

As David Pinto pointed out when projecting the Yankees offense earlier this winter, the difference between the Yankees absolute best and worst lineups is about 1/4 of a run per game. The difference between the one that performed the best in the simulations and the one Joe Girardi is likely to use is .08 of a run (13 runs a year). Simply put, the order you arrange the batters probably doesn't matter very much unless you do something stupid like bat A-Rod 8th (and even then, not very much). But lineup construction is a popular topic in sabermetric circles because it's relatively simple to tinker with from afar and fool around with mathematically.

Here is Kalkman's justification for the slow-footed OBP Jesus hitting leadoff:
At the top of the order, getting on base is king, and while Jeter’s very good in that arena, Johnson is OBP royalty. And since Johnson will only be in the lineup against righties anyway, his offensive advantage over Jeter is even larger. Jeter has the ability to steal bases, but that ability is actually overrated in front of hitters who will walk (because a walk pushes the leadoff hitter to second base without the risk of an out) and pound out extra-base hits (often scoring the runner from first base). Jeter’s ability to steal bases would be more useful lower in the order, in front of singles hitters -- not that the Yankees really have any of those on the team. In short, swapping 25 times on base for 25 stolen bases isn't a price worth paying at the leadoff spot.
One thing I strongly disagree with is the suggestion that Johnson "will only be in the lineup against righties". He doesn't have much of a platoon split and has actually been better against lefties over the course of his career. The Yanks already have two guys in Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson who are susecptable to left handed pitching. Who, exactly, is going to take Johnson's place?

Here is why Sky has Jeter batting 6th:
Next comes Jeter, who can run wild on all the doubles hit by Swisher and Posada, although these three are so close that their order doesn’t matter much. (Having Jeter as low as sixth is going to get me in enough trouble, so I won’t slide him down any further.)
Baserunning skills are more important in front of guys who hit a lot of singles and doubles as opposed to those who walk a lot and hit home runs, so that makes a good deal of sense.

There is no doubt that when Joe Girardi fills out his lineup card in Fenway on April 4th, Jeter is going to hit leadoff. He was excellent in that role last year and with a .388 career OBP, he's certainly a worthy candidate. Based on what has been said in Tampa this Spring, Johnson will probably bat second; the fact that Girardi is willing to pencil him in there is a testament to his forward thinking.

Coaches in any sport are reluctant put their neck on the line by straying from the generally accepted principles and as Pinto's projections show, there just isn't that much to be gained by changing between two very good lineups. It would take some real courage/insanity to go with anything like the order that Kalkman is suggesting, but it makes for an interesting discussion topic at least.


  1. It's so simple: Just reverse Jeter and Nick Johnson in the order, and it's fine.

    This reminds me of Billy Martin pulling the lineup out of the hat -- or asking Reggie to do it, if "The Bronx Is Burning" is to be believed -- and it came out, Randolph, Munson, Jackson, Piniella, Nettles. If you just insert Rivers in the leadoff spot, it's pretty much the actual usual 1977-78 lineup. The biggest difference was, Chambliss batted 8th, and complained, but hit like crazy in the week or so that the lineup was used.

    When the scene was shown in "TBIB," I half-expected Daniel Sunjata as Reggie to say to John Turturro as Billy, "What if I pull out the fourth name and it's Bucky Dent?" I'd hope Billy would say, "Reg, I'm crazy and I'm hung over, but I ain't stupid. Bucky Dent is not going to be my cleanup hitter."

  2. Johnson walking followed by Tex hitting against The Shift sounds like a recipe for lots of DPs, maybe even enough to negate some of the value of NJ's OBP. Like you say, lineup only matters so much, but I have to say that combo on top does not seem efficient.

  3. lets get real jeter bats 1

  4. that is by far. the WORST proposed line-up I've ever read. thank you for being disgusted as well.

  5. David is right... Tex would get into so many DPs that way... and the line-up DOES matter A LOT... you can get all these nerds to come up with all the stats on earth but the line-up can mean a BIG difference, especially in a division like the AL East. 13 runs a year could mean the difference between home-field advantage and sitting at home... although Kalkman's lineup would be the one that didn't produce, not Girardi's."Baserunning skills are more important in front of guys who hit a lot of singles and doubles as opposed to those who walk a lot and hit home runs"... are you assuming Teixeira or A-Rod hits a bomb every time Johnson is on base??? You'll realize how stupid this is when Tex and A-Rod both hit more doubles and singles than either Posada or Swisher.