Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Baseball Detective sleuths out the optimal lineup

Admit it. At some point you've thought you could put together a better batting order than your favorite team's manager. Why is he batting Ichiro first when he's better suited for third on a team with no other offensive threats? Why does Brandon Phillips hit cleanup so much when he's more effective higher in the lineup? And why doesn't everyone hit the pitcher eighth?

David H. Martinez was intrigued by certain managerial choices as well. In his short e-book Baseball Detective: Unraveling the Mystery of the Batting Order, Martinez cites Felipe Alou's decision to bat Barry Bonds fourth in 2004, despite a historical preference for hitting a team's best hitter third. Five times during the season, Bonds watched from the on-deck circle while a teammate made the last out in a close game. What if he were hitting one spot higher? Would he have driven in the tying or winning run in a couple of those? Would he have seen more pitches to hit instead of walking 242 times? Two more wins would have given the Giants the wild card spot that went to the Houston Astros.

Alou stated a preference for hitting his big bat cleanup to give him more RBI opportunities. Bonds also liked hitting there better. In the end, it's impossible to say batting third would have made a difference.

Many have tried, dating back as far as the 1960s, when Earnshaw Cook published Percentage Baseball, a study of statistics and strategies. Cook argued teams should bat their players in order from best to worst. He would have hit Bonds leadoff to get him more plate appearances. Even still, an optimal lineup, as constructed by Cook's theory, would only have netted a club an additional 11 runs over the course of a season.

Martinez examines a number of other studies conducted over the past five decades, all aimed at optimizing scoring by manipulating the batting order. His conclusion: Well, you'll have to read Baseball Detective to unravel the mystery for yourself. At 5,000 words and 99 cents, it's a small investment in both time and money. Certainly worth a buck to pass the time on the train or bus into work.


  1. Thank you for the kind words, James. I'm happy you enjoyed the e-book.

  2. Thanks, David. You won me over when you didn't endorse batting the pitcher eighth.