Lineup optimization is a bit of an overrated task for a statistician. There's no denying that what order the players perform in can have significant influence on the game, but making those decisions requires knowledge of statistics, physical attributes, and quality of mind.
Joe Maddon started the year with an unconventional approach, using the first two slots of the batting order as a rotating door of players to find hot streaks and ignite the offense. The tricks paid off in May, when the Rays led the majors with a 125 wRC+, and Maddon has settled back into a more consistent approach.
Now the lineup receives a wild card, and it's a good problem to have: Wil Myers
Heading over to Fenway. Excited to put the uniform on and play today!— Wil Myers (@wilmyers) June 18, 2013
Upon his call up to the big leagues, Wil Myers will have his turn batting in the line up every day, but Joe Maddon intends to start him low in the order to take the pressure off.
Today's first lineup to feature Wil Myers has him batting sixth, which is not an awful choice.
As a top-5 prospect in all of baseball, it's difficult enough performing against astronomically high expectations. It'd be even more difficult batting second; nevertheless, fear not. Myers will not stay batting 7-9 the entire season, and finding an ideal batting order is an art that Joe Maddon prides himself in.
Let's take a cursory look at what could be to come in adding Wil Myers to the Tampa Bay Rays offense.
Every discussion about building a batting order should start with Tom Tango's study on the importance of each batter, which can be found in The Book.
You can read more from Ian on The Book here.
According to Tango, the most important batters in the lineup are second and fourth*, based on numbers of plate appearances and the opportunity to succeed. Furthermore, it is fifth and lead off that hold even more importance than the third hitter in the line up.
The rest falls in order from there, but the guys batting sixth and ninth should probably be fast and have some ability to get on base in front of likely singles hitters.
Put these rankings together, and your batting order by talent looks like this:
4, 2, 5, 1, 3, 6, 7, 9, 8
*I was not always a believer in "third < fourth", but some research by R.J. Anderson recently persuaded me otherwise.
The Current Lineup
As of Sunday, June 16th, this was Tampa Bay's starting lineup:
|1. Matt Joyce, RF||.270||.355||.529||.380||147|
|2. Ben Zobrist, 2B||.270||.361||.393||.334||116|
|3. Kelly Johnson, LF||.246||.319||.448||.332||114|
|4. Evan Longoria, 3B||.306||.365||.552||.390||154|
|5. James Loney, 1B||.301||.361||.476||.360||133|
|6. Desmond Jennings, CF||.252||.313||.429||.322||107|
|7. Luke Scott, DH||.240||.340||.388||.323||108|
|8. Jose Molina, C||.239||.272||.316||.259||64|
|9. Yunel Escobar, SS||.241||.303||.359||.294||88|
|B. Sean Rodriguez, UT||.246||.342||.406||.333||114|
|B. Ryan Roberts, 2B/3B**||.238||.294||.349||.286||82|
|B. Sam Fuld, OF||.180||.250||.258||.230||44|
|B. Jose Lobaton, C||.279||.343||.443||.344||122|
**Roberts was optioned to Triple-A Durham on Monday to make room for Myers
Of course, no two weeks are the same under Joe Maddon, but this lineup was as close to consistency as the Rays could get.
There are two key mainstays to Maddon's lineup: Zobrist and Longoria. The strategy agrees with The Book well, Zorilla and Longoria are the standouts in OBP over the long sample size, and project as the two best hitters on the team. The two biggest surprises have certainly been James Loney and Matt Joyce, who have each been putting together incredibly strong seasons. These four create the foundation of the line up.
Even still, Matt Joyce is somewhat of an outlier. In his 15 games from the lead off position, he's batting .311/.391/.607 with four home runs, six doubles, and seven walks.
Joyce is also thumping the highest ISO on the roster (.260), and is tied with Longoria for the most home runs at 14. He has taken Desmond Jennings's role of lead off, thanks to his production at the plate, and it's an intriguing mix. It's not often that a team can lead with power. There's even an opportunity for Joyce to improve on his current numbers. His luck checks in with a .270 BABIP, twenty points below the team average, while his wRC+ is the second highest on the team. If Joyce gets luckier, his fourth best OBP and second best wOBA could trend higher.
James Loney, Kelly Johnson, and Desmond Jennings round out the second tier, talent wise, with subtle power (.175+ ISO). Loney and Johnson are well capable of moving the runners, and Jennings provides speed at sixth to move around the bases himself.
The third tier of designated hitter, catcher, and Escobar provide slap hitting and singles to move more runners, while Escobar provides speed for when the top of the line up returns.
Is it no doubt that the Rays lead the major leagues in wRC+ for the season at 112, tied with the powerhouse Tigers.
Wil it blend?
The pitching staff has been struggling, and the Rays offense hasn't carried weight, dropping six of ten during the last homestand's lackluster performances on the mound. Furthermore, the Rays have not won a game when scoring less than three runs since June 7th, and could only sting together twelve runs over the last five games. So the Rays have made adjustments.
First, they've brought in four rookie pitchers to help life the pitching staff. The Rays are five games back in the AL East standings, facing seven games in Boston and New York this week for seven games, and rookies will start four of those outings due to David Price and Alex Cobb's stints on the Disabled List. There's high potential for things to go very badly.
To give the Rays offense some life on this difficult road trip, they've called upon Wil Myers.
Where there's a Wil...
Projecting where Myers will fit into this Rays offense is a different task. ZiPS projects Myers to bat .253/.317/.444 over the rest of this season for a .329 wOBA. Following Ian's analysis from yesterday, you might expect Myers to perform slightly better than that and reach Zobrist production levels, but his current projected performance is in line with what Kelly Johnson and Desmond Jennings have done.
So where does Myers fit? In the minors he boasted fifty more points of power in his ISO against left handed pitchers, and as a right handed slugger there's an argument to be made for him hitting higher against southpaws. In fact, I would expect from Myers this season what the elder Kelly Johnson has become from the other side of the plate, with a few more walks and home runs along the way and fingers crossed.
With that said, here are my expected line ups:
|1. Matt Joyce, LF||1. Desmond Jennings, CF|
|2. Ben Zobrist, 2B||2. Ben Zobrist, 2B|
|3. Kelly Johnson, DH||3. Wil Myers, RF|
|4. Evan Longoria, 3B||4. Evan Longoria, 3B|
|5. James Loney, 1B||5. James Loney, 1B|
|6. Wil Myers, RF||6. Sean Rodriguez, LF|
|7. Desmond Jennings, CF||7. Kelly Johnson, DH|
|8. Jose Lobaton, C||8. Jose Molina, C|
|9. Yunel Escobar, SS||9. Yunel Escobar, SS|
It should be noted that the positions are merely a suggestion. Only God knows where Joe Maddon will place his players day-to-day; however, the addition of Myers will likely relegate Zobrist back to his natural position at 2B, unless he takes a turn at designated hitter. The rest is up for debate.