Informed baseball fans know that the exact order of a team’s lineup doesn’t really have all that much impact in the long term. Studies have shown that a quote-on-quote optimal lineup is worth between five to fifteen runs in a season. This does not, however, prevent fans from having, and expressing, strong opinions on this topic!
Given how close the AL wild card race is shaping up this season, however, perhaps even that potential half win to be gained or lost with the lineup’s composition could make a difference in determining which team gets to play a bit of October baseball. The Rays hitters are nearly all back to full health, with Kevin Kiermaier the lone hold out.
Kiermaier has been cleared for baseball activities, and it shouldn’t be too much longer until he is back on the active roster. So, when the Rays are at full strength, what is their ideal lineup?
The hypothetical optimal lineup, according to The Book, has your top three hitters in the number two, four, and one slots in the lineup, with a high OBP guy in the leadoff spot and a high SLG guy in the fourth spot. Then it’s your fourth-best hitter in the fifth spot, your fifth-best in the third spot, with the six through nine spots filled with your sixth through ninth-best hitters.
In the real world, however, others factors come into play. Some players prefer certain lineup slots, and a manager has to decide whether these preferences should be considered. Evan Longoria is likely better than the Rays fifth-best hitter, but he has settled into the number three spot, and there’s no way Kevin Cash - or any human, really - is going to force him out. It’s his.
That being said, the Rays have a ton of lineup flexibility with the rest of their roster. No other player has started more than 63 games at one spot in the lineup, and Cash has done a good job of moving players around the lineup and keeping them successful.
With that in mind, here’s (my personal selection) for the perfect Rays lineup right now. This is regardless of pitcher handedness, as there is only one spot that is even up for debate if there is a lefty on the mound, and personally I’d rather have Brad Miller in the lineup than Trevor Plouffe, even it that loses the platoon advantage. I just don’t trust Plouffe.
Rays Ideal Lineup
|Steven Souza Jr.|
Souza over Dickerson in the lead-off spot might be controversial given that Dickerson’s OPS is nearly 200 points higher in the lead-off spot than the second spot this year. In fact, earlier this year I wrote that putting Dickerson in the lead-off spot was the best move Cash had made all season, but Souza over Dickerson makes sense for a few reasons, though. First, he is the far superior on-base hitter.
Despite Dickerson having a BA roughly 40 points higher than Souza, it’s Souza who has the better OBP of the two. His walk rate is more than twice that of Dickerson and he’s going to work the pitcher more. Also, with a pair of lefties at the end of the lineup, leaving Dickerson at the top of the lineup would give opposing managers too much of an opportunity with three straight lefties late in the game.
Morrison simply has to be the four hitter. He’s the Rays stud power hitter right now and is the epitome of a cleanup hitter these days.
I truly believe Ramos is one of the Rays’ four best hitters right now. In the absolutely tiny sample size of Ramos’ 2017 he has also hit best in the five spot.
That leaves Longoria for the position in the lineup he’s always preferred, third.
Miller’s spot in the starting lineup is the only one that I think is even debatable if the starting pitcher is a lefty. I could be talked into Trevor Plouffe here against lefties, but honestly I think I’d still end up wanting Miller in the lineup with Plouffe on the bench as a pinch-hitter late in the game.
I contemplated moving Kiermaier up a spot and Beckham down a spot to split up the lefties, which is something the Rays would likely do given the disruption to opposing teams’ relief plans, but Beckham’s power bat after Miller’s weirdly-high OBP season looks like a nice combo.
I also like the idea of Kiermaier and Smith being on the bases at the same time and wreaking havoc on the opposing pitcher. Beckham has also taken his most at bats and had his most success out of the seven spot this season.
Obviously with the day-to-day nature of baseball and the depth that the Rays have in spades, this lineup will only be used a few times. That being said, should the Rays find themselves in, oh say a one-game playoff of sorts, this would be the lineup I would want Cash to throw out there. And I don’t know about you, but to me that looks like a pretty excellent lineup.
KK is eligible to return from the Disabled List on Wednesday, August 9th.