In the Miami Marlins' 8-4 victory over the Atlanta Braves last night, Austin Kearns was surprisingly our Hero of the Game for the purposes of Ichthyomancy. The backup outfielder went two for four with two doubles, including a two-RBI double in the third inning that put the Marlins on the board and had them take a 2-1 lead. The Fish never looked back, as their offense mowed down the Braves' pitchers en route to another high-output evening. It is worth noting that Kearns batted fourth in the lineup and that this was his seventh time hitting cleanup for the Fish this season.
It is that last sentence that grates on most Marlins fans. Austin Kearns was replacing Logan Morrison in left field, and Morrison usually bats cleanup for the Fish. We detailed a few days ago why that may be a slight misuse of Morrison's talents, but we mentioned that this is not a big deal in the long run. Well, having Kearns, who does not project as a good hitter, is also not a big deal in the long run. It is not good for the team, but it certainly is not the end of the world, especially for one to two games per week.
So why write about it? It just goes to show you that Ozzie Guillen is either so in tune with his players that he knows that the slightest twitch in their lineup slot would cause undue panic to them or he is simply throwing away fractions of runs every few games for no apparent reason.Lessons From The Book
In this space, I have often touted The Book: Playing the Percentages In Baseball as a must-read for Fish Stripes readers, and I still encourage everyone on here to pick it up and take a gander at it, as it is the most interesting baseball read I have ever gone through. One of the coolest chapters that saber-friendly bloggers use often is the one on batting lineups. The batting lineup chapter uses the particular base-out states that are unique to each batting lineup and come up with a strategy and a profile for the lineup slots designed to maximize run scoring with the given personnel.
You have seen the basic rule of lineup writing written here before, but I will reiterate it here.
The Book Says:
Your three best hitters should hit somewhere in the #1, #2, and #4 slots. Your fourth- and fifth-best hitters should occupy the #3 and #5 slots. The #1 and #2 slots will have players with more walks than those in the #4 and #5 slots. From slot #6 through #9, put the players in descending order of quality.
This is a little counter-intuitive to traditional thinking, but it does not sound the least bit far-fetched. Of course, a number of managers do not do these things, and Ozzie Guillen is no different. But the Kearns maneuver is perhaps the most egregious, head-scratching error among the many that Guillen has made with regards to the lineup. Take a look at the 2012 lines and projections for Kearns versus Logan Morrison and Giancarlo Stanton.
|Player, ZiPS Proj||AVG||OBP||SLG||wOBA|
Yes, Kearns is the best hitter among the three in 2012, but I do not think even Ozzie Guillen would be so foolish to make a declaration of Kearns being better than either player after just 42 PA in 2012. In other words, Guillen must think that Kearns is not as good as either Morrison or Stanton, or he would have at least begun starting Kearns over Morrison rather than having him fill in occasionally. The projections may not be as good at telling microscopic changes in Austin Kearns's approach and work at the plate in this sample size, but it is very good at coming up with accurate projections of the future based on Kearns's current work and his vast history at the plate. It does not think very highly of Kearns.
So why is is that, in one of the three most important lineup slots, Guillen is using one of the team's projected worst hitters? Even the traditionalist view sees the cleanup spot as probably the place of the team's second-best hitter, so why is Kearns manning the spot in the absence of Morrison? Greg Dobbs once manned the position as well when he substituted for Morrison in left field in one game. Apparently, Guillen's response is that the left fielder and the left fielder alone deserves the shot at cleaning up for the Marlins, despite the fact that the team has a currently very hot right fielder who has hit seven home runs in the month of May.
Now, it is fair to point out that a lot of managers do not manage that way. Maybe this is the most egregious error, but a lot of managers make errors with their lineup writing. But it is frustrating to see Guillen do something like this while other managers move to smarter, more logical lineups. For example, Cleveland Indians manager Manny Acta recently tried a lineup shift involving batting Shin-Soo Choo and his career .383 OBP to the leadoff spot. This resulted in a pretty solid order, as mentioned by ESPN SweetSpot's Christina Kahrl.
Choo was followed by second baseman Jason Kipnis in his usual slot, then Asdrubal Cabrera, then Carlos Santana. If that sounds to you like every good Indians batter, stacked up in a row, you’d be right. But with Choo’s .362 OBP (pre-game) up front, it gave manager Manny Acta some big-inning potential, and when Minnesota's Jason Marquis got into trouble in the fifth, there was no easier out for him to get, and they cranked a trio of home runsbefore Ron Gardenhire could get him off the mound.
Now, the Marlins are not all that far off from doing that on a normal basis. One figures that if the Fish put, say, Logan Morrison batting second and Giancarlo Stanton batting fourth, they too would have their four best hitters hitting in the top four slots. When Austin Kearns plays, perhaps the Marlins should move Stanton to cleanup and have their four best guys batting at the top (presuming Omar Infante is a bit better than Gaby Sanchez, with which the projections do not agree). But what is frustrating is that Guillen has batted around the idea of either Infante or Bonifacio batting in the second slot when neither hitter is among the team's four best hitters really, and Guillen also continues to just give away the cleanup spot to left fielders regardless of merit, while other managers like Acta are moving towards lineups that are logical and involve the team's best hitters at the top.
It's All In the Approach
And therein lies the problem with Guillen's current managerial style. It is not as if the Marlins are losing a ton of runs by batting Austin Kearns cleanup instead of seventh or eighth like he should be. If you maximized the lineup order as much as possible, following every guideline in The Book to a tee, you maybe could squeeze out 10 to 20 runs in one season. Now, that actually sounds like a lot, on the order of at most two wins just by moving your lineup around. But with Austin Kearns in particular, with the frequency that he plays, we would be talking about something more like one run or so. So getting on Ozzie Guillen about one move is not really substantial.
However, it is the thought process that makes Marlins fans go crazy. The thought process that keeping the continuity of the rest of the team's lineup is more important in the current game than putting your best lineup out there statistically is a likely foolhardy idea. The thought here is that the rest of the Marlins would be affected more severely by having their spot in the lineup changed on those evenings than the team would be hurt by having Kearns bat fourth. Either Guillen is so in tune with Stanton and Sanchez that he knows they would struggle more if they were moved than if Kearns batted fourth, or this idea is simply ridiculous. If the former is not the case (and there is no way to really tell, since we would have to ask the hitters themselves), then Guillen is simply throwing away fractions of runs here.
Again, one move is not the problem, but it is the sum of these sorts of managerial moves, based on the managerial thinking process that Guillen uses, that is so frustrating. Guillen's management of Heath Bell has been very loyal despite the fact that something appears to be wrong with him. Guillen's insistence on keeping Steve Cishek, who has the best track record since 2011 among the Marlins' bullpen pitchers, in the seventh inning in lower-leverage situations is also strange. His rest pattern for Logan Morrison is confusing, though we do not know whether Morrison is injured or not. All of these decisions could very well be costing the Marlins potential runs, runs that Guillen is simply throwing away, while other managers may be making some use of those runs.
Of course, it could turn out that some of these moves, such as Morrison's rest patterns, are appropriate. Maybe Morrison is injured and we do not know it. Maybe Stanton is lacking confidence in his ability to bat cleanup, so Guillen is withholding him from the position. But given Guillen's history as a staunch traditionalist in the world of managing, it is highly unlikely that he is doing anything other than being unusually traditional in his decision-making and weighing things like continuity of lineup order a little too heavily. And at the end of the season, the Marlins may have lost five to ten runs because of Guillen's various mishaps. That may not sound like much, but again, it could be the difference between making and missing the playoffs for a team on the brink like the Marlins.
Guillen may have a new book on his "School of Management" (by the way, I got a copy and will read it at first chance), but maybe his book is not up to date with the latest information and, as a result, is costing his team. He may be a motivator and a great manager in the clubhouse, but he certainly is at best an oddity of a manager on the field.