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Miami Marlins Season Preview: Marlins Lineup Optimization

Where should Hanley Ramirez bat in the order in 2012? Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
Where should Hanley Ramirez bat in the order in 2012? Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Earlier today, we showed the platoon projections for your Miami Marlins position players. Now, we're going to use those projections to write up the best lineup possible for the 2012 Miami Marlins. Here, we're going to walk through some of the process for how to optimize a lineup and discuss how much of an impact making the best lineup you can could cause.

The Method

Again, this is not the first time I've optimized lineups for this team in the past. We simply use guidelines written in The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball, a brilliant book written by great sabermetric minds Tom Tango, Mitchell Lichtman, and Andy Dolphin. Just take a look here for an example from before 2011. Here's what I wrote about the methodology in that article:

As a reminder, here’s The Book’s basic rule for lineup building:

The Book says:

Your three best hitters should bat 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.

There are a few additional guidelines that I can explain if they come up in building the Marlins’ 2011 lineups, but this is your essential set of guidelines. Your three best hitters should be at the first, second, and fourth slots because the first two slots get the most plate appearances (maximizing your best hitters with the most opportunities) and the fourth slot sees the most runners on base (maximizing your best power hitters). Your third and fifth slots are more or less interchangeable, and your sixth through ninth slots should essentially go in order. Having said that, what should our lineups look like, based on the platoon splits we projected earlier today? Let’s start with the lineup versus righties.

Like I mentioned above, there are a few other small rules to add in order to really maximize your lineup's potential, but they are not nearly as important as following these guidelines. Your first two hitters are supremely important because they get the most opportunities. Your fourth hitter is also very important because he gets the most runners on base. Therefore, these three slots should be reserved for your three best hitters, regardless of "role." Yes, the Marlins acquired Jose Reyes to be the team's leadoff man, but in actuality, he should not be occupying that position if he is not one of the team's three best hitters.

The Lineups

We'll start with the lineup versus right-handed pitchers.

Order Player wOBA vs. RHP
1 Jose Reyes .362
2 Logan Morrison .361
3 Hanley Ramirez .355
4 Giancarlo Stanton .380
5 Gaby Sanchez .338
6 Emilio Bonifacio .305
7 Omar Infante .307
8/9 John Buck .300

Right at the onset, you can see that this lineup is much better because it plays the Marlins' five best hitters at the top. No matter what you think of Emilio Bonifacio and his chances at repeating his 2011 season, you cannot possibly think that he is a better hitter than Gaby Sanchez, so by putting Bonifacio further down the lineup, you give Sanchez and Logan Morrison more opportunities instead of allowing a lesser hitter to suck up PA.

There is an additional benefit to having Bonifacio bat sixth as well. The middle to lower parts of the lineup are actually ideal for basestealers. This runs a little counterintuitive to conventional wisdom, but it makes a lot of sense. Stealing bases is less useful when in front of hitters who can already drive baserunners in with power. Players like Morrison, Hanley Ramirez, and Giancarlo Stanton already have extra-base power, so Bonifacio's basestealing capabilities are less useful up at the top. They are more useful in front of hitters like Omar Infante who primarily hit singles and do not have the ability to move runners well on their own. The fact that Bonifacio can take a base and move himself over into scoring position is far more useful in front of slap hitters like Infante rather than doubles or home run hitters like Stanton.

The rest of the lineup is fairly intuitive. You will note that Ramirez is not among the three best hitters on the team in this lineup, but he still occupies the third slot as he will throughout the year. In the lineup versus left-handers, that order will change slightly. Stanton is the obvious cleanup choice and Reyes, with his superior speed (note that speed is still useful at the top of the lineup in order to avoid double plays, but not necessarily for basestealing), is a good choice for leadoff. Morrison is an excellent second slot hitter because he can take advantage of the fact that hitters in that position run into fewer men on base and as a result have their walks increased in value. Morrison's patience works well for the second slot.

Here is the optimized lineup against lefties.

Order Player wOBA vs. LHP
1 Jose Reyes .362
2 Hanley Ramirez .375
3 Gaby Sanchez .366
4 Giancarlo Stanton .401
5 Logan Morrison .337
6 John Buck .321
7 Omar Infante .317
8/9 Emilio Bonifacio .305

This lineup is only slightly different than the previous one. In deference to Reyes's role as team speedster, I had him bat leadoff, but there is an argument that says that Ramirez would be better due to his increased walk rate, though his power would be more wasted in the leadoff spot than at the second slot. If I were to really optimize based on these numbers, Ramirez would bat leadoff as he did in 2008, followed by Sanchez batting second. Int hat lineup, Reyes would bat fifth in order to take advantage of his basestealing in front of inferior hitters. Stanton once again sits as the cleanup man.

In this lineup in particular, it would be ideal for Bonifacio to bat last in the order, behind the pitcher. This is the Tony La Russa play that moves a passable major league hitter closer to your best hitters at the top of the lineup. This is supposed to add about two runs to a season's worth of PA.

The Impact

We did not tweak the official lineup much, but we did make some positive improvements to the Marlins' lineup. But what kind of impact can we expect from a move like this? Honestly, it is not much. The Book says that optimizing a lineup from the worst lineup is only 10 to 15 runs. So maybe these changes are worth perhaps five runs, or half a win. Still, wins are wins, and anytime you can improve with simple moving of lineups rather than making acquisitions, it is worth the work. These lineups are something Ozzie Guillen should consider, but of course, he will not, in favor of his traditional lineups. Nevertheless, these lineups would be effective for the Fish in 2012 and should be considered.