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Jarrod Saltalamacchia signing: Marlins batting lineup optimization

The Miami Marlins have to incorporate a new piece in free agent catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia into the fold. Where will he fit in the lineup card?

What will Jarrod Saltalamacchia do for the Marlins' lineup in 2014?
What will Jarrod Saltalamacchia do for the Marlins' lineup in 2014?

The Miami Marlins have a brand new toy with which to work in the 2014 season, as Jarrod Saltalamacchia will add some pop to a very pop-less lineup in Miami next season. The free agent catcher's three-year, $21 million deal was more than reasonable and provided Miami with some much-needed offense from the catcher position. Now that the Fish have a new bat on the roster, how will they integrate him into the lineup?

Fish Stripes reader Miller.h.Lepree had his initial take in a FanPost yesterday that is a nice read. Here is the lineup he proposed:

1. Christian Yelich

2. Donovan Solano

3. Giancarlo Stanton

4. Jarrod Saltalamacchia

5. Marcell Ozuna

6. Logan Morrison

7. Derek Dietrich

8. Adeiny Hechavarria

9. Pitcher

Now, with the addition of a 3rd baseman, say Juan Uribe or someone acquired through a trade, this could look a whole lot different. Hopefully they acquire somebody who can hit lead off so that Yelich can slide down into the 3rd spot and allow the middle of that order to become a little more formidable. However, even with just the arrival of Salty, you can see how much things change from last year.

One can definitely see that the lineup has changed from last year to this year, if only because last season's lineup also included chaff like the corpses of Juan Pierre and Placido Polanco. WIth the exception of third base, a position at which Miami is patiently waiting for Colin Moran, the Fish at least have prospects worth evaluating in every spot. Miami's outfield is loaded with young talent, though it is questionable how much growth and development Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna will see facing big league talent next year. The infield is still in tatters with Donovan Solano, Derek Dietrich, and Adeiny Hechavarria sucking up plate appearances. But at least the catcher position is resolved.

Miller's posted lineup is what one might expect a traditional manager to write. But with Miami struggling to score runs, it is obviously time to shed the bonds of traditional lineup writing and optimize the lineup with sabermetric principles! For each of the last two years, I optimized the Marlins' batting lineups before the regular season. But with such a major addition to the roster, I figured we could have some fun and see what the best lineup for Miami would look like with Saltalamacchia in the fold. Here is how I did it.

1) Let's follow the simple guidelines from The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball, which contained the seminal chapter on lineup optimization. Here is the gist of it from this 2011 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.

I know this does not sound like a traditional lineup, but more progressive lineup writers have actually moved towards this formula. For example, Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez batted Jason Heyward, one of the team's best hitters, in the second slot the most among the team's lineups. He led off with Heyward 30 times last season, with a Heyward-Justin Upton-Freddie Freeman-Brian McCann-Chris Johnson setup being the second-most used unit on the team. Those are some strong lineup choices because they give the best hitters the most appearances at the plate.

2) We will assume, for this exercise, that Saltalamacchia is a left-handed hitter. For us to project platoon splits, we generally give switch-hitters equal footing on both sides. But Saltalamacchia has a massive split, with him struggling mightily against lefties all throughout his career. I will assume, based on the ridiculous numbers, that he is more of a true lefty hitter than a true switch hitter.

3) We will project platoon splits with wOBA (an all-encompassing offensive metric that counts all hits, walks, and other offensive events at the plate and is on the OBP scale) and Steamer projections available on FanGraphs.

Let's get into it, starting with our projection against right-handed pitchers.

Position Player Proj wOBA vs. RHP
1 Christian Yelich .334
2 Logan Morrison .342
3 Jarrod Saltalamacchia .318
4 Giancarlo Stanton .392
5 Derek Dietrich .305
6 Marcell Ozuna .299
7 Donovan Solano .291
8 Pitcher ---
9 Adeiny Hechavarria .270

You will notice that this lineup differs a little, and it is because of the way the projections came out. Yelich still leads off, and Giancarlo Stanton takes his rightful place as the best power hitter on the team at the cleanup spot. From there, it gets murkier from the traditional sense. Logan Morrison does not look like a number two hitter, but that is because the concept of the number two hitter's job is wrong. The second hitter is getting the second most plate appaearances; wasting those opportunities on a lesser player like Solano or Dietrich would be useless. Morrison's decent projection at least serves the Marlins well there, though he does have a high propensity for double-play grounders that would be a concern in the second sport.

In this case, Saltalalamacchia bats third. The third and fifth slots are interchangeable, so you can move Dietrich to that position as well. The important thing to note is that, unlike conventional wisdom, the third spot is not the best place for your best hitter. Third hitters often see situations with two outs, and wasting Stanton like that would be a shame.

We bat the pitcher eighth here because the "second leadoff" effect of putting a significantly better hitter ninth (even Hechavarria!) could add two runs in a full season. Every run counts!

Here's the lefty lineup.

Position Player Proj wOBA vs. RHP
1 Logan Morrison .314
2 Marcell Ozuna .320
3 Donovan Solano .304
4 Giancarlo Stanton .417
5 Christian Yelich .293
6 Adeiny Hechavarria .287
7 Derek Dietrich .284
8 Pitcher ---
9 Jarrod Saltalamacchia .273

Saltalamacchia's struggles against left-handers are legendary, and the splits here show it. Considering Salty a left-handed hitter makes him look terrible versus southpaws, easily the worst on the team. Meanwhile, the top of the lineup looks less formidable with Morrison, Ozuna, Solano, and Stanton, followed by the speedy Yelich. Yelich could be hit third in this case too, but stolen bases are especially useful in the middle of the lineup ahead of the bottom of the order. The reasoning is that hitters at the bottom of the order have a harder time moving baserunners over with power, so the stolen bases help do that work for them.

The problem is that, with the Steamer projection, Mathis versus lefties is actually worse than Saltalamacchia, despite the platoon advantage. That is how bad Jeff Mathis is. There is no hope.

There is a potential for some platoons in this situation. Ed Lucas proved a worthy defender last season, and while his bat is terrible as well, it could perhaps replace Dietrich's against lefties. He is projected to have a wOBA just north of .300 versus lefties, which could serve Miami better than Dietrich. Justin Ruggiano could spell Yelich versus better lefties, as he has the second-best projection versus southpaws on the team.

Finaly, the big question comes to Jeff Mathis's use. Mathis is a righty bat who could step in for Saltalamacchia versus left-handers. The problem is that, with the Steamer projection, Mathis versus lefties is actually worse than Saltalamacchia, despite the platoon advantage. That is how bad Jeff Mathis is. There is no hope.

What do you Marlins fans think? Do you like these lineups? How would you change them? Let us know!