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2013 Miami Marlins Season Preview: Optimize the Marlins lineup

The Miami Marlins are starting the regular season with some weak names on their roster, and they will need the best lineup they can write to give them a marginal edge in run scoring. But what is that best lineup?

Juan Pierre batting fifth? "Preposterous!" he says. But it works, and here's why.
Juan Pierre batting fifth? "Preposterous!" he says. But it works, and here's why.

The Miami Marlins will start the 2013 season with a bunch of unknown players mixed in with veteran cast-offs, all surrounding the elite talent of Giancarlo Stanton. As manager Mike Redmond has pointed out in recent weeks, building a lineup with this limited team can be difficult, particularly at the cleanup spot. It has gotten so bad as to convince Redmond that batting Placido Polanco at the cleanup spot is a playable idea.

Well, I am here to dispel all of that nonsense. Mike Redmond, like most managers, is tied to the "traditional" view of the lineup. I, on the other hand, follow lineup optimization as written out by The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball, one of the finest baseball books I have ever read. Go get a copy today at Amazon.

Just like there are rules to building a traditional lineup, we can summarize optimizing a lineup by adding certain rules. We have discussed those rules here last year, when I optimized the 2012 lineup (quote from this 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.

So how do we go about doing this? Well, if we have the platoon splits for each batter, we have an idea of how well they will hit versus one side of the plate or the other. With that knowledge, we can shift the batting order around to fit the rules listed above.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the optimized lineup versus right-handed pitchers. Platoon splits are all based on projections by ZiPS. I will be projecting Logan Morrison at first base, so this lineup reflects what it would look like when he returns from his injury.

Lineup vs. Right-Handers

Player wOBA vs. RHP
Logan Morrison .349
Justin Ruggiano .314
Rob Brantly .302
Giancarlo Stanton .402
Juan Pierre .301
Placido Polanco .281
Donovan Solano .277
Adeiny Hechavarria .275

Already, with just our first lineup, we see some very drastic changes. Remember, the cardinal rule for lineup optimization is that your three best hitters should bat first, second, and fourth, in some order. This lineup does just that by putting Morrison, Ruggiano, and Stanton at those positions respectively. Morrison is best suited for the leadoff spot because he is the most likely of the three to draw walks, and walks are more valuable from the first spot in the lineup than in any other position. Because the leadoff spot often sees the bases empty (guaranteed in the first plate appearance, more likely in later appearances due to following the weak bottom of the order), walks are closer in value to singles for leadoff men.

The big issue with the cleanup spot right now is that the Marlins want Stanton batting third. But Stanton is the ideal cleanup hitter thanks to his mammoth power, and the Marlins should not swindle that opportunity. Having Stanton bat in the first inning is irrelevant if it is more likely that he will be facing two-out situations and a lack of baserunners. Putting better hitters in front of him helps, and the cleanup spot has the most chances with runners on base, so he will have a better shot at driving in runs.

Why is the speedy Pierre batting behind Stanton? It certainly is not to drive in runs, but rather to take advantage of that speed. With a fast player batting fifth, you can utilize that player's ability to advance himself up the bases in order to help the weaker hitters at the bottom of the lineup. With guys like Polanco and Solano at the bottom, they will need all of the help they can get to drive in runs, and Pierre's ability to turn a single into second base will bring in more runs over the long haul.

Lineup vs. Left-Handers

Player wOBA vs. RHP
Logan Morrison .325
Justin Ruggiano .334
Placido Polanco .298
Giancarlo Stanton .402
Juan Pierre .294
Donovan Solano .292
Adeiny Hechavarria .291
Rob Brantly .275

The lineup looks similar to the one versus right-handers, with the only real change is the moving of Rob Brantly down to the bottom of the order thanks to his left-handedness. The Marlins still benefit from keeping their best hitters in the most important positions in the lineup, and they replace Brantly's better potential with the consistent contact of Polanco at the third spot. Pierre still provides value as a stolen base threat for the bottom of the order.

The only problem with both of these lineups is leading Morrison off with his poor baserunning capabilities. The leadoff man is not expected to be a great base stealer, but he should be a good baserunner in order to advance properly once on base. Double plays happen more often at the second or third spots than anywhere else in the lineup, and the Marlins could benefit from having a better baserunner at the leadoff position. It is a trade-off between extracting value from Morrison's walks versus suffering his terrible baserunning, but you can consider moving Ruggiano to leadoff if that is a concern.

What do you Fish Stripers think about these lineups? Considering the rules we talked about, how would you write the lineup?