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Analyzing the 2015 Marlins' new lineup optimization

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The Miami Marlins have added some new parts, but how do Dee Gordon and Michael Morse fit in with the rest of the lineup? Fish Stripes optimizes the team's setup.

Where does Dee Gordon's bat fit in the lineup?
Where does Dee Gordon's bat fit in the lineup?
Harry How/Getty Images

Editor's note: Article was being worked on before the Marlins - Yankees deal that will bring in Martin Prado. An update will be made later today.

The Miami Marlins added two brand-new parts to their roster with the additions of Dee Gordon and Michael Morse via trade and free agency. While the moves themselves may have had some questions to them, the Marlins envisioned a lineup with a little more speed and a little more pop, and they got just that in those two players. The question now is whether Miami's lineup can be a part of a contender around Giancarlo Stanton and a promising young outfield.

Part of building that lineup will be optimizing it for prime run production. We have done this many times before here at Fish Stripes, so once again we will take a look and see how the two new starters fit into the lineup in optimized form.

A Reminder

As we have in the past (see last year's example), we will use rules dictated by The BOOK: Playing the Percentages in Baseball to evaluate the fit for each player. The BOOK features rules that would surprise most traditional baseball folks, but they make sense and are rooted in clear and evident logic. Let's take a look at those rules at their most basic (quote from a 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.

The key is to put your best hitters, not just your fastest or most contact-y, at the top of the lineup. You naturally would want your best hitters to take on the most plate appearances for your team, so why waste the second slot, with the second-most plate appearances, on a schlub whose only redeeming quality is not striking out that much? It makes no sense mathematically, and the "in-game strategy" reasons literally only pertain to the first time around the lineup.

To formulate these lineups, I estimated platoon spltis based on career trends and regression to the league average as per this 2010 FanGraphs article. Not every player's career platoon splits are true, and regression is critical to estimate an actual split. I used Steamer projections available on FanGraphs to get a number for 2015's expected hitting performance, all listed in wOBA.

Lineup vs. RHP

Here's my projected lineup versus righties.

POSITION PLAYER PROJ WOBA VS. RHP
1 Christian Yelich .347
2 Marcell Ozuna .322
3 Michael Morse .326
4 Giancarlo Stanton .397
5 Jarrod Saltalamacchia .314
6 Dee Gordon .300
7 Casey McGehee .307
8 Pitcher ---
9 Adeiny Hechavarria .276

The top of the lineup actually looks pretty solid. You can flip-flop Saltalamacchia, Gordon, and McGehee relatively interchangeably, though I like putting the more lefty-leaning Saltalamacchia fifth. The Marlins could also place Gordon fifth, McGehee sixth, and Salty seventh in order to split the lefties up.

The move to keep Gordon ahead of the other two is in order to utilize his speed best. Miami will almost certainly bat Gordon leadoff or second in order to get his speed at the top of the lineup, but Gordon owns an awful 5.2 percent career walk rate and would be stealing bases in front of guys like Stanton and Morse, who have power and could easily drive him home from first. It is important to have decent baserunning at the top of the lineup in order to help avoid double plays and best utilize gap power, but base-stealing is actually best situated at the bottom of the lineup. There, the weaker singles hitters need help moving runners over, and Gordon can move himself over and give them better chances with a runner in scoring position.

I am a fan of batting the pitcher eighth, as it allows a "second-leadoff" effect in front of our best hitters. Hechavarria may be an awful hitter, but he's a ton better than the Marlins' pitchers, and Yelich and Ozuna would appreciate having baserunners on board a little more often.

Lineup vs. LHP

This lineup looks a good deal more different.

POSITION PLAYER PROJ WOBA VS. LHP
1 Marcell Ozuna .341
2 Giancarlo Stanton .423
3 Christian Yelich .308
4 Michael Morse .342
5 Casey McGehee .320
6 Dee Gordon .268
7 Adeiny Hechavarria .293
8 Pitcher ---
9 Jeff Mathis .260

Yes, I pulled the trigger on a full-on platoon of Saltalamacchia and Jeff Mathis. Mathis actually is projected to hit worse versus lefties than the essentially-lefty Salty, but Salty's defense versus Mathis's is bad enough that I think the minor difference is worth the switch. If J.T. Realmuto were the backup, this would actually be a good spot for him, perhaps later on in the season.

The top of the lineup is quite a bit confusing. McGehee owns the most respectable walk rate among the players expected to hit decently versus lefties, but he is not one of the team's best hitters versus lefties, owing in part to his actual reverse split for his career. But placing him in a lot of other lineup spots leaves the Marlins vulnerable to his worst problem, the double play. To compensate, I moved some folks around, and that includes batting Stanton second in this configuration. He still gets a vast majority of plate appearances, he gets to hit in the top third like the Marlins want, but faces fewer two-out situations than he would batting third.

Ozuna is wasted at leadoff, with more power and fewer walks, but it is a concession I would make to fit the best hitters in the lineup at leadoff and second. Yelich's lefty splits became normal last season, so we would expect him to have a harder time versus same-handed pitching again.

What do you Fish Stripers think? Good lineups? Let us know!