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Marlins manager Don Mattingly presents early lineup choices

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The new Marlins manager put out an interesting lineup in the University of Miami game. There was some good and some not.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins unveiled their first lineup of the Don Mattingly era, and it has some differences compared to the one run in 2015 by Mike Redmond and Dan Jennings. Mattingly and the Fish ran an exhibition game against the University of Miami, and the lineup caught a few eyes. From Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald:

[Giancarlo Stanton], who hit third most of last season, is dropping down into the cleanup spot while Marcell Ozuna will hit second, in front of Christian Yelich.

Mattingly explained the logic, saying Ozuna is a fastball hitter and should see plenty of those whenever Dee Gordon is on base.

Ozona [sp] regularly hit second in the minors. In the majors, he has hit .306 in 85 at-bats while in the No. 2 hole.


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/sports/mlb/miami-marlins/article63229407.html#storylink=cpy

It's not necessarily an unconventional lineup, but it does pose some differences compared to what Marlins fans have been accustomed to seeing. The Fish are batting Marcell Ozuna second and shifting everyone else down a notch, including moving Giancarlo Stanton to the cleanup spot. They are mashing Stanton in between Christian Yelich and Justin Bour, two of the team's best left-handed hitters.

There is some logic to this move. The sabermetric wisdom, as imparted by The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball, shows that the first, second, and fourth spots are the most important in the lineup and should hold the team's best hitters. Stanton has for a long time batted third because this is where the traditional "best hitter in the lineup" has hit in the past. However, by the very nature of the batting order, the third spot comes up more often with no one on and two outs that it is a relative waste for Stanton. Moving him to cleanup provides the Marlins the benefit of having their best power hitter batting with the most runners on base on average. This is the best way to leverage Stanton's power.

In addition, the Marlins stacked their would-be lineup in an alternating fashion between lefties and righties. This keeps the top of the lineup less vulnerable to a LOOGY who might be able to mow down a few lefties in a row without facing a right-handed hitter. This is particularly relevant for Yelich and Bour, who have had traditionally had large splits between lefties and righties. If the Marlins can avoid a two-out combinaton from some dominant LOOGY reliever in the seventh or eighth innings, it would help their late-game swings.

At the same time, there are some principles that are not followed here. Yelich is slated at the third slot even though that is not one of the favored positions for the team's best hitters. Yelich is almost undoubtedly the second-best hitter on the roster, but putting him third sacrifices some plate appearances without adding any value.

Similarly, batting Ozuna second is not an ideal situation, as it gives slightly more plate appearances to Ozuna than Yelich. However, Ozuna does have the advantage of being a more strikeout-oriented hitter, which allows him to avoid double plays more frequently. The second spot runs into the most opportunities for double plays.

Finally, Dee Gordon batting leadoff is a remnant of the past and may not necessarily be best for the Marlins. The Fish already have a good leadoff candidate in Yelich, in that Yelich is an intelligent and capable baserunner who could be fast enough to break up double plays and take advantage of extra-base hits. Gordon is certainly more than capable of doing that, but his basestealing may be more beneficial in front of lesser hitters like those at the bottom of the Marlins' lineup. However, the Fish cannot fit Gordon near the bottom since he is one the team's five best hitters (an argument could be made for Martin Prado, who has a similar projected batting line). Fitting Gordon in the leadoff spot may be an unfortunate better compromise, especially if the Marlins are looking to "protect" Stanton with the power-hitting Bour instead of making run-driving easier at the bottom of the lineup easier with Gordon's steals batting fifth.

Ultimately, all of this is meaningless, as lineup changes are rarely worth more than a run or two one way or another. Mattingly has a lineup set, and the players who play are a far more relevant decision than figuring out where they hit. Still, overall this does appear to be a net improvement on the lineup order, as it squeezes Miami's five best hitters in the top five spots and puts Stanton in the best position to bring success.