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2016 Miami Marlins Season Preview: Platoon splits and optimized batting lineups

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Now that we have projections for the Marlins, we can figure out what the team's best lineups should be.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

New Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly unveiled a new lineup idea a week ago when the Fish debuted against the University of Miami in an exhibition game. The Fish are providing what is likely an upgrade over the lineup style that Dan Jennings and Mike Redmond tried last season, promoting a likely better hitter in Marcell Ozuna closer to the top of the lineup and demoting Martin Prado closer to the bottom of the lineup.

Still, the lineup probably is not optimized fully, and with projections now, we here at Fish Stripes can provide the 2016 optimized batting lineups versus lefties and righties, complete with projected platoon splits for each player!

Platoon Splits

The Marlins have a fair balance between left-handed and right-handed hitters; the team features three lefties in its primary lineup versus five right-handers. This allows them to avoid right-handed relievers taking it easy against a slew of righties until the end of the lineup. The first five for the Marlins against the University of Miami was a classic lefty-righty setup to avoid relievers getting multiple outs with the platoon advantage.

This allows some balance in the lineup and gives the team options against either side. Here are the wOBA platoon splits based on calculations initially discussed in this FanGraphs article. When considering platoon splits and projections of them in the future, you have to remember this splits caveat from FanGraphs.

● Regression to the Mean – Say a .350 wOBA player has a big lefty-righty split, something like .300 lefty wOBA / .360 righty wOBA. Going forward, should you expect their true talent level against lefties to be .300 wOBA or .350 wOBA?  The correct answer is somewhere in the middle, depending how large a sample you’re using.  If it’s a large sample (~1000 ABs versus lefties), you can expect their talent level to be somewhere in the .310-.320 wOBA range.  If it’s a small sample, though, you have to expect that their talent level is closer to their career numbers than their split numbers, so maybe something in the .340-.350 range.

Here are the splits projected for the 2016 season:

Player Proj wOBA vs LHP Proj wOBA vs RHP
J.T. Realmuto .313 .293
Justin Bour .291 .330
Dee Gordon .286 .313
Martin Prado .326 .302
Adeiny Hechavarria .299 .278
Christian Yelich .309 .348
Marcell Ozuna .335 .314
Giancarlo Stanton .412 .385
Derek Dietrich .289 .327
Chris Johnson .309 .288

The Marlins' players each have fairly predictable splits, with no one owning an oddly tight or reverse split over their career. This makes it far more likely that the traditional league average split fits them well. The larger the sample size, the more likely the career split is very predictive. For example, at this stage, we are pretty sure that Martin Prado's career split will at least explain half of his true talent split between lefties and righties.

You can see that Miami's lineup versus righties appears to be decent across the board, whereas the lefty lineup has spikes of good and bad performance due to the large traditional lefty splits. Of the splits, Gordon has the least difference between either side on the mound, but that does not exempt him from a poor line against lefties as projected here.

Optimized Lineups

First, we remember the optimization rules as per The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball. We summarize it here.

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.

With that in mind, we can make lineups that are optimized against lefties and righties. It will not be worth much in terms of runs, and this cannot be stressed enough. No lineup listed here is appreciably better than the lineup Mattingly threw out starting last week, because the worst and best lineups only have a difference of about 10 to 15 runs a season. The best optimization is only about a win or so better than batting the pitcher cleanup, so do not take this as gospel that will eke out serious runs for Miami.

Lineup vs. RHP

POSITION PLAYER PROJ WOBA VS. RHP
1 Christian Yelich .348
2 Dee Gordon .313
3 Marcell Ozuna .314
4 Giancarlo Stanton .385
5 Justin Bour .330
6 Martin Prado .302
7 J.T. Realmuto .293
8 Pitcher ---
9 Adeiny Hechavarria .278

Despite the fact that the three best hitters on your team should be getting the first, second, and fourth slots in the optimized lineup, I made some concessions for the Marlins and their ultimate alignment. Essentially, there is very little difference between this lineup and the one that Mattingly first issued. In this case, however, Yelich leads off instead of Gordon, and that has some small value to it. Yelich is a strong baserunner, though not a base stealer like Gordon. He can help to avoid double play outs and other things of that nature with his speed and smart running. At the same time, the leadoff position maximizes his walk value, as the walk is most valuable at the top of the lineup. In the first inning, a walk and a single are worth the same amount of runs for the leadoff man, as there is no one on base. Therefore, the theory states you should play someone who can draw walks well at the top of the lineup, and outside of Stanton, no one is more patient and draws more free passes than Yelich.

Ideally, Justin Bour would bat second and Gordon would bat fifth, which allows him to utilize his base stealing to move himself around the bases for the singles hitters Realmuto and Prado behind him. Despite the fact that protection is a myth in terms of its ability to provide added value to a hitter, the Marlins are going to want someone behind Stanton who will help force the issue and keep pitches at the plate. Thus, I flip-flopped Gordon and Bour despite my better judgment. Gordon and Yelich at the top of the lineup is concerning for double plays, which might make batting Ozuna potentially second and Gordon third not a bad idea.

I repeat the premise of batting Stanton cleanup. The fourth spot sees the most baserunners on board on average when it hits, thus making it the best use of Stanton's prodigious power.

Lineup vs. LHP

POSITION PLAYER PROJ WOBA VS. RHP
1 Christian Yelich .309
2 Marcell Ozuna .335
3 Martin Prado .326
4 Giancarlo Stanton .412
5 J.T. Realmuto .313
6 Dee Gordon .286
7 Chris Johnson .309
8 Pitcher ---
9 Adeiny Hechavarria .299

Again, in this lineup, I showed some deference towards a traditional approach. The more ideal lineup would put Prado, Ozuna, and Stanton in the first, second, and fourth slots. This would likely yield a poor baserunning combination and leave something like Ozuna batting first. Instead, I defer to the more traditional approach of having a better baserunner at leadoff (though Ozuna is not quite a slouch on the bases and has been a mild net positive over his career). Yelich leads off despite being a lefty, but he is the only lefty in the first five at the plate. Ozuna and Prado follow him as good hitters versus lefties. Stanton continues to bat cleanup.

Despite Chris Johnson being a better hitter than Dee Gordon versus lefties, I placed Gordon ahead of him. This way Gordon can steal bases to get to second after getting aboard, making it easier for weaker hitters like Johnson and Hechavarria to drive him home without having to get extra-base hits.

Note that if Bour remains in the lineup, he would be a better hitter than Gordon against lefties. If we were to play Bour, the better option might be to bat Hechavarria sixth, Bour seventh (.291 wOBA projected versus lefties against the .299 mark of Hechavarria), and bat Gordon last. This however would leave the team with two lefties batting back to back as well, so it might behoove the team to bat the pitcher last for flexibility.

By the way, batting the pitcher eighth has some mathematical advantages, though it is a small benefit. The "second leadoff man" theory allows a better hitter in front of your best guys at the top of the lineup, improving the chances of getting a runner on base for them.

What do you guys think of these lineups? Changes to be made? Let us know in the comments!