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Where should your best hitters bat?

November 21, 2006

Lineup construction is one of the most scrutinized areas in baseball. Who should bat leadoff? Who's in the cleanup spot? However, when it comes down to it, several people (including me) have done studies that have shown that lineup construction is, for the most part, immaterial. As long as you generally have your best hitters near the top of the order, the order doesn't matter.

Nevertheless, it's fun to look at and, despite these studies, one can't help but feel it makes a difference. Here's some fuel for the fire on the side of the notion that the lineup matters.

Where should your best hitters bat? One school of thought is to put your best hitter at the top of the order because he'll get more at-bats that way over the course of the season. Your second best hitter bats second. And so on down the order. Here are the average plate appearances per lineup position based on the 2006 MLB season:

Lineup Position Plate Appearances
1 767
2 749
3 732
4 714
5 697
6 680
7 661
8 643
9 625

As you can see, each higher spot in the order means 15 to 20 or more plate appearances over the course of the season.

But let's look at another element. How often does each lineup position come up with men on base?

Lineup Position Number of Times With Men on Base
1 259
2 323
3 351
4 363
5 333
6 314
7 304
8 293
9 288

The number four position has the most over the course of a season. In fact, it's 104 times more than the leadoff position, quite a significant difference. The third spot in the order is not far behind.

What does this tell me? Your best hitters should bat in the number three and number four spots in the order. Put the speedier (and/or higher on-base) of the two in the number three slot. Follow that up with your next best on-base guys in the number one and two spots. Five through eight (or nine)? Go with the best to worst with the remaining players.

It's the formula I've used playing Strat-O-Matic baseball for the last 25 years. The studies say it doesn't matter that much and maybe it doesn't. But it matters to me, and to about 98% of all baseball fans.



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