A Look at the Blue Jays' Lineup Utilization

In The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006, there's an article written by Rob Neyer titled "For Want of a Nail" that criticizes the manner in which the Red Sox, among other teams, managed their lineup throughout the 2005 season. His goal, as he states, is to "identify CIMMs--Clearly Identifiable Management Mistakes--that probably made a big difference in the top of the standings." Teams other than the Red Sox were also guilty of this, of course. Joe Torre penciled in Tony Womack's name into the lineup, not to mention near the top of the order, much too frequently. And based on the irrational amount of games that featured Corey Patterson and Neifi Perez as the Cubs' 1-2 hitters, it's almost as if Dusty Baker had a personal vendetta with Derreck Lee. Well, what about the Blue Jays? Did manager John Gibbons properly utilize his lineup throughout 2005?

Now, I'm not certain as to how much the order of a lineup affects a team's performance, but it's reasonable to think that its effect is at least somewhat significant. For one, those who normally hit high in the order accumulate many more plate appearances over the course of a season than those who routinely bat low in the order. As a result, it's in the team's best interest to construct a lineup that would exhaust as much value from the roster as possible. So, players who are apt at getting on base, yet lack extra-base power, are good candidates to hit near the top of the lineup. Once they get one base, the power hitters, who'll hit in the upper-middle of the lineup, can wield their mighty bats in order to knock in some runs. The remainder of the lineup slots should include players who don't fit into the aforementioned categories and who are likely playing because of their defensive prowess or the team's inability to acquire more talented players. Of course, that's probably obvious to those of you who are reading this, and you're probably angry at me for wasting your time (my apologies, by the way). However, for whatever reason, many managers simply fail to put it into practice -- including Toronto's own John Gibbons.

Last season, in the #1 lineup slot, Russ Adams was given 290 at-bats, in which he posted a paltry line of .245/.323/.328. Reed Johnson, on the other hand, posted a line of .298/.366/.463 in 205 AB in the #1 slot. Now, in time, I believe Adams could become a leadoff candidate; he posted a very good K/BB ratio (57/50) and he has above-average speed. However, in 2005 at least, Johnson was far superior in the role, and Adams' inclusion at the top of the order likely cost the Jays a good number of runs.

Orlando Hudson, the Arizona Diamondbacks' likely #2 hitter to start the 2006 season, wasn't very effective in that role with the Blue Jays in 2005. Since the usual #2 hitter Frank Catalanotto wasn't healthy for part of the season, Hudson substituted for him in his stead. While Catalanotto posted a line of .298/.361/.445 (319 AB) as the team's #2 hitter, Hudson posted an ugly line of .236/.262/.341 (123 AB) in the very same role.

Of course, things are always clearer when looking through a retrospective lens. To be fair, John Gibbons was open to change. Rather than stubbornly trotting out the same lineup every game, Gibbons used 124 different lineups (based on batting order, not fielding positions) throughout the season. Part of this may be due to the fact that he relied on platoons. In fact his platoon percentage (how often, on average, a manager has his starting-lineup hitters with a platoon advantage) was a very high 66%, tied with Eric Wedge for the fourth highest percentage in the majors last season [Bobby Cox (69%), Bob Melvin (68%), and Terry Francona (67%)]. Using platoons is all well and good, but they must be effective. Although Francona was no stranger to using them last season, he didn't exhaust as much value from them as he could have. For example, in his article, Rob Neyer makes a strong case that Roberto Petagine, who's been severely underused, wasn't properly utilized last season. Sadly, with the J.T. Snow signing, it seems as though that will once again be the case in 2006.

Here are a couple platoon candidates on the roster:

Frank Catalanotto: During the past three seasons (2003-2005), the Cat has hit .310/.368/.464 and only .217/.269/.329 against lefties. With that in mind, Gibbons routinely sat Catalanotto against left-handed pitchers (31 at-bats vs. the 388 at-bats he had against right-handed pitchers).

Eric Hinske: Much like Catalanotto, Hinske would be best suited as the left-handed portion of a platoon. Last season, he posted a horrid line of .170/.215/.330 in 88 at-bats. His career line against lefties isn't quite that awful, but it's obvious that he has no business hitting against southpaws. Let's hope Gibbons keeps that in mind during the upcoming season.

Every year, it seems as though a manager grants far too many at-bats to untalented players while suitable upgrades wilt away on the bench. Cubs fans know the feeling all too well, as even the mere mention of the name Neifi Perez would make them verbally, and sometimes even physically, lash out at whoever uttered those blasphemous words. And of course there were even some Blue Jays who attributed to the grossly excessive amount of wasted at-bats throughout the league. This cannot be avoided, but it can be reduced. If Hinske is benched against left-handed pitchers, and offensive detractors such as Alexis Rios and John McDonald have their at-bats reduced, the results will improve.

Question for the readers: If you were John Gibbons, what lineups would you field against righties and lefties, respectively?

Sources: The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006, The Bill James Handbook 2006, espn.com, baseball-reference.com

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