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We're Coming to the End of the Line: Cito Gaston Discusses the Jays' Lineup

Jays' beat reporter Jordan Bastian has been doing a nice job of reporting from Dunedin and he recently wrote about how Cito has been discussing what he thinks the Jays' lineup will look like.  Here it is: 

1. Marco Scutaro, SS

2.  Aaron Hill, 2B

3.  Alex Rios, RF

4.  Vernon Wells, CF

5. Lyle Overbay, 1B (L)

6. Scott Rolen, 3B

7.  Adam Lind, LF (L)

8.  Rod Barajas, C

9.  Travis Snider, RF (L)

Cito also mentioned, frighteningly, that he would not rule out using John McDonald in the leadoff spot on days he starts at Short, and, somewhat less frighteningly, that he might switch Lind and Overbay in the lineup but that right now his inclination was to hit the veteran higher in the order. 

It seems like a waste to me, given his on-base skills, to bat Overbay as low as 7th, in front of out-machine Barajas and the rookie Snider (since if Snider's hitting well, one would expect him to move up in the lineup relatively quickly).  I do like the idea of shuffling the lefties. 

As for the leadoff spot, Scutaro got on base at a .341 clip last season and walked about 10% of the time, which isn't horrible, but isn't what you want out of your leadoff spot.  On one hand, it makes Scutaro look like a smart ballplayer, since over his career he has walked 8.7% of the time and has a career .325 OBP - that is, it makes it look like he was consciously sacrificing power to get on base more last season, in recognition of the fact that he was batting at or near the top of the order most of the time.  Sacrifice power he certainly did, his Iso-P went under .100 for the first time in his career and he slugged only .356, 21 points below his career total. 

We've talked about how the Jays don't really have a real leadoff hitter.  We have suggested the idea of batting Overbay 1st against righties and Rolen 1st against lefties.  With those two, you'd have a good solid chance of getting a .370 or better OBP out of the leadoff spot (last season Lyle got on base at a .384 clip against righties and Rolen did so at a .370 clip against lefties) and, at least last season, neither had so much power that it would be wasteful to bat them leadoff.  I didn't actually expect that to happen, but that doesn't mean hitting Scutaro first is a good idea - if he hits to his career .325 OBP we will have a tough time scoring runs.  Only a few teams in the league had a worse OBP than that out of the leadoff spot, though it's worth pointing out that while most of those teams that did were awful in 2008, that small group does include Boston and Minnesota.  Even if Scutaro gets on at a .350 clip, which I doubt most anyone thinks he will, that would only be about average out of the leadoff spot.  The Overbay/Rolen combination would put them in the top 3 or so. 

As for Hill, I think he is a great top of the order hitter against lefties (against whom he has a lifetime .371 OBP), but against righties he has only a .327 OBP over his career.  I like Hill as a hitter, and if he returns to his power hitting ways of 2007 it will be nice to have that out of the 2 spot, but I wouldn't hit him 2nd everyday either, at least, not at the beginning of the season.  Snider, I don't mind him hitting last to start the season - I just hope he moves up if he is hitting well. 

All in all, I doubt it wil matter too much  - lneup construction doesn't factor heavily into how many runs a team scores.  If Cito can use this lineup to get players to play more to their potential, that will probably be worth more than the benefits of tinkering with his lineup.  Let's not forget that Gibby's endless tinkering with the lineup did not produce good results at all.  That said, with the offense the Jays have had over the past few years, they can hardly afford to give away any runs.  Batting Scutaro and Hill 1st and 2nd feels like an attempt to force players into roles they are not necessarily suited for rather than just accepting the fact that the Jays don't have anyone suited for those roles and trying something non-traditional. 

By the way, today's title comes from the beloved supergroup the Traveling Wilburys, a short-lived project featuring George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne.  Nothing against Lynne and ELO, but to this day I'm not sure how Jeff Lynne got into the band.