Tuesday Rockpile: Fun With Lineup Construction

Congratulations, sportsfans. You have made it to February. We can officially say "The Rockies will play a game this month." It comes in 25 days. Opening Day is two months from today. The season is coming. I can see it. I can hear Reed Saunders boom out the starting lineup over the loudspeakers at Coors Field.

Actually, we can probably make an educated guess of what that lineup will be, barring injuries of course.  Virtual locks for their positions are Carlos Gonzalez (LF), Troy Tulowitzki (SS), Dexter Fowler (CF), Todd Helton (1B), Chris Iannetta (C), Ian Stewart (3B) and Ubaldo Jimenez (P).  Right field seems to be a platoon between Seth Smith and Ryan Spilborghs at this point.  Jose Lopez has the clear inside track for the second base position. 

Knowing that, let us construct a line-up.

You may be familiar with BaseballMusings line-up tool.  It takes nine players' on-base percentage and slugging percentage and calculates the optimal line-up without human bias on the name attached to the batting line.  I input the ZiPS projections for each of the position players, then threw in Ubaldo's career line.  At 4.95 runs/game and 802 runs, the best line-up Jim Tracy could put out there is:

Player Pos OBP SLG
1 Todd Helton 1B .364 .396
2 Troy Tulowitzki SS .363 .520
3 Chris Iannetta C .355 .457
4 Carlos Gonzalez LF .354 .533
5 Seth Smith RF .348 .482
6 Ian Stewart 3B .332 .462
7 Dexter Fowler CF .361 .418
8 Jose Lopez 2B .318 .453
9 Ubaldo Jimenez P .168 .117

Yeah, that looks ridiculous.  But don't villify the tool just yet.  First, recognize that ZiPS is particular high on Seth Smith and Chris Iannetta.  Then remember that a lot of actual gameplay is omitted from the tool - basestealing, baserunning speed, L/R combo, bunting ability, platoons, injuries, contact rate and patience for base-stealers.  Once those admittedly large factors are stripped, the above lineup actually makes some sense.

Off-topic

Statistical analysis has changed the way a lot of people think about lineup construction.  The ideas utilized by BaseballMusings mirror those presented by Tom Tango in The Book.  Sky Kalkman expertly explained them two years ago for Beyond the Boxscore.  

In this case, I'll quickly explain the thought process.  

In the leadoff position, you want a guy with a really good on-base-percentage to allow for scoring runs, but you don't want to waste a high slugging percentage in that slot.  Just so happens the Rockie projected for the best on-base percentage also has a low slugging percentage.  Boom.  Todd Helton.

Traditional thought is to put your best hitter in the 3-hole.  That practice is still widely used.  But even with .350 OBP in the first two slots, the 3-hole hitter will bat with the bases empty and two outs in the first inning in about 65 games.  That is a very low leverage spot to force your best hitter into for about 10% of their PA.  

Knowing that, the 2- and 4-hole positions are most important, so your best two hitters go here.  It makes sense to put the better OBP higher in the lineup and better SLG lower.  Boom.  Tulo in the 2-hole.  Cargo cleanup.  

Sabermetric thought actually places your #5 hitter as more important that your #3 hitter (due to that bases empty first inning), so the next best statistical line goes here.  Boom.  Seth Smith.

Finally, you fill the 3-hole with the next best guy.  According to ZiPS, that's Chris Iannetta.  The line-up then fills out in decreasing order of the best hitters.  Which is exactly what the lineup before the fold did.  Usually, the pitcher bats eighth (yes really!), as the value lost in having the pitcher bat more often than a hitter is mitigated by extra hitters before the sluggers.  In this case, Ubaldo is so bad, his PA need to be limited as much as possible.

So that silly lineup makes sense, huh?  It does.  Though again, it ignores a lot of important pieces of gameplay, which is a big reason why it has been slow in adaptation.  For the record, I wouldn't utilize that lineup either.  Knowing Jim Tracy, I think we can reasonably expect:

  1. Dexter Fowler
  2. Jose Lopez
  3. Carlos Gonzalez
  4. Troy Tulowitzki
  5. Todd Helton
  6. Seth Smith
  7. Ian Stewart
  8. Chris Iannetta
I can see the 2 and 6 holes switching, and if they do, Lopez might drop below Stewart.  Should Helton not return to his 2009 form, he will slip down the lineup in a few months, as he slipped out of the 3-hole in June 2010.  Tell me what your lineup looks like.


Links

 

Orioles re-sign Mark Hendrickson to minor league deal | HardballTalk / Braves sign Rodrigo Lopez to a minor league contract | HardballTalk.  The last two players the Rockies were publicly pursuing signed elsewhere yesterday.  Jason Hammel apparently tried to sell Hendrickson on Colorado, and it almost worked.  Had Joe Beimel signed in Baltimore instead of Pittsburgh, the Rockies would have finally owned their long-pursued lefty.  Lopez goes to Atlanta, where it still feels weird to say that he will get a break from the launching pad of his previous home park.

Top 200 rankings for 2011: The best of the best - Fantasy Windup: A community for fantasy baseball news and strategy - USATODAY.com  - Troy Tulowitzki ranks fourth, behind Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez and Miguel Cabrera.  That seems to be a popular top four this offseason.  Carlos Gonzalez ranks 11th, third among outfielders (Ryan Braun, Carl Crawford).

Rockies offseason review: Outfield | Inside the Colorado Rockies.  Steve Foster closes his review of the Rockies' offseason moves on position players.

 

Jonathan Herrera ready to fight for his place with Rockies | ColoradoRockies.com: News

Pirate fans are starting to get to know Clint Hurdle and his warm and fuzzy side.

 

 

Lastly, Fangraphs posted their review of the Rockies top 10 prospects this morning.  At first view, it seems pretty fair, and they rank the Rockies' farm system 14th in MLB:

 

  1. Tyler Matzek
  2. Nolan Arenado
  3. Wilin Rosario
  4. Christian Friedrich
  5. Peter Tago
  6. Rex Brothers
  7. Juan Nicasio
  8. Charles Blackmon
  9. Kyle Parker
  10. Chad Bettis
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