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Optimizing the 2019 Rockies lineup

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What was the best lineup the Rockies could put on the field in 2019?

There is a website called BaseballMusings.com, which features a fun tool that I admittedly find myself using far too much. It is the lineup analysis tool. By entering the on-base percentages and slugging percentages for nine players, it will construct an optimized lineup for you. The Colorado Rockies experimented with some different-looking lineups once they were eliminated from postseason play in 2019, but were they on the right track? Let’s look at the optimized Rockies’ lineup for the 2019 season for what would have been the best combination of players and batting order.

I looked at each position for the Rockies and plugged in the player with a minimum of 50 place appearances who had the highest wOBA (weighted On-Base Average) at that position (including pitcher) and here’s what it gave me:

1. Nolan Arenado- 3B
2. Charlie Blackmon- RF
3. Yonder Alonso- 1B
4. Sam Hilliard- CF
5. Trevor Story- SS
6. David Dahl- LF
7. Ryan McMahon- 2B
8. German Márquez- P
9. Chris Iannetta- C

Some questions may arise!

For one, Arenado batting leadoff? He had the highest on-base percentage, so that largely plays a role. As The Book tells us, “OBP is king” when optimizing a lineup. Granted, if it weren’t for Hilliard’s .649 slugging percentage, Arenado would probably be hitting either second or fourth, given that is where the best hitter should bat, according to this study (though this certainly isn’t the only one) from Baseball Prospectus.

Manager Bud Black has experimented with Story in the leadoff spot (and evidently was looking to toy with the idea of Raimel Tapia there before he suffered an injury), but this analysis suggests he would be best suited at fifth in the order. Story’s walk rate (8.8%) was one of the better marks on the team, but not as high as Arenado or McMahon, which suggests he wouldn’t be the best choice for leading off on this team either. Rather, his 35 home runs and .554 slugging percentage belong in a spot conducive for driving in runs (which the fifth spot in the order would be).

And then we have Iannetta, who didn’t last as a member of the Rockies (or any major league team for that matter) after August 13. While not appreciably so, Iannetta’s batting line of .222/.311/.417 was better than Tony Wolters’s line of .262/.337/.329. Of course, Wolters was rated as a far better defender than Iannetta so his presence on both sides of the ball may have resulted in more runs for the team (even if Statcast didn’t measure a single barrel for Wolters in 2019), but that is beyond the scope of what we can learn from looking at wOBA.

Black has shown he is not afraid to play around with the order of his lineup, so this could be an interesting starting point. Of course, it should be noted that over the course of a 162-game season, the number of wins a “perfect” lineup achieves may not make a considerable difference in the standings. For instance, in the Rockies’ optimized 2019 lineup, the “worst” lineup I entered averaged 5.383 runs per game, while the “best” averaged 5.933 runs per game. Would this have allowed the Rockies to make the postseason in 2019? I certainly can’t see an argument that it would.

Here is a blank copy of the lineup analysis tool for you to plug in your own numbers—like lineups with Tapia, Ian Desmond, Daniel Murphy and/or Garrett Hampson. Each received a considerable amount of playing time with the Rockies in 2019, but did not have the highest wOBA at any positions.

What would be your ideal lineup in 2020?