2014 Reds

The Cincinnati Reds’ Optimal Lineup

One of the most highly debated managerial moves is the manager’s lineup.  When Dusty Baker was at the helm as the Reds skipper, his lineups were as controversial as any manager in the MLB.  Now that Dusty is gone, and Bryan is in, will we see a different, more saber-friendly lineup?

First, you must read Optimizing Your Lineup By The Book.  That is the primary basis for my optimal lineup that I will give you.  You may ask if lineups really matter all that much.  Well, according to The BookPlaying the Percentages in Baseball, an optimized lineup can create an additional 10-15 runs per season.  An addition 10-15 runs could certainly net you a few additional wins, and a few additional wins could be the difference between reaching the playoffs, or just barely coming up short.

One of the most important things about an optimal lineup, is utilizing your strengths.  You want to put each player in the spot where he can have the most success.  One of the other important things is stacking your lineup at the top (not putting holes at the top of the lineup).  You want to attack a pitcher early, because that is your best chance of scoring runs.  Look at the disparity in 2013 of NL pitchers ERA by inning:

Split           ERA
1st inning 4.19
2nd inning 3.51
3rd inning  3.78
4th inning  3.93
5th inning  3.94
6th inning  3.83
7th inning  3.64
8th inning  3.51
9th inning  3.27
Ext inning  3.28

Here is my optimized lineup for the 2014 Reds:

1. Billy Hamilton, CF

2. Joey Votto, 1B

3. Todd Frazier, 3B

4. Jay Bruce, RF

5. Brandon Phillips, 2B

6. Ryan Ludwick/Chris Heisey, LF

7. Devin Mesoraco, C

8. Zack Cozart, SS

9. Pitcher


 

Let’s break down each spot:

1. Billy Hamilton, CF

While I don’t love Hamilton’s .308 OBP last season at AAA, I do believe he is the best leadoff option.  Hamilton is coming off a good spring, hitting .294/.356/.431.  When he gets on base, it will cause absolute havoc for the opponents pitcher/defense.  That in turn will help the heart of the order behind him see more fastballs, and have a less focused pitcher to face.  You don’t want to waste power in the leadoff spot, and you won’t have to worry about that with Hamilton.  He has only hit 13 HR in over 2,258 career PA in the minors (and I’m sure several of those were of the inside-the-park variety).

Other options: Skip Schumaker, Rodger Bernadenia, Todd Frazier

2. Joey Votto, 1B

“The best lineup protection is when Billy Hamilton is on base in front of me, and it’s not about protection, it’s that I get a more predictable pitch to hit — fastball,” Votto said. We’ve seen how it takes a perfect throw home, pop, and throw back to second to catch Billy Hamilton, so we know that the pitcher would rather throw a fast pitch home.”

That quote from Votto is from Joey Votto is Picking His Battles on fangraphs.  It is pretty apparent that Votto wants to hit directly behind Billy Hamilton.  The optimized lineup says that you should bat your best hitter second.  By batting Votto second in 2014, he would get around 18 additional PA over the course of the season.  For an offense that might have a difficult time scoring runs, getting Votto an extra 18 PA could be very beneficial.

Other options: None

3. Todd Frazier, 3B

I’ll save you from looking up his 2013 batting average, and shouting it at me in a rage of fury…….it was .234.  That batting average doesn’t tell you much about Todd Frazier.  As stated above in the quote, Votto doesn’t believe that protection is all that important, and he is mostly right.  I have three main reasons for batting Frazier third:

1) It starts with using your strengths.  Frazier hits LHP pretty well.  In his career, he has hit .271/.325/.503.  By batting Frazier in-between Votto and Bruce, you would allow Frazier to get PA against left-handed relievers late in the game.  He simply wouldn’t get that opportunity later in the lineup.  That is using your strengths to your advantage.

2) Believe it or not, Todd Frazier was actually the third best hitter on the Reds in 2013 (excluding Choo).  Frazier had a 96 OPS+ and a 100 wRC+ in 2013, which puts him right about league average offensively (Phillips had a 92 OPS+ and 91 wRC+ in 2013).  Frazier did all of that while have a down year, and an “unlucky” year.  Frazier’s BAbip was only .269 in 2013, down from .316 in 2012 (NL average BAbip in 2013 was .297).  While I doubt Frazier will get back up to his .316 BAbip rate from 2012, I would expect him to fall somewhere in the middle.  That would mean an already average offensive player would have his batting average raised around 20 points.

*The stat wRC+ is the best way to evaluate a players total offensive value, and you can read more about it here on fangraphs.

*The stat BAbip measures how many of a batter’s balls in play go for hits, and you can read more about it here on fangraphs.

3) Frazier knows how to walk.  His .314 OBP and 8.3% BB Percentage were 3rd on the Reds in 2013 (excluding Choo).  His 8.3% BB Percentage is above the league average of 7.7%.  It makes sense to put a guy higher in the order that can get on base more than others in the lineup.

Other options: Jay Bruce

4. Jay Bruce, RF

While I certainly would not have a problem with batting Bruce third, and stacking the lineup, I believe this is the best spot for him.  The optimal lineup says that the #4 spot in the order should be your second best hitter, behind the #2 spot.  Jay Bruce is clearly the Reds second best hitter.  I don’t think I need to say much more here.

Other options: Todd Frazier, Brandon Phillips (if you move Bruce to the #3 spot in the lineup)

5. Brandon Phillips, 2B

I’ll start by saying this: hitting Brandon Phillips second, like Price has done for the majority of the spring, is absolutely insane.  His .310 OBP in 2013 was below the league average of .315, and his 5.9% BB Percentage was well below the league average of 7.7%  His plate discipline is absolutely horrendous, and to make matters even worse, he hit .213/.253/.350 with the bases empty in 2013.  If Phillips is hitting second (behind Hamilton and in front of Votto), he will come up to the plate with the bases empty quite a bit. Once again, Votto will have limited chances to drive in runs, and Marty will crucify him.

This isn’t a hate on Dat Dude thread though. Phillips is still the Reds 4th best hitter in my estimation (behind Votto, Bruce, and Frazier), and if there is one thing he did really well in 2013: drive in runs. Why not use his best strength the best way possible?  By batting him 5th, he would have lots of chances to drive in runs, and wouldn’t be relied upon to get on base. Once again, this would be using your strengths to your advantage.

Other options: Ryan Ludwick/Chris Heisey

6. Ryan Ludwick/Chris Heisey, LF

From this point on in the lineup, it is pretty much just putting your remaining players in order of greatness. I put Heisey on here with Ludwick simply because I believe he is a better option everyday in LF than Ludwick.

Other options: Brandon Phillips

7. Devin Mesoraco, C

Mesoraco could certainly make the case to be moved up to 5th or 6th, if he has a breakout season.

Other options: Zack Cozart

8. Zack Cozart, SS

Cozart is without question the Reds projected worst hitter (he did however have a good finish to 2013). Some may say bat him 9th, and bat the pitcher 8th; that would not be using your strengths to your advantage. Cozart is horrendous at getting on base (.287 career OBP), and if you bat him 9th, then he is the leadoff hitter the second time through the order. Cozart has shown good power though, so by hitting him 8th he has a chance to hit a homer with runners on base,  If you hit him behind the pitcher, he wouldn’t get that opportunity very often.

Other options: Devin Mesoraco

9. Pitchers Spot

I would be all for putting Billy Hamilton 9th, if he struggles. That would take some of the pressure off him, and it would still make him the leadoff hitter from the second time through the order on.

 

32 thoughts on “The Cincinnati Reds’ Optimal Lineup

  1. Nick, I doubt you get much argument here. I held out hope for a long time that Phillips could actually be a productive top-of-the-order hitter, but alas, that hope has vanished. Bruce has appeared to have become a much more patient hitter this year (spring training caveat inserted) and Phillips hitting behind Bruce could produce some good results. I wish Bryan would step up and run with the idea, but I think the best we can hope for in that regard are small baby steps.

    • I have no quibble with that lineup. None at all. I’ve thought for awhile that Joey would be a great 2nd batter. I agree with BP batting 5 (of course, since I agree with the whole lineup), but as a fan of his I bridle just a bit at cavalier dismissals of him (not what Nick and the Cossack are doing, admittedly): He played injured last year–his numbers prior to the injury were much better. He also has been consistently willing to bat wherever the manager has thought that he was needed. That said, though, 5th seems like a good fit for him–takes advantage of his pop and clutchiness and reduces negatives of his impatient plate approach.

  2. As an aside, but obtusely related to the topic since Frazier is featuered so prominently…

    If you haven’t seen Frazier’s profile pic on teitter, do yourself a favor check it out. @FlavaFraz21

    If that doesn’t get you ready for opening day, I’m afraid there’s no help available.

  3. Hamilton could get on base at a. 300 clip and still be more valuable than a guy with a .380 who isn’t as fleet of foot, which is everyone in baseball. He needs a different measurement, maybe incorporate his stolen bases into his slugging percentage, because a single’s about as good as a double for him. Really, really excited to see what he can do. Our very own Usain Bolt. Definitely one of the most exciting players to watch in 2014. I would LOVE to see Votto bat after him.

    • I agree. You almost have to disregard his SLG% because of his speed. A single for BH is actually a double-probably 75% of the time, and a triple 25% of the time.

  4. I like this lineup.

    Dang you Cossack, I was ready to invest in teitter figuring that as usual you were ahead of the curb. OH well, monies for said investment go back into piggy

  5. I disagree on your assessment of Price’s use of Phillips being insane. I actually think batting him 2nd is probably the best spot for him. For one thing, the reason he had such high RBI numbers last year despite being a below average hitter (and besides hitting behind Votto) is his contact. He tends to make a ton of it. He neither strikes out nor walks very much. That hurts him as an overall player because it means he is putting suboptimal pitches in play, but it does lead to a higher rate of productive outs. I know what that sounds like, but before you crucify me, I have both feet firmly planting in the SABR camp. I’m not advocating sac bunts out of the two hole, or that Joey Votto should be swinging more and trading walks for sac flies. Trading an out for a base is almost never a winning proposition. But if you’re going to be making outs anyway, which Phillips has proven adept at doing in any spot in the lineup, they might as well be ones that move the runner along.

    Let’s think of it this way: an out is always a bad thing, but some outs are a complete waste, while others have a silver lining. If you’re going to make an out anyway, you might as well get something out of it, and your best chance for that is in the two hole. The only way that outs move runners is if there a) ARE runners, and b) are less than two outs. That particular combination of circumstances happens more often for a two hole hitter than for any other.

    Also, the other unfortunate side effect of BPs swing-happy contact rate is his very rate of hitting into DPs. The best way for a hitter to avoid a double play is to hit directly behind someone very fast. You see where I’m going with this…

    So while I agree that ideally you’d want a higher OBP guy in the two hole, Brandon’s not going to do any better anywhere else. If we’re talking about maximizing strengths, that should count for something.

    • I agree with what you are saying BHRUBIN, but I could really deal with BP hitting anywhere. I have always liked him in the 2 hole because he can hit the other way. I agree with having Hamilton on in front of him because of the double plays, but also because BP has proven over the years that he can smack a fastball.

      I think he could hit 300 in the 2 hole in front of Votto and behind Hamilton.

      That said, I think he would be great in the 5 hole as well.

      regardless of 2 or 5, I think BP surprises a lot of folks this year who thought he sliding into mediocrity

    • Your point about Phillips hitting behind BHam because he is very GIDP prone is a good one, and one I hadn’t thought about. I do think Votto would be best served hitting directly behind Hamilton, and when you have $200 million invested in a player, you should probably allow him to have some sort of say in that.

      With that being said, Phillips was absolutely horrible with the bases empty last season. BHam isn’t going to be an on-base machine in 2014, and Phillips would have a lot of PA with the bases empty hitting second. He has clearly made a commitment to driving in runs, and not getting on base. Hitting him in the middle of the lineup is the only thing that makes sense to me.

      Thanks for comment! I always love feedback.

      • My gripe with Phillips hitting second is that he seems to have a propensity to hit the ball where it won’t do any good, i.e. right back to the pitcher or to third base, where a runner in scoring position can’t advance on the out, so it doesn’t do any more good than the strikeout anyway. Are there stats out there for that? Fifth for him would be fine by me, ditto for Votto hitting second.

        • Phillips doesn’t always hit the ball where it won’t do any good: rbi is a discredited stat around here, but regardless of anything else, you don’t accrue 100 of them without hitting the ball where DOES do some good.

  6. My biggest problem with the idea of batting your best hitter in the 2-hole is that Votto has lead the team in SLG four years in a row, I believe. Wouldn’t you want him to have more at-bats with runners on base then? I don’t think an extra 18 at-bats for the best hitter on the team outweighs potentially 100 more runners on base for your best hitter.

    • Votto’s swing is not a HR swing. Votto hits line drives. Some of those line drives clear the fence, but Votto’s power is more doubles power than HR power and doubles power plays very well in the #2 hole. Just imagine Votto standing on 2B with less than 2 outs and Frazier at the plate. The pitcher walks Frazier to set up the double play, bringing Bruce to the plate and Bruce IS a HR hitter.

    • If the Reds had multiple, high on-base guys to hit 1 and 2 in front of Votto, I could see wanting him to hit third. They don’t though, so hitting him second and getting the extra PA is the way to go IMO.

      • It not only gets Votto more AB, but it gets more runners on base (Votto himself) earlier. Better to have Votto walk or single with one out than with two. Strong argument for batting him second.

    • Ideally, though, the leadoff hitter is frequently on base when the 2 hitter comes up. And, anyway, after the first inning, the 2 hitter isn’t necessarily the second batter up each inning unless, gulp, his team is the recipient of a perfect game by the opposing pitcher. And I agree with Cossack about Votto’s power.

  7. I am open minded so if that would help, why not? I am saying I don’t believe it, but am not against trying it. Phillips, I think can be fine at 2 or 5. Lets get this party started

  8. I like Frazier… But when I look at third base, it makes me wish the Reds had a more formidable hitter there…. Especially if that person batted third…

    • In my eyes, the problem isn’t so much Frazier per se. The problem is that all three of the “younger” guys (add in in Cozart and Meso) are basically margin offensive performers at this point. We don’t know that the rest of this Reds line up can support all of them.
      Folks tend to look at catcher and SS both as something of specialty positions where ability to perform defensively washes away lots of offensive sins while on the other hand 3B tends to be seen as an offense first position which requires only the minimum of defensive competence, Thus the onus tends to some times end up on Frazier to produce more when perhaps it should be on Cozart or Meso.

  9. Hamilton
    Phillips
    Votto
    Bruce
    Heisey
    Frazier
    Mesoraco
    Cozart

    My lineup, but obviously Ludwick will hit 5th on Opening Day.

    Heisey, Pena, Santiago, Bernadina and Nelson or Soto

  10. I like dropping BPhill to 5th, however I fully expect Frazier to have a better year and because of the I’d like to see him at the 2 with Votto getting more RBI chances. If Frazier can go around 330OBP, and he can especially with the Blur in front of him, Votto should return to a more normal 30HR100RBI area. Crazy as this sounds I think Choo was bad for our lineup, he made other guys either lazy or change their approach. We won the division w/o him getting less than 270OBP from our leadoff spot. We can do it w/o him again. Long as our starting pitching stays healthy.

  11. I am a big advocate of batting Votto 2nd. Although I would push Bruce up to 3rd. For the same reason that Votto would get more ABs in the two-hole, Bruce would get more ABs in the three-hole. Votto and Bruce are our best hitters, and more ABs for them should equal better results. At that point if you want to bat Frazier 4th, or Ludwick then I’m fine with that. I just don’t think the opportunity to get Frazier an AB against a LH late in the game outweighs having Votto/Bruce back to back their first three at bats. What I don’t want to see is Phillips batting 4th in this scenario because of the GIDP potential rally killing possibilities.

    • I am completely fine with batting Bruce 3rd, and Frazier 4th. That was actually the only difficult decision that I had when writing this post. I personally think getting Frazier more chances vs LHP outweighs the extra 18 PA for Bruce, but as I said in the post, I am a huge fan of stacking the lineup and attacking the pitcher early.

      • The selective option here might be batting Frazier #3 against a LH starting pitcher and batting Bruce #3 against a RH starting pitcher. Get the opposing starting pitcher out and attack the bullpen early.

  12. I’m too lazy to look it up, but it seems to me that BP also has a pretty strong split vs lefties. I would have no problem batting him 3rd between Votto and Bruce with Frazier (who has better power than BP) at 5th. I think the main thing is to have BHam and Votto bat 1-2 and Bruce in the top 4. After that, it’s all semantics.

  13. This is good stuff, Nick. So glad Dusty and his dinosaur management style is gone. Loved the fact that Matt Williams bench Bryce Harper for a lack of hustle last night. Baker would have just given him a pat on the rear end and said get ‘em next year, er, next time.

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