What if the New York Mets could improve their daily lineup?
Better yet, what if the Mets could do it using the very same starters—and requiring only a pencil?
Could the Mets create a batting lineup statistically proven to maximize run-scoring opportunities?
If my ploy isn’t sufficiently transparent yet, such a remedy has already been established—courtesy of baseball’s analytics community. The concept is referred to as lineup-optimization and its traction has likely been slowed for the same reasons that any new idea garners strong dissent. At first glance, it feels radical.
At the risk of sounding incredibly naive, why can’t the Mets be among the league’s forward-most thinkers for once?
If the New York Mets hope to continue their recent string of success, they will do so, reliant on a lineup lacking David Wright. In his absence, manager Terry Collins would do well to explore any potential advantage the team can conceivably reap in the run-scoring department.
The truth is, a batting order is equally critical to the daily run production of the Mets as it is for any other team across Major League Baseball—minisculely.
Generally, the estimated net-gain of a fully optimized lineup—as opposed to one traditionally composed—is worth 5-15 runs over the course of 162 games. This translates roughly to just one additional win in favor of the former.
That’s not to to say that batting a pitcher leadoff—for example—would prove inconsequential, but it should be noted that no specific lineup combination is capable of transforming an otherwise feeble lineup into an offensive juggernaut.
Even still, consider what the difference between a player batting .250 and player batting .300 is. It equates to approximately one more—seemingly meager—hit a week.
Over the course of a full season, is an extra hit per week negligible?
Over at Fangraphs, Matt Klaassen eloquently described the prevailing understanding as “enthymematic,” or requiring a premise.
“Complaining about batting order for one game is kind of silly, but that can be said of lots of singular decisions in baseball. Over a full season, consistently using sub-optimal strategies adds up.”
Insignificance is often relative. One could break down any aspect until it appears trivial in a vacuum.
Adding 15 runs may not sound like much, but one win was all it took to decide the National League East champion in 2007. Nobody understands the value of a single win better than David Wright and the Mets who managed to miss the playoffs by such a margin in consecutive seasons.
Before rambling on any further regarding lineup-optimization, below is the one batting order that should be penciled in by Collins as frequently as given circumstances permit. To the more traditional strategists, it is certain to be controversial—but bare with me while I attempt to rationalize any understandable, presumed lunacy.
*Davis' Career Average
**Average 2013 Pitcher Average
Constructing the Ideal Lineup
In order to eventually—or, hopefully—warm to the idea of incorporating an optimal lineup, if only momentarily, assume that lineup configuration is an inexact science. It can be improved. Lineup-optimization is a deconstruction of manager strategy in the still-prevailing traditional sense.
At the root of the principles governing lineup-optimization is The Book—a sabermetric bible of sorts, written by three of baseball’s most renowned statisticians.
Chapter 5 takes a functional look—and strives to correct—the deficiencies present in the traditional batting order. The overarching gist, is that we have historically assigned undue value to the various batting slots in a lineup.
The most immediately apparent difference between a standard and optimized lineup is also the easiest general rule to remember—in a fully optimized National League batting order, the #8 spot is reserved for the starting pitcher.
A radical proposition to this day, sure, but not an unprecedented one—and an objectively justifiable change too.
The choice to bat the pitcher #8 rather than #9 in an order, is largely predicated on the notion that the latter slot should be reserved for a superior OBA and—of lesser importance—a speedier base-stealing threat that can get on base in front of the singles hitters at the top of a lineup.
Deciding where to best hide the pitcher’s weak bat is just the first of several factors that lend their hand to increased run production. A manager would be wise to consider all of the available data on the topic in order to create the optimal batting order.
In this wonderfully insightful piece, Sky Kalkman does a phenomenal job breaking down the value of each batting order position in greater depth.
Examining the Mets Standard Batting Order
Below is the Mets batting order on August 10—a matchup with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
With the timetable for Wright’s return becoming increasingly grim, and assuming the Mets justifiably continue to opt for outfield defense over offense, the Mets starting lineup on August 10 figures to be the one most worthwhile of examination pertaining to lineup-optimization.
For argument-sake, let us also assume that catcher John Buck and shortstop Omar Quintanilla won’t concede their starting statuses—in favor of Travis d’Arnaud or Ruben Tejada respectively—soon enough to render the perusal of alternate 2013 lineup combinations statistically meaningful.
Utilizing Baseball Musing’s lineup analysis tool, on average the Mets August 10 lineup can be estimated to produce 3.814 runs per game.
Alternatively, the tool predicts an optimized lineup consisting of the same players to manufacture about 4.001 runs per game.
Through 116 games, a standard lineup that has predominantly featured Wright managed a respectable 4.07 runs per game average.
For what it is worth—replacing Wilmer Flores with Wright in an optimized lineup yields a 4.265 runs per game average.
Why It’s Worth It
Barring a catastrophic collapse atop standings, the playoffs are little more than a pipe dream for the Mets who currently sit well behind contending pace.
Encouragingly, though, after limping out to a winning percentage of .381 through their first 63 games, the Mets play has substantially improved—to the tune of .566 baseball—since.
Hoping to contend in 2014, the Mets should strive to continue building on their recent sustained success. Fighting to reach the .500 mark could prove a wishful, if not crucial step in the right direction for the franchise and its young assets moving forward.
Arguably most important of all, there may be no better way to excite a fanbase starved for prosperity than to finish the season strong.
Despite increased spending promises this offseason, the correlation between revenue and payroll is no less relevant to ownership in 2014 as it was in 2013. The organization has done a commendable job infusing some excitement over the franchise’s potential core of young pitching. It will take more than that to fill Citi Field seats in September.
The Mets are currently expected to fall substantially short of expected ballpark-related revenue for a fourth consecutive year.
Not only does lineup-optimization afford the Mets the best opportunity to win, but offers something fresh and new for a season that has long been bordering on stale. And that last sentiment is generous.
Such a decision is guaranteed to generate chatter. Of all varieties.
Also of note is the fact that Terry Collins—managing in the final year of an expiring contract—is likely to face the challenge without his best bat. This is all the more reason to look for any strategic advantage he can get in the run scoring department.
An optimized lineup should not be a difficult pitch within the organization considering general manager Sandy Alderson’s sabermetric roots—and it would likely put Collins in the best position for a 2014 return on more than one basis.
If for no other reason than expressing a desire to evolve ahead of the curve as a franchise, this promises to be where baseball is—slowly, but surely—trending in terms of analytic-use. Now is as good a time as ever to expose the fans to the plausibility of such a strategy.
The Mets are young, struggling at the gates and devoid of the everyday stars most likely to object. The time to optimize the Mets lineup is now.
For additional Mets banter and other inexplicably random musings, you can follow me on Twitter @jaysteck