Roger Mooney of TBO had a story yesterday that addressed the batting order in a few places yesterday. Several quotes jumped out to me:
As for batting in front of Ramirez, Longoria said it doesn’t matter. “Of course I’d like to have him hit behind me,” Longoria said. “If he does, the likelihood of whoever is hitting in front of whoever is going to see a lot better pitches. So, of course, I’d like to have him hit behind me, but we all know how Joe (Maddon) is. You never know what you’re going to get until you get to the game.”
Maddon also said he’s leaning toward batting Longoria third and Ramirez fourth
Last month, R.J. Anderson of TheProcessReport covered the process of hitting Longoria fourth in the lineup. A few sentences from that piece stand out from the rest of the story as it helps clear up some common fallacies about hitting your best hitter third or fourth in a lineup:
While batting third, Longoria comes up to empty bases 54% of the time and two outs roughly 50% of the time while always batting in the first. Batting fourth, those percentages shift to 7.2% and 59% while batting in the first less often. Runners are in scoring position only 24.4% of the time when Longoria comes up while batting third, whereas they are in scoring position 59.1% of the time he comes up when batting cleanup. In more concise terms: Longoria may bat less in the first inning while hitting cleanup, yet when he does bat in the first, those at-bats will hold more meaning and should leverage his skill set better.
Teams in baseball do it both ways. Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols are arguably two of the best hitters in all of baseball. Tony LaRussa has hit Pujols third for most of his career while Cabrera hit in the clean-up spot 150 times for the Tigers last season.
Longoria said it best that you never really know what Maddon is going to do until you get to the ballpark but the data Anderson pointed out is undoubtedly data that Maddon and the guys behind the curtain at 1 Tropicana Drive in St. Petersburg (you’re welcome, Mayor Foster) understand. If we know anything at this point, it is that the decisions Maddon makes on the field are data driven rather than gut drive and all of his tinkering and machinations have a purpose.
Statistically, Manny Ramirez does not care where he hits in the lineup. Here are his splits while hitting out of the third spot and fourth spot in the lineup:
hitting 3rd: .311/.412/.600 in 1275 plate appearances
hitting 4th: .320/.420/.602 in 6293 plate appearances
There is very little difference between his slash lines out of the spot but he clearly has a tremendous body of work in hitting clean-up as a player that has been in baseball for 18 seasons now and is most often the best hitter on his team. Longoria, meanwhile, does show a difference statistically in those two spots in the lineup:
hitting 3rd: .270/.363/.477 in 940 plate appearances
hitting 4th: .303/.361/.561 in 512 plate appearances
Neither sample size is large enough to draw definitive conclusions for Longoria, but an 84 point difference in his slugging percentage is quite noticeable.
Overall, there is not a huge difference statistically but if Longoria were to hit fourth, the statistical supporting evidence is there. From a pure baseball stance, the reason for hitting Longoria third likely comes down to the basepaths. Over the past three seasons, Longoria has hit into 50 double plays while Ramirez has hit into 30. If Longoria is hitting third, Maddon can put him into motion with Ramirez at the plate either in straight steal situations or hit and runs to avoid the double play.
If Longoria is hitting fourth, there is not much Maddon can do with Manny to avoid staying out of the double play as he is not that fleet of foot and there is no guarantee Manny can score from first base on a Longoria double. Conversely, there is little doubt Longoria can score from first on a Ramirez double and he is still a stolen base threat for the team and having Ramirez in front of him hinder those opportunities.
The statistics are there to support both arguments, but the logistics of baseball are likely the driving factor in this roster decision for Joe Maddon.