Duffy-Wilson-Sanchez? Or Duffy-Sanchez-LaRoche? The Pirates’ lineup has been getting a lot of attention as of late (such as in the P-G here and here, on Pirates.com here, and at WHYGAVS and Honest Wagner), as there’s not too much else to talk about in the world of hardball at the end of January. The Bucs won’t bring in any other significant pieces (save possibly another starting pitcher), so everyone’s talking about the puzzle we can build with the players we already have.
I’m not the first to do it–and I certainly won’t be the last–but here’s the order David Pinto’s Lineup Analysis tool spits out given our current personnel and their ZiPS projections:
That’s one of three that would amount to 4.819 runs per game, or about 780 runs this season. But since Jim Tracy’s not Tony La Russa, we won’t see Zach Duke batting eighth or Bay hitting second. On April 2nd in Houston, barring injury, we’ll see Duffy-Wilson-Sanchez-LaRoche-Bay-Nady-Bautista/Castillo-Paulino. And I’m fine with that. I won’t debate the merits of Wilson hitting second or eighth. Why?
Because I can guarantee you September 30th against St. Louis, we’ll see an entirely different order.
Let’s head over to Baseball Reference for a moment and examine the orders that took the field in 2006. Scroll to the bottom of the page to see a summary: Over a 162 game season, the Pirates used 121 different orders. Sure, there was roster turnover, a different starting pitcher each day, etc. But the most common lineup only appeared in six games. For comparison, the Cardinals used 131 orders. The Yankees, with the DH, used 120.
On Opening Day 2006, Jim Tracy penned this linuep:
By October 1st, he was using an order similar to the one we’ll see this year, only substituting LaRoche for Ryan Doumit. When Duffy struggled early on, we saw Nate McLouth in the first slot. Eventually, Jose Bautista took over the center field and leadoff duties. Freddy Sanchez broke onto the scene and flip-flopped between third and fifth. Sean Casey got hurt (and then traded), cuing the entrances of Craig Wilson and Xavier Nady.
Creating a batting order isn’t an exact science. Tracy plays the hot hand. In his first nine games leading off, Bautista either got a hit, scored a run, or both. He pulled an oh-for-four in the tenth, so the skipper switched to McLouth. Nate then put together an eight-game streak of his own. Wilson’s on-base percentage was .347 after the All-Star break (compared to .293 before), so he kept hitting second. Seems simple to me.
The 2007 lineup isn’t written in stone. Tracy’s suggested that LaRoche will only hit cleanup against righties, and he’ll drop to fifth for lefties. If Chris Duffy sputters out of the gate again, he won’t play. If Jack Wilson hits .220, we’ll see Bautista or Sanchez move up to second.
It’s commonplace to second-guess the manager, but in this instance, I think it’s a waste of time. You can tell a great deal about the game of baseball from numbers and statistics. But there’s still some feel to the sport. Tracy has to know whose bat is about to catch on fire and who’s getting worn down. He has to predict if shifting his batting champ from third to second will put a hole in his game. I’ll admit that Jack will be stealing at-bats from Jason for the first few weeks of the season. But we’re in elementary school math territory–guess, test and revise. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
Maybe Bay put it best when he made this quote to Dejan Kovacevic:
“You know what?” he continued. “A lot of this is going to hinge on Duffy, anyway. If the top of the lineup isn’t working, things will have to shuffled.”
It’s a work in progress–and it’s part of the reason we’ll go to the ballpark from April ’til October. The games aren’t played on paper. If they were, I’d be a Yankees fan.