Rethinking the Batting Order: OBP

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Updated: May 29, 2012

In a lineup based on On Base Percentage, Barry Bonds would have spent most of his career hitting leadoff.

Here at Off the Bench, we’re always working on new and innovative ways to think about baseball. For the next few days, we’re going to publish a series about rethinking the traditional lineup based upon statistical measures. Currently, old school thinking dictates that the top two batters in the order should be speedy slap hitters, the next 3 hitters should hit for power and drive in runs, the 6 and 7 hitters should be aspiring 3,4,5 hitters, the 8 hitter should be your worst, and the 9 hitter should set the table for the top of the order. (There is obviously some leeway with the last 2 spots in the order) We’ve decided to mix things up by putting the leaders in certain criteria (primarily certain stats but not entirely limited to that, as you’ll see) at the top of our new lineups. The idea here is that, on average, over the course of a 162 game season, each spot in the order gets 20 more plate appearances more than the spot below it and 20 fewer than the spot above it. For instance, if the leadoff hitter in a lineup gets 600 plate appearances in a season, the 2 hitter will get roughly 580, the 3 hitter about 560 and so on.  With that in mind, we’ll begin. Our first lineup shakeup has to do with on base percentage:

OBP: 

Recently, Joe Maddon, manager of the Tampa Bay Rays, placed power hitting first basemen Carlos Pena atop of his batting lineup because of his impressive on base percentage (OBP). The idea is that you need to get on base in order to score runs, therefore, you should maximize the plate appearances of the hitters in your lineup that get on base the most by placing them higher up in your batting order. This concept is already used a bit in the confines of the traditional lineup. Often, managers will chose which speedy, middle infield-type player to hit leadoff based in part on their respective OBPs. What would happen, though, if we took this to the extreme and modeled an entire lineup based solely on on base percentage? Would it help our team score more runs and win more games, or would such a deviation from the norm be a detriment to our team’s offense? To help us find out, we’ve reorganized the starting lineup of the Detroit Tigers and Atlanta Braves with this principle in mind (Health is assumed):

Detroit Tigers:

  1. Austin Jackson (.414 OBP)
  2. Prince Fielder (.377)
  3. Miguel Cabrera (.370)
  4. Ryan Raburn (.359)
  5. Jhonny Peralta (.331)
  6. Alex Avila (.318)
  7. Delmon Young (.301)
  8. Brennan Boesch (.288)
  9. Ramon Santiago (.268)

Atlanta Braves

  1. Martin Prado (.400 OBP)
  2. Chipper Jones (.377)
  3. Dan Uggla (.372)
  4. Michael Bourn (.351)
  5. Jason Heyward (.330)
  6. Brian McCann (.323)
  7. Freddie Freeman (.303)
  8. Tyler Pastornicky (.287)
  9. Pitcher

As we can see, there are some major differences when your organize a lineup like this. First, for Detroit, Prince Fielder is hitting in the second spot in the order. This is clearly unorthodox as Fielder, a massive first basemen with very little speed but a ton of power, is normally a 4 hitter. Also, this lineup has Ryan Raburn in the cleanup spot and Brennan Boesch in the 8 spot. For Atlanta, the lineup looks very different. Michael Bourn is normally the leadoff hitter, now he’s 4th, Brian McCann is normally 4th or 5th, not 6th, and  Freddie Freeman normally 3rd, not 7th. There are also some similarities. Miguel Cabrera is hitting in his normal 3rd spot and Austin Jackson is a traditional leadoff hitter.

Pros: There are definitely some serious pros to organizing a lineup in this fashion. Obviously, the way it is set maximizes at batss for the hitters most often on base. As a consequence, Prince Fielder will get about 40 more ABs per season than he would in the 4 spot in the order. That’s 40 more chances for homers, RBIs and extra base hits. For Atlanta, Chipper Jones is back at near the top of the order where he’s spent most of his career, though I doubt he hit second much. Overall, the main pro of this lineup style is its very nature. It buries the guys that get out a lot at the expense of the guys that don’t. That seems like a good thing. The incidental results aren’t really that important.

Cons: There are some major cons that jump out from the sample OBP organized lineups. First, The Braves have Michael Bourn batting 4th. Bourn is a traditional leadoff guy, he’s got a lot of speed but not a whole lot of power, in fact he has only 17 career homers. Having him in the 4 spot likely means that the Braves would fail to take advantage of a lot of opportunities for multi-run homers, especially because the guys in front of him would get on base so often. Also, Bourn’s speed on the basepaths would be neutralized a bit with Chipper Jones and Dan Uggla in front of him. Also, Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann are two of the Braves’ best hitters, I’m not sure manager Freddi Gonzalez would sign up for burying them in the 6 and 7 spots.

Responses, Final Thoughts, and Verdict: There is definitely some merit to organizing a batting order like this. I like the idea of allowing baserunners to accumulate by stacking the high OBP guys together. I’m not worried about creating a hole in the bottom of the order because those guys hit anyway and the whole idea is to get the good OBP guys up as much as possible so everything should even out in terms of run scoring opportunities. It doesn’t matter whether you sprinkle the lower OBP guys throughout the lineup or bunch them somewhere. That said, some of the criticisms of this lineup are valid, some of it just doesn’t make sense. In conclusion. I like this a lot as long as you use a little common sense, like not hitting Bourn 4th.

-Max Frankel

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