Last night the Phillies waxed elite pitcher Madison Bumgarner en route to a 13-8 win in a slugfest at Citizens Bank Park.
Look at these numbers at the top of the batting order:
- Cesar Hernandez – 4/5, 2B, 3 R
- Aaron Altherr – 3/5, HR, 5 RBI, 3 R
- Maikel Franco – 4/4, 2B, HR, BB, 4 RBI, 3 R
- Cameron Rupp – 1/5, HR, 3 RBI, R
That’s mighty impressive, and there are reasons. Hernandez has been hot lately (since July 20 he’s hitting .417/.525/.521 with 11 walks and nine strikeouts, and by the way, since June 4 he’s .349/.406/.457 with a 2:1 K:BB ratio); Franco has been hitting, too (since June 24 he’s .302/.353/.558 with 8 HR, 7 2B and 26 RBI); and Altherr has provided an instant spark with his athleticism and slick bat.
While it’s one game, and it won’t sustain, Pete Mackanin’s lineup last night pointed to a brighter future. It was also nearly optimal.
Traditionally, baseball managers have employed a relatively typical lineup configuration: speedy guy who might walk a little leads off; second hitter puts ball in play; third hitter is a good contact hitter; fourth hitter has power; fifth hitter also has power; for six to eight, pencil in best to worst hitters.
But the sabermetric revolution, primarily, helped inform managers to more optimal lineup configurations. Most optimal? Leadoff hitter is a good hitter with a high OBP; second hitter is likely your best overall hitter; third hitter is a good hitter; fourth hitter is a good hitter with higher slugging percentage; fifth hitter is a good hitter; for six to nine, pencil in best to worst, possibly inserting pitcher in eighth position.
The point is that you want really good hitters at the top of the order getting the most plate appearances (over a long stretch). And, because No. 1 leads off just once, why not slide pitcher to eight to increase probability that your best hitters can drive in more runners?
Though Mackanin placed Zach Eflin in the nine spot in last night’s Phillies lineup (he hasn’t been afraid to hit the pitcher eighth), his lineup last night was nearly optimal by sabermetric standards.
Hernandez is the optimal leadoff hitter right now, providing on-base skills and solid contact value. He’s also fast, which certainly helps. Odubel Herrera, despite some second-half struggles, is still the Phils’ most complete hitter and makes sense at 2 for now.
It’s far too early to determine whether Altherr is a well-rounded contact-speed-power player, but at this moment he fits at No. 3 or 4.
Franco has traditionally been the Phils’ No. 3 hitter, and he’s make sense there or at the No. 4 spot (his potential to slug over .500 is highest on the team). Rupp, at least this season, is an OK choice at No. 4. Joseph would be fine at 4, 5 or 6.
Say all regulars are starting; this would be the optimal lineup going forward:
- 2B Hernandez
- CF Herrera
- RF Altherr
- 3B Franco
- C Rupp
- 1B Joseph / Howard
- LF Asche / Goeddel
- SS Galvis
Again, you can argue semantics here (Altherr can drop to 4 or rise to 2; Franco could even move to 5), but we’re still working with small samples for a few of these players.
Either way, Mackanin last night employed a nearly optimal lineup, and while it wasn’t the primary reason for the Phils’ offensive explosion, it certainly helps in reaching better outcomes.