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January 4, 2012
Painting the Black
On Lineup Tinkering
If P.G. Wodehouse’s Wooster were a baseball manager who employed a normal fan in Jeeves as an advisor, then the latter’s ingenuity would have been easier to craft. When Wooster asked Jeeves how to score additional runs, the answer would have revolved around a more consistent lineup. How could Wooster keep the players focused? By running out a more consistent lineup. But Jeeves, what is the answer to world peace? A more consistent lineup, sir. And so on and so forth.
Suggesting that a normal fan thinks the answer to all of baseball’s ills is a consistent lineup is an overgeneralization. Still, during slumps, the need for consistency comes up across the media platforms frequently enough to last a lifetime. Managerial tinkering can even save a player from criticism. Fans can be unrelenting in their criticism after a player commits a physical mistake, unless that mistake is precipitated—imagined or not—by managerial interference. Then fans then take on a maternal mindset towards the players. This scene plays out in those cases:
Setting: Tropicana Field, mid-May 2012
You would never know that baseball players adapt to constantly altering variables given the importance placed upon predefined roles. For all the mock-worthy reasons expressed from folks who want an everyday lineup, there are legitimate reasons too. It should come as no surprise to anyone that in 2011, the playoff teams held a lower median amount of lineup and batting orders used than the teams that failed to make the playoffs:
The reasons for this should be evident. Consider that the chief reasons a team would use more lineups throughout the season revolve around aspects that translate to team success. A team with healthy and well-performing players is less likely to need various lineups. Similarly, those teams are less likely to sell off pieces, thus beginning a game of musical chairs. Teams that suffer through injuries, demotions, and become mass in-season traders are going to use more lineups by default.
There are exceptions to those variables. Take the Royals, who fielded the fewest amount of lineups in the league last season. Before accusing Ned Yost of being stubborn to his team’s detriment, remember that the Royals infused youth throughout the season. Once those young players arrived, Yost lived up to his billing as a developer by keeping the kids in the everyday lineup—for instance, Eric Hosmer arrived in early May and started all but four games the rest of the way.
A junk stat can be created using each team’s lineup and batting order data, then comparing it to the league-average marks. Thus, the aptly named TINKER+ shown below (Note: There are no league adjustments required, as the pitcher position is not included in either measure). As you have come to expect from adjusted-statistics, the higher the TINKER+ score, the more lineups and orders relative to league-average marks used and vice versa:
The results look as you would expect. Here are some observations:
The takeaway from the 2011 data is that having a consistent lineup is desirable because it implies the team has good things going for it. Still, teams can make the playoffs and even win the World Series if they tinker a little more than the average team. Of course, teams that tinker the most are likely to have records that produce laughs as often as Wodehouse’s works.