It's a well-known, time-honored tradition that baseball players celebrate their team's entrance to the playoffs by poisoning themselves (and their teammates) with large quantities of alcohol. The aftereffects of those champagne showers—besides stained, stinky clubhouse carpet—leave managers with no choice but to send out the B-team the following day. In recent years, this phenomenon has been christened the hangover lineup.
Now that the postseason dance card is full and all the regular-season-related bubbly has been spilled, it's time to ask the important questions—like who had the worst hangover lineup?
To answer, we took each team's submission and compared them to each other, as well as to the team's clinch-day lineup—as a way to "control" for the average lineup quality. Because many of the players involved had limited big-league playing time leading up to their day in the starting lineup, we've opted to use PECOTA's rest-of-season projections in place of real-world numbers. Yes, using seasonal projections after the season is odd, but the topic's seriousness demands the best estimate of each player's true-talent level.
One more note: the teams that were compelled to use their best all the way through the season's end (for positioning and/or qualifying purposes) were excluded from the exercise. Now, onto the results.
Clinched on: 10/1
Median TAv: .270
Minus clinch-day lineup: .000
The Yankees approach everything with professionalism, including hangover lineups. If you're wondering how this group is equal to the Yankees' clinch-day lineup, the main reason is the latter didn't include Brian McCann, Chase Headley, and Jacoby Ellsbury, meaning it itself was an approximation of the club's everyday nine. A few more reasons for the evenness: 1) PECOTA likes Pirela (.265) more than you'd expect, given his heretofore poor performance in the majors; and 2) since the measure of central tendency is the median, not the mean, the Yankees' other changes mostly canceled out each other (e.g., Headley for Didi Gregorius versus Romine for Greg Bird). Hangover status: Up and at 'em.
Clinched on: 9/29
Median TAv: .274
Minus clinch-day lineup: -.003
An old Yankee, Don Mattingly stayed true to his pinstripes by using his mostly standard set. There were a few exceptions, however: Barnes made his first start in three weeks; Seager slid over from his usual perch at short to catch some action at the hot corner; and Grandal made his second start of the season (and of the week) at first base. The Dodgers have so many talented, versatile players that it's hard to crack wise on this group—what are you going to do, joke about one of the league's former top double-play combinations because they got old? Hangover status: Slept past noon.
Clinched on: 9/30
Median TAv: .265
Minus clinch-day lineup: -.004
This group would look a lot worse if we took fielding into account, given Mike Matheny used his Zduriencik defense—that is, he used three first-base types at once. You might be surprised that this lineup comes close to one that had Matt Carpenter, Jason Heyward, and Jhonny Peralta (note: Matt Holliday and Stephen Piscotty were absent from the clinch-day lineup), but there are valid reasons for the small gap. Namely, PECOTA likes Garcia (at the plate) more than it likes Kolten Wong, and the worst hitters in either lineup, Kozma and Cruz, were present in both. Hangover status: Couldn't find their keys.
Clinched on: 9/30
Median TAv: .248
Minus clinch-day lineup: -.024
Now here is a hangover lineup. We're cheating by comparing this bunch to the better of the Jays' two clinch-day lineups—mostly because this lineup is a thing of beauty that deserves the recognition. The best part? It's a tie between Pennington—a no-hit utility infielder—in left; the entire starting infield, including Thole (combined career MLB line: .242/.304/.317—or what would be the fifth-worst individual OPS in the majors, min. 500 plate appearances); and Pompey, whose second start in the majors since late April came as part of this unit. Oh well. Probably reminded him of Triple-A. Hangover status: Wore sunglasses all day.
Clinched on: 9/26
Median TAv: .260
Minus clinch-day lineup: -.028
So far as first timers go, Terry Collins topped John Gibbons. Conforto was the only regular involved, and he was moved up four spots to accommodate the rest of this beauty. Johnson received his first start at shortstop since, as best as we can tell, 2005 . . . when he was in Triple-A. Meanwhile Recker, the third catcher, got the nod at first base. Using the backup catcher and the backup catcher's backup is always a good play on throwaway days. Always. Hangover status: Mistook the hamper for the toilet.
Clinched on: 9/24
Median TAv: .243
Minus clinch-day lineup: -.030
But despite the best efforts of other managers, the undisputed king of hangover lineups is Ned Yost. Shoot, you know the Royals partied hard when Salvador Perez isn't in the lineup. Like Collins, Yost used two of his no-hit reserve catchers, including Butera—he of the career .188 True Average—at first base. Zobrist and Rios were the only regulars on display, although even that can be explained: Omar Infante was out with a strained oblique, and even an inebriated Yost isn't willing to put Terrance Gore in the starting lineup. Poor Gore. Hangover status: Mistook the toilet for the hamper.