Stephen Guilbert - Reese-Guilbert Debate: Lineup Optimization and Terry Collins


Last week, Reese Kaplan posted an article dissecting the lineup configurations for the 2015 Mets. Within the article, Mr. Kaplan notes inefficiency by Terry Collins both in a lack of bunting use and poor lineup structure. I half agree.

In this piece, I would like to offer my counter to Kaplan's lineup and debunk certain myths about both lineups and bunting.

You can read Kaplan's piece here. After a scathing review of Collins and his lineup decisions (more on that later), Kaplan writes that, "Many sabermetric studies have been done to suggest you want your best contact hitters up in the 1 and 2 slots of the lineup as they are going to come to the plate most often and you want them on base as much as possible to set the table for the RBI guys to follow". Reese suggests Flores and Murphy for the top two spots.

This is mostly true. However, contact-driven OBP or walks-driven OBP matter little here. The conclusion of Murphy and Flores, then is a bit odd. Neither walk at a very good rate and while both hit for average, neither has a great OBP. Also, from batted ball variations from season to season, it is much tougher to rely on BABIP than the more predictable walk rate. Daniel Murphy's career OBP is .333, boosted by a BABIP-driven 2011 season that saw it spike to .362. In his four full seasons, Murphy's OBP has been .313, .332, .319, and .332. While the Mets lack a lot of high-OBP guys, this is not exactly what I have in mind for the top two spots in the order. Keep in mind, Ruben Tejada sported a .342 OBP last year and his career mark is just .005 behind Murphy's.

Flores suffers from the same low-walk approach as Murphy: 173 in 3237 minor league plate appearances for an OBP right around Murphy's major league average. While Flores might hit for a higher average than I think, I do not see many paths to him being a #1 or a #2 hitter. I agree with the expert consensus--Flores is best when he has guys to drive in. Eventually, I like him as a #3 but given his inexperience and the presence of better current options for the 3, 5-7 spots, I agree with Collins that he will and should start the season hitting 8th. (side note: Would Wilmer Flores be baseball's best #8 hitter?)

Next, Kaplan states that "The third spot in the order should go to the best overall hitter in terms of OBP, batting average, RBI production, and power".

This is one of the biggest and least-reported myths in the game of baseball. From leverage situation data and baserunner/ab data, the third spot in the order actually comes up in similar leverage and baserunner situations as the #2 hole, but fewer times.

Beyond the Box Score sums it up well: "The Book says the #3 hitter comes to the plate with, on average, fewer runners on base than the #4 or #5 hitters. So why focus on putting a guy who can knock in runs in the #3 spot, when the two spots after him can benefit from it more? Surprisingly, because he comes to bat so often with two outs and no runners on base, the #3 hitter isn't nearly as important as we think. This is a spot to fill after more important spots are taken care of". David Wright in the #3 spot is nostalgia or outdated thinking--not optimization. Not even close.

Next, we all agree Duda is the #4 hitter. This is the spot for one of the team's three best hitters (along with #1 and #2), with an emphasis on power. Duda is the guy.

The #5 hitter is actually your 4th best hitter as he comes to bat more times with runners on that the third spot. Then #3 is 5th important, then #6, then 7-9 but with more interchangeability than other spots in the order.

This chart sums it up well:

Typical MLB lineup vs. Stats-based optimized lineup, courtesy of beyondtheboxscore.com via "The Book".

Lastly, one tendency that Reese Kaplan derides Collins for is not bunting. Before I give you my lineup, take a second and read this article that sums up the reality of trading outs. They say it better than I ever could: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-sacrifice-bunt-the-real-rally-killer/

I think I have posted that article in pieces of mine or in the comments before but it goes deep into the ramification of trading outs for bases. This is not a binary discussion either--meaning I do not advocate for bunting whenever the situation seems to call for it nor avoid bunting completely. I believe in a very judicious use of trading outs for bases and it is something Terry Collins does quite well. I think Reese Kaplan is being very unfair to Collins when it comes to bunting.

I also think he is unfair when it comes to Terry's lineup choices as well because, frankly, no MLB manager optimizes lineups. Not a single one. Not one manager has taken the data that their organization's statistics teams have given them and writes a lineup card that gives them the best chance to win. A conservative estimate suggests that proper lineup optimization can give you a win a season. A full win. In today's dual wildcard league, that could be the difference between a shot at the World Series and an October on the couch. A win is also worth between 4 and 5 million dollars...just from writing the lineup card the right way.

That being said, applying the previous chart above is not exactly easy when it comes to the 2015 Mets. While Duda in the #4, d'Arnaud in the #5, and Wright in the #2 slot are givens for me, I have no idea who the best leadoff and #3 hitters should be.

For leadoff, Kalkman writes, "The lead-off hitter also comes to the plate the most times per game, so why give away outs? As for speed, stealing bases in most valuable in front of singles hitters, and since the top of the order is going to be full of power hitters, they're not as important. The lead-off hitter is one of the best three hitters on the team, the guy without the homerun power".

I see three options here: Juan Lagares, Daniel Murphy, or Curtis Granderson. While Wright clearly has the best OBP on the team, his OBP/power combo is much better suited for the 2-hole than the leadoff spot. Murphy does not get on base enough for me nor consistently enough. Granderson is not ideal because, as the quotation states, why waste power early in the lineup? The question becomes, which of Murphy or Lagares will get on base more? Personally, and maybe because I am a huge Lagares fan and believe in his bat more than most, I think that is Juan Lagares. That allows Murphy to slot in later in the lineup and provide a threat deep in the order we have not had in years.

The other dilemma I have is Cuddyer, Murphy or Flores for #3. I see them all as essentially the same hitter. Cuddyer probably has more power and OBP but all are high average, high BABIP, solid power guys. However, Collins worked with Duda brilliantly in slowly introducing him to higher leverage situations over the year and Duda blossomed. Keep Flores down towards the #7 or #8 spot for now. Personally, I think Cuddyer is a better hitter than Murphy so he gets third in the lineup. I also like having the veteran that early in the lineup and right next to his buddy Wright. I think that combination at the top could be deadly.

Lastly, if I put Lagares #1 instead of #8, it leaves Flores for the 8-hole which seems like an odd spot for such a good hitter. I think I can concede this to simply saying--I am glad I do not have the job of picking the lineup card every day. You have to take into consideration player ego and comfortability as well. And, while not as important as ability, it is hard to quantify and it is something a good manager knows how to do. If I had to take a stab at the best-optimized Met lineup given the players right now, it is this (Keep in mind, my opinions on a player [ex. high on Lagares and d'Arnaud, lower on Flores and Granderson] have a huge influence on where they hit. Also, keep in mind the chart above):

1.) Juan Lagares
2.) David Wright
3.) Michael Cuddyer
4.) Lucas Duda
5.) Travis d'Arnaud
6.) Curtis Granderson
7.) Daniel Murphy
8.) Wilmer Flores

Before you skip to the comments section and rip me for this, let me put a few conditions on this:

- If Lagares fails to sustain his BABIP from 2014 or does not walk more, he quickly moves to #8. My leash for him as a leadoff hitter is very short and I am going out on a limb here, but I see something in his bat and his progress in 2014 that makes me believe he can take the next step in 2015.

- Against lefties, take Duda out, put d'Arnaud in the cleanup spot, bump everyone up one spot and put Mayberry 8th.

- Terry's lineup has Granderson second, Murphy 6th, TdA 7th, and Cuddyer 5th. I actually do not think he is too far off what I have here. He has what should be two good OBP guys 1-2, messes up on Wright third as every MLB manager would, is with me on Duda and Flores, and has d'Arnaud too low, giving him the Duda treatment. I do not mind his lineup. If he were to put Wright second instead of third, I would be very content.

- When deGrom pitches, bat Flores 9th and deGrom 8th.

- An interesting finding in "The Book" is that speed is a nice quality to have hitting 6th. Because of the power in 4 and 5, 6 can act as a second leadoff hitter for the contact guys at the back of the lineup. Granderson, followed by Murphy and Flores as a backend 1-2-3, so to speak, is awesome and something the Mets have not had in a long time.

After writing this, I realize how much hinges on Juan Lagares developing as a hitter. If he can, our lineup looks very very good. If not, and Flores-Lagares-Pitcher make 7-8-9 a potential OBP black hole at the back of our lineup instead of a deep and productive order.

To conclude, when you think about lineups, remember: The three best hitters on the team should be 1st (OBP), 2nd (OBP) and 4th (power). Then 5th (power), third, then 6 (a bit a speed is nice), 7, 8. If you put two low OBP guys at the top, you are not going to score as many runs. This team needs to score as many runs as possible. Terry's lineup is not optimized, but it is not bad either. If we could just get him to stop batting Wright 3rd.

I look forward to your thoughts.



Thomas Brennan said...

Tommie Agee popped 26 dingers as the world champ 1969 Mets lead off hitter. Put Grandy in top spot. Flores no lower than 7th. Lagares I could see in the 8th spot.

One thing this group is not is set in stone, so I am sure we'll see a shifting line up.

One thing I feel confident of is this team scoring 100+ more runs than last year.

That and much improved pitching will have us solidly in the race for a wild card. I'll take it.

Stephen Guilbert said...

I would not be too upset if Granderson leads off as he has the best walk rate on the team and his BABIP was so low last year that I can't help but think he's due for a rebound.

However, with right field coming in a bit and given that he was a very unlucky hitter last year, I see no reason he can't hit 25 homers and slug around .450. With his speed, as I say in the article, he's a perfect #6 hitter.

I agree, Lagares is 8th if he doesn't get on base. I think he will.

Stephen Guilbert said...

One great example of a manager who will trade out for speed and shouldn't is Mike Redmond. How much do you want to bet that he's going to go Gordon-Yelich-Stanton 1-2-3 next year?

Given what we've learned, does anyone want to take a stab at why that's a bad idea?

Reese Kaplan said...

The biggest off-season improvement the cash-strapped Mets could have made would have been dumping the manager and signing someone else...almost anyone. If you read any poll about Terry Collins the best he ever gets is about 20% who think he's OK. The PR boost in ticket sales and back page coverage alone would have been worth it, even if you were in Collins' camp. He's a career loser, has done nothing to improve this team and done plenty to set it back. Yes, they did "improve" to a whopping 79 wins last year on the arms of Jacob de Grom and others and the bat of Lucas Duda. That did not have Collins' stamp on it. In fact, it was Collins who was against many of the things that worked better once implemented. If they really wanted to energize the fan base they would have promoted Wally Backman who has history with the fans and the fiery personality we were TOLD Collins had, or Pedro Lopez who has done nothing but win and isn't as much a danger to be a loose cannon as is Backman. Instead we have more of the same...just as we do with the lineup and roster.

Christopher Soto said...

Granderson was terrible in the lead-off role last year....Yes he popped out 7 HRs in that spot in 52 Games but his OBP was abysmally low (.289).

Quite frankly I think the following line-up would be best.

1. Daniel Murphy (L)
- Doesn't K, Doesn't BB, puts the ball in play and works SP's. Good doubles power and Sneaky good speed that stole 20+ bases once.

2. Wilmer Flores (R)
- Similar profile to Murphy except minus the speed. Strong RBI contributor that could drive Murphy in multiple times.

3. David Wright (R)
- Best hitter on the team when healthy.

4. Lucas Duda (L)
- Most power on the team. Full Season of hitting + shorter RF fences + better line-up protection = another 30+ HR season.

5. Michael Cuddyer (R)
- Underrated hitter. Decent K and BB rates, above average power, Career .803 OPS in the 5 hole

6. Curtis Granderson (L)
- Outside of Apr and Aug was an above average hitter. Improved K and BB rates, OPS'd 1.000 in 20 games in the 6 hole and 1.078 in 16 games in the 5 hole. Still has 20 SB speed

7. Travis d'Arnaud (L)
- Slow start but heavy improvement as 2014 continued. Good Gap Power. If Grandy gets on base, should see a higher dose of FBs to mitigate Grandy's speed.

8. Juan Lagares (R)
- Getting better as a hitter but on this team he's the worst one. Pitchers will probably work around him a number of times to get to weak hitting Mets pitcher. Improving patience and utilizing sneaky good speed can proof valuable for when the line-up turns over to contact oriented Murph and Flores.

Stephen Guilbert said...

Write it in a post, Reese. Pretty much none of what you said above is correct, rational, or backed by any concrete evidence that we can actually analyze.

I look forward to your well-written, thoughtful post responding to this data and analysis.

Stephen Guilbert said...

Soto did you read the post? Read the post. I like your lineup but if you read the post, there's no reason do have Wright #3 with the comment, "Best hitter on the team". If he's the best hitter on the team, you don't bat him third.

Is it not time we try to get as many wins out of this team as possible? You don't do that by failing to optimize a lineup. Like I said above, it's a win (some say two) just by writing the damn card the right way. Against the better teams in the NL, don't you want 1-2 extra wins just by doing stuff like not batting Wright third and not putting OBP nightmares leading off?

Stephen Guilbert said...

I am fine with Murphy leading off if he is .340ish OBP. He actually has done that and done well in his 600+ at bats leading off. I just think Lagares could be even better. If he's not, I agree that Murphy should be the guy. I love Murphy down in that 7 spot though. Like I said, Flores and Murphy would be two of the best 7/8 combos in all of baseball. Think about the days deGrom pitchers--not a single easy out in that lineup.

Christopher Soto said...


I did read the post and I understand the premises that is being presented ....However after watching Wright drive EYJ in about 18 times within the first 21 games of the season. I just cannot bring myself to having a weaker hitter in the #3 hole.

Plus in my opinion, in regards to your optimized line-up....I think Wright is a terrible fit in the 2 hole due to his propensity to K a lot. Even a healthy David Wright strikes out at a near 18.5% clip.

Stephen Guilbert said...

Okay, I understand, but the math does not agree with you.

Reese Kaplan said...

Congrats to Soto for endorsing the very lineup I proposed :)

Reese Kaplan said...

Here's just the first poll I found about Terry Collins -- 26% approve of his performance:


Christopher Soto said...

LOL.....almost to the tee minus flipping Grandy and d'Arnaud.

Lew Rhodes said...

I see TC on a short leash to start the season - if this team is floudering, he gets canned

I think Backman replaces him if that happens - which is the only way Backman gets the job

bob gregory said...

Line-up AND Terry Collins management debate in one post?

Both of these could be debated in detail as very long posts seperately.
I am overwhelmed with the thought of putting them together.

I would like to open the idea that strictly looking at statistics in order to justify a position of a player in a Line-up is limiting, especially if the idea is changing their spot.

The players have compiled their statistics because of where they have already been placed.

They do not take into account the different mind set/approach/comfort a player may have hitting in a different slot. Some slots require more of an aggressive approach while others require more patience. Some slots require a player that thrives on the big moment spotlight. Others favor the player that seems to flourish while the spotlight is shining on someone else.

A player like Flores an example of this. The majority of his MLB stats have been compiled while hitting low in the order or during sporadic playing time.
During his minor league career and most likely his whole life he was "The Man" in the lineup. Hitting in the middle of the order was his home. No matter his WAR, ground ball rate/ flyback rate, etc..... may show, Flores was always known as being "the guy" his team expected to be in the middle of the order and wanted up after others got on base or when a big hit was required (even though he may have been younger).
Hitting in the middle of the lineup is who he was. It is how he saw himself. It was where he felt most comfortable in a sport that is so dependent on a player's inner feeling of comfort to succeed.

Wright is another example. For too long he has been made the apex of the lineup. The main focus offensively. This does not seem to coincide with Wright's personality. Humble, low key, always willing to assist, screams of a supporting bat in the lineup. Wright prospered in his first couple years when he was assisting big bats behind him. He was just plain dominant when he was surrounded by big bats on the USA team during the international competition.
Hitting the past few years as the main offensive focus appeared to drive Wright away from his comfort of just squaring up on the ball and letting his natural talent come through. It appeared he began to "Muscle Up" trying to always hit the ball as hard as possible. His natural ability enabled him to still hit on a major league level, but not as well as his potential.

Pitch selection also changes according to lineup position. Hitting 8th in front of the pitcher a player will most likely see much different pitches on different counts than a player hitting in the middle of the lineup.

To me, Wright could have been a wonderful hitter in the 2nd hole of the lineup if the Wilpons committed to having legitimate 3rd.and 4th place hitters.behind him and leadoff hitter in front of him.

Flores deserved a chance to show what he could have produced in the middle of the lineup during the 2013 & 2014 seasons.

Stephen Guilbert said...

Holy crap am I going to agree with bob gregory on a Mack's Mets article? Man I know it's cold but I didn't think hell was freezing over just yet.

I think your theory about player mentality vis-a-vis where they hit is valid and should be mentioned. A good example of this is Murphy. Over 600 at bats, really nice OBP when he's led off. It's not a huge sample size, but it's enough to make me think he's intentionally and effectively selective leading off. That's why I'm fine with him there if Lagares can't walk more. I like Lagares' OBP and speed potential more than Murphy, but I can be swayed.

As far as Flores, I don't mind him in the 3rd spot in the order either and actually in my first draft of the post that's where I had him. The problem is, though, that with my lineup it would have Cuddyer as the 7th hitter and Murphy as the 8th hitter. That seems like a lot of hitting ability being wasted deep in the order. Let's say for sake of argument that Lagares doesn't learn how to walk more than 5% of his at bats. He's the clear #8 hitter. If so, I'm fine with this lineup:


Anonymous said...

Too many ? At this point, can JLag improve offensively and steal bases? Can Flores hit major league hitting? Is DW of old or of new? Does TDA improve off second half of regress? Does Cuddyer stay healthy or sit plenty? What is Grandy these days?
For better or worse to start and adjust based on actual performance (not statistically deduced)
Optimal? Dunno, but I would bet a dollar that this is what the opening day lineup looks like
Anon Joe F

Stephen Guilbert said...

Joe F,

Terry has already said what his lineup is going to be. Reese hates it, which prompted his post about Collins being a bad manager. Which prompted this post saying that his lineup isn't optimized but no manager optimized and by the way, this is optimized. Or close to it. I'm still struggling with Lagares as a lead off hitter because it just doesn't sit well with me.

I really really dislike hitting Wright third. For so many reasons--not just statistical.

Anonymous said...

I'm not saying it is optimal, just that it is most conventional at this point and any changes will likely be contingent on performance and stubbornness of TC, so it is a matter of not overthinking. I don't recall TC posting his lineup as of yet, only what most expect it to be. So why get so tangled up in unlikely hypotheticals

Stephen Guilbert said...

Right, but the article was about optimizing the lineup, not predicting the conventional order. I think yours will be what it is, though Collins said that Granderson and Murphy will be flipped.


jshapps77 said...

Ned Yost got to the World Series. A baseball manager has next to nothing to do with a teams W-L record.

jshapps77 said...

Really enjoyed the article, btw.

bob gregory said...


I do agree that the manager's in game decisions in the long term have a limited effect on the W-L record.

I have to disagree if anyone views a manager's effect on a team being minimal.

Terry Collins, in my view is an example of a manager that unintentionally greatly affects his players and the team's potential and growth in a negative way.
I understand that I have no idea what occurs in the dugout/locker room/ behind closed doors. I do see too often Collins making decisions that I believe has increased the chances of injury for some players, disrupted a player's "groove" after a strong performance, retarded/stunted/held back a young player's growth.
Continuing to play Wright and other players when they are noticeably hurt negatively affects the team and the player, not only at that time, but also over a longer stretch as the injury lingers or worsens.
Overuse of pitchers is another example that has been most obviously demonstrated in the bullpen. This has extended to starting pitchers as well at times. Just this past year, there were times this questionable decision making included DeGrom. I remember sitting in Citifield watching DeGrom start the game completely dominating. This domination however came at a price as his pitch count inflated due to 3-2 counts demanding more stressful pitches/innings being logged on his arm.
In the 5th inning the 3-2 counts led to walks and too many foul balls. DeGrom fought through the end of the 5th giving up 1 run and battled to strand 2 runners on base. It was obvious DeGrom reached deep in order to persevere without exploding.
It was a.perfect opportunity to have him end his day on a great note. A life lesson in how rewarding hard work/grit/ pushing oneself to overcome in tough circumstances can be. Instead Collins sent DeGrom out to start the 6th. 3 batters into the inning there were men on 1st and 2nd with one out. Those 2 runners scored before DeGrom was finally pulled. DeGrom went from ending the day being proud of himself and his remarkable effort to hanging his head, dejected.
Not all players can overcome these types of experiences as easily as others. Not all can grow positively from them.
Many would try to overthrow in the 6th inning leading to increased injury chance.

Sitting players that have a great game is another example of Collins' poor decisions. Too many times a player would have a great game or demonstrated they are "in the zone" as a hitter only to find themselves riding the bench for the next few days.

Too many young players were "in the zone" hitting in AAA (Campbell, Flores). When called up to the majors they found themselves immediately sitting and sitting and sitting. The excitement of being called up to "the show" because of hard work and outstanding performance was met with a reward of not being able to demonstrate them.


Stephen Guilbert said...

Grrrr Bob you and I finally agreed on something, then this.

There have not been many times in which Collins left a starter in too long. Pitch counts aren't tried and true things. It's not like "pitchers who average 100 pitches or fewer a start are x times less likely to undergo TJS".

The thing that bothers me the most about Terry is playing L/R matchups late in games. I'm tired of seeing someone like Familia pulled for Edgin because a lefty was coming up. First, Familia at this point is the more dominant pitcher. Secondly, Edgin actually fares better against RIGHTIES than lefties. He's one of those reverse split guys.

However, I agree with jshapps77 and it's something i haven't really touched upon--A manager has little influence on a W-L record. Talent has the most and by far.

If you want to go on industry opinion and player comment, it's all been mostly positive about Terry and in some cases overwhelmingly so.

When the team loses, fans find scapegoats. A lot of people on MM and other blogs and websites blame Sandy, which is silly. People here blame Collins, which is just as silly. Fact is that the team has been void of on-field talent for some years now and that is solely responsible for the record.

bob gregory said...

It depends on what you are using as the determining factor in leaving a pitcher in too long.
I agree pitch counts are just a marking post.

Observing the game/pitcher pitch by.pitch and start to start is invaluable. As I mentioned, it is not the individual game's win or loss that I am concerned about. More important is the effect on the pitcher's health/mind set/ development/ lessons learned that Collins affects negatively.
The overall team mindset can be affected as game momentum changes as I mentioned in the DeGrom game reference in the previous comment.

We may use stats to explain what we have observed but players are skilled emotional human beings. They are affected emotionally by their experiences good or bad. Their emotions influence their performance positively or negatively more than numbers.

Stephen Guilbert said...

It's really hard to argue the emotion thing...while i do believe in player psychology in a big way (Pelfrey, Duda are two of my best examples) I also think that natural ability (skill) are the most important. Fact is, this team has had little of it in recent years and I think that TC has probably gotten a bit more out of them than the average MLB manager. It's all opinion, though.

There have been a couple times when I thought TC pulled a pitcher far too early but very few when I thought he was leaving them in too long. Again, pitch restrictions come from the top. If he's told "No more than 110 for Jake today", he takes him out before 110.

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