And so it begins…players haven’t even yet reported to Spring Training and the first game hasn’t even begun, yet the second guessing season is in midsummer night’s form. The manager, before even seeing some of his players in uniform, has already proclaimed his preferred starting lineup and it’s surely open to evaluation.
There's are lots of schools of thought on how to construct a lineup. The conventional wisdom has your high OBP hitters up early, then your run producers and best all around hitters, followed by whomever remains. Another variation is to set your best hitters towards the top of the lineup so they will get to the plate more often. Finally there are the left/right considerations that go into these decisions as well.
Here is what Terry Collins has decided will work best:
Granderson batting leadoff was a given. He delivered (by Mets standards anyway) a high on base percentage and thrived in that role last year. Yes, he strikes out too much and his batting average is somewhat Tejada-like, but between the baserunning speed and power he’s acceptable. More importantly, he’s been doing that job for most of the two years he’s been here and the manager is not a big advocate of trying anything new.
David Wright batting second is curious. Long gone are his days as a potential Hall of Fame slugger. Nowadays you look for doubles up the gaps and some decent baserunning ability. Unfortunately, just like the guy batting ahead of him, he whiffs way too much for this role. Remember, he’s replacing a guy who was one of the toughest in the league to strike out. What he does bring to the table is the best OBP of anyone in the lineup. I guess the thinking here is that the first two guys can set the table for the RBI producers who follow them.
Many people advocated putting Michael Conforto in the third spot in the order as he has the potential to hit for both average and power (like David Wright back in the Shea days). However, rookies must know their place in a Collins lineup and the thinking probably is that it’s too much pressure on a newcomer to assume this role so early in his career. Consequently the newly reacquired $27.5 million dollar man, Yoenis Cespedes, gets the nod. As a veteran of the big leagues with a lot more success on his resume, you can see the logic. However, it puts back-to-back right handers in the lineup where a Conforto/Cespedes/Duda combo would allow you to make it more difficult for opposing managers to stage ideal relief pitching scenarios. The saving grace could be Cespedes’ reverse platoon splits which have him performing at a better rate against righties than lefties.
I don’t know in what universe Lucas Duda is the more prototypical cleanup hitter than Yoenis Cespedes, but then I’m not paid the big bucks like Terry Collins is to make these decisions. You have a 35 HR guy with 105 RBIs vs. a 27 HR guy with 73 RBIs. Yeah, let’s pick the one who produces less and has an inferior batting average to boot. Don’t’ get me wrong. I’d love for Duda to return to his 2014 production (which still falls short of Yoenis Cespedes) but there’s no guarantee it’s happening. (And to be fair, there’s no guarantee Cespedes will duplicate his 2015 output either).
Next comes Neil Walker, a nice player with a little more pop than Daniel Murphy, but not exactly RBI gold. By virtue of having missed a great many games in his career, though his career high is 83 RBIs, baseballreference.com actually pegs him to average 18 HRs and 81 RBIs per 162 games. Some feel he’s got something of a chip on his shoulder having been abandoned by the only organization he’d ever called home and he’s going into his walk year. Consequently he might hit or exceed that 162 game average. He’s more dominant left handed than right, so essentially you once again have back-to-back same-side hitters after Duda.
Next comes the aforementioned Michael Conforto. The young lefty should be solid though perhaps not quite at the level many predict for him. Still, if you very conservatively tripled his 174 AB major league debut he’d have 27 HRs and 78 RBIs while batting .270. The power alone would suggest he belongs ahead of Walker.
Travis d’Arnaud is hitting 7th in this announced lineup. Yes, we know he’s had trouble staying on the field, but last year he demonstrated what he can do with the bat when he’s there – 12 HRs and 43 RBIs in just 239 ABs. Double that for some conservative projections and it’s 24 HRs and 86 RBIs while hitting .268.
Protecting the pitcher is one Asdrubal Cabrera, a guy who hit fewer home runs, knocked in fewer runs and hit for roughly the same average as the guy he’s replacing, Wilmer Flores. While he’s several steps better than Ruben Tejada, he’d better be some kind of a magician with the glove to make up for the $5.5 million salary differential with the incumbent. Perhaps part of the thinking of the second year was to hedge bets against a regression to form by Gavin Cecchini or a departure by Neil Walker.
My take on the lineup would be as follows:
I’d still have the two switch hitters back-to-back at the bottom of the order but it’s broken up the first six spots into L/R/L/R/L/R alignment. In addition, it puts the top power producers in better positions to help the ballclub.
What is your take?