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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Fun with lineups

Like it or not, this year's Royals will be doing plenty of platooning.

Seems like most baseball fans don't care for the idea. "Pick a lineup and stick with it" is the prevailing attitude of the anti-platoon curmudgeons.

Some of the greatest managers in baseball history were habitual platooners, to coin a word. Casey Stengel, Whitey Herzog and Earl Weaver, among others, all used platoons liberally to maximize the talent at their disposal.

In recent years, the burgeoning importance of bullpen usage has led to the near-extinction of pure platooning. Whereas teams once carried nine or 10 pitchers on the roster, they now carry 11 or 12. The shorter benches mean versatility is now valued over platoon advantage when choosing reserves.

Nevertheless, the construction of the Royals' 2005 roster mandates a certain amount of platooning.

What's interesting is that not only are the Royals' two primary lineups split by lefty-righty considerations, there is also a split between the defensive ability of the two lineups. The lineup against lefties is considerably stronger on defense.

So which lineup is stronger overall?

Our tool for addressing this question is the PROFITS system. PROFITS is a team forecasting tool that combines the hitting, pitching and fielding profiles of a team to project its won-lost record.

The Royals' primary lineups were plugged into the PROFITS model. A league-average pitching staff was plugged in behind them. It was assumed that each lineup would play every inning of every game. The players' projected percentages were not degraded by the effects of the heavy usage.

Also, just for fun, PROFITS recalled Ken Harvey from Omaha to serve as an additional platoon player. If the Royals decide to cut back to an 11-man pitching staff, this might happen at some point anyway.

The righty lineup projects to score 56 more runs than the lefty lineup. That's quite a few runs - roughly worth 5 1/2 wins.

The righty lineup is stronger at the plate at designated hitter-first base (Calvin Pickering over Harvey), second base (Ruben Gotay over Tony Graffanino) and right field (Matt Stairs over Emil Brown).

The lefty lineup makes up ground at each of those positions defensively. Harvey plays first base and pushes Mike Sweeney to DH. Graffanino gets a substantial edge defensively over Gotay, as does Brown over Stairs in right field.

Overall, the Royals' lefty lineup projects to save 35 runs more on defense than its righty lineup counterparts. The net advantage of the righties is 21 runs, or about two wins.

So the righty lineup looks better, but, really, it's pretty close.

There is a special case in left field. Eli Marrero projects better offensively than Terrence Long, and the two are a virtual wash with the glove. It's the only position where the player in the lefty lineup projects better offensively than his righty counterpart.

Keep in mind that the projections were based on how players are likely to be deployed. Marrero's numbers project well because he is likely to be used mostly against left-handed pitchers. If he were to play against all pitchers, his production would be degraded. This, of course, is the beauty, and the justification, of platooning.

We've learned a couple of lessons from this exercise.

First of all, when the Royals are facing a right-handed pitcher, expect a few more runs to be scored. Also, when a righty is on the mound, the Royals have a slightly better chance to win.

Now, to swap that 12th pitcher for Ken Harvey...

Here is a look at how the Royals' two primary lineups project to do if they played every inning of every game with a league-average pitching staff behind them:

vs. RHPPos.vs. LHP


Blogger Sal Montell said...

Of course, Bradford, this assumes the Royals actually take advantage of the platoon split, as opposed to having Emil Brown bat 5th against Ryan Franklin while leaving Pickering on the bench.

9:22 AM  
Blogger Bradford Doolittle said...

This article assumed alot. After all the agonizing over Pickering's quest to make the roster, he plays in 3 of the first 7 games - and he's healthy. Argghhh.

9:47 AM  

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