Optimizing the Diamondbacks Lineup: vs. LHP


The 2015 season is almost here, and I can’t be more excited. Let’s be honest 2014 was a disaster full of injuries and underperformance, but it’s a new season, and when Spring Training gets underway, every team feels like they can win the World Series. That’s what I love about this time of year!

If the Diamondbacks are going to win more games in 2015, they obviously have to stay healthy, but to put it simply, they have to score more runs. A few weeks ago, I talked about how optimizing a batting order using advanced stats can help teams score more, and today I would like to examine what an optimized lineup would look for the Dbacks against righties and lefties.

The idea of an optimized lineup was created by Tom Tango, Michael Licthman, and Andy Dolphin in “The Book.”

Earlier this off-season, I optimized the Dbacks lineup against RHP which you can find here. If the Diamondbacks want to score more, here is how their lineup against left handed pitchers should look with analysis of why. All numbers are courtesy of FanGraphs.

Against LHP:

1. A.J. Pollock

Pollock is the ideal everyday lead-off hitter against both right-handers and left-handers. He hits them both equally well. The Book says that the #1 guy should have a really high OBP. Speed is a plus, but OBP is more important.

For the sake of this post I am going to use wOBA because I think weighted on base average is a better overall representation of the ability to get on base.

Pollock’s career wOBA of .359 against lefties is the third best on the team, and the two players ahead of him shouldn’t be batting lead-off.

Pollock has a ton of speed, and he can create runs on the base-paths. He is the ideal lead-off hitter and should be in the Dbacks lineup everyday.

2. Paul Goldschmidt-1B

As good as Goldschmidt is against right-handed pitching, he is even better against lefties, which might be hard to believe. Goldschmidt’s career wOBA against left-handers is a ridiculous .425, and he has a career slugging percentage against lefties of .599 which is off the charts.

His career wRC+ (which quantifies a players overall offensive value adjusting for park affects) against left-handers is 169 which is 35 points higher than his wRC+ against right-handers.

So your probably asking why isn’t he hitting fourth? His slugging percentage certainly suggests that he should hit in the clean-up role. However, the #2 hole is actually more important. Number two hitters come up to the plate with RISP 44% of the time, and two hole hitters get more plate appearances on average than number 4 hitters.

Just like Pollock, Goldschmidt can hit both left-handers and right-handers equally well, and should obviously be in the starting lineup everyday barring injury which better not happen for the sake of all Diamondbacks fans.

In my opinion, Goldschmidt has surpassed Miguel Cabrera as the best first basemen in baseball. Cabrera might still be the better hitter (and even that is debatable), but Goldschmidt’s overall value in terms of his defense, speed on the base paths, and his plate discipline surpasses Cabrera’s value.

Cabrera is also getting up in age, so his production should decrease. FanGraphs depth charts projects Goldschmidt to have a 5.4 WAR, and Cabrera is projected to have a 4.9 WAR. Cabrera is projected to have a better wOBA (.408), than Goldschmidt (.389). His WAR is higher because of his defense.

3. Aaron Hill-2B

The book says that the #3 hitter should be filled after the more important spots: #1, #2, #4, and #5. Against left-handers Hill has the fifth best wOBA (.338), and the fifth best slugging percentage of (.444), so this spot is perfect for him.

Baseball Musing’s lineup optimization tool has Hill hitting third in most of the lineups. If the Diamondbacks are going win more games in 2015, and take the next step towards competing, then there going to have to get bounce back performances for a number of guys including Hill.

If Hill can stay healthy, play great defense, and drive in between 70-80 RBI’s, the Diamondbacks would certainly take that. Hill is a better player than the numbers that he put up last season. Hill’s wRC+ against left-handers (87) is better than his wRC+ against righties (75) but its not a huge split, so he doesn’t belong in the more important spots in the batting order.

4. Mark Trumbo-RF

According to the Book, the #4 hitter should be a team’s best power hitter, and when he is healthy Trumbo fits that description. In 2013, Trumbo played in 159 games with 34 HR, 1oo RBI’s, and an OPS+ of 109.

In 2012 he played in 144 games and hit 32 HR, and drove in 95 with an OPS+ of 124. Last season he played in just 88 games and hit 14 HR’s, with an OPS+ of 95.

If Trumbo can stay healthy, most people think he can hit between 30-35 HR’s, and drive in between 90-100 RBI’s. The Diamondbacks need him to put up those numbers, and outside of Goldschmidt he is the team’s best power hitter, and Goldy is batting second.

Trumbo’s career wRC+ against lefties (115) is far better than his mark against righties (83), so he knows how to get it done against southpaws. Again, if Trumbo can stay healthy, he should get back to his 2013 form, and for that reason the cleanup spot is the best spot for him.

5. Cody Ross-LF

Ross will make $9 million dollars this year, and for where he is at in his career, that is probably to much money. However, that doesn’t mean he isn’t valuable to this team.

I’m really glad that the Diamondbacks decided to keep Ross around, because he serves one really great purpose: he has mashed lefties throughout his career. In my opinion he should get the majority of starts against LHP, but that probably wont happen. At the very least, he can come off the bench and face a tough lefty, and he will get his share of starts.

Ross’s career wRC+ against left-handed pitching is 141, and his career wOBA is .389 which is second on team only behind Goldschmidt. There are two parts of Ross’s game that many overlook.

First, Ross can hit the ball to all fields. Unlike most hitters in today’s game, he doesn’t rely on pulling the ball, and you cant shift against Ross. When he pulls the ball he has a career .384 average. When he hits the ball the other way he has a .282 average, and when he hits the ball to center he has a career .327 average.

Finally, Ross is at his best when it matters most. His career batting average in high leverage situations is .272 which is better than his average in medium and low leverage situations.

Ross’s value to this team is a lot higher than many people realize.

Spots 6-9 according to the book should go in order of OBP or in this case wOBA.

6. Yasmany Tomas-3B

This spot isn’t going to go by the book. Tomas has a lot of power, and even if he is projected for a low on base percentage, I refuse to put a power bat in the 7th or 8th spot. Tomas needs to be in the middle of the lineup, and the 6th spot suits him best.

Tomas has the chance to hit between 30-35 home runs.

7. Chris Owings-SS

Owings has a career .313 wOBA against left-handers, so the 7th spot suits him well. I also wouldn’t mind seeing him hit 9th, so long as the Diamondbacks don’t have a problem hitting the pitcher eighth.

Owings has speed, and he can wreck havoc on the base paths. If he can be a more consistent hitter in 2015, than he could make a case to hit higher in the batting order. His career 126 wRC+ against left-handers is significantly better.

8. Tuffy Gosewisch-C

I am sticking with the traditional way of doing things for this spot. There has been talk in the analytic community that the pitcher should bat eighth, and a high OBP guy should bat 9th so he can get on base, and then turn the lineup over.

However, if you bat the pitcher in the eighth hole, your giving the starter more plate appearances,  and I am not in favor of giving Josh Collmenter or any other Dbacks starter more plate appearances.

Gosewisch is a bad hitter, and so he should be in the eighth spot. Enough said.

9. Pitcher

The pitcher should bat in the 9 hole. Enough said.

Next: Venom Strikes Podcast Rewind: Positional Battles/James Shields