Friday, June 03, 2011

Maddon's Line Up Madness

No one can argue with Joe Maddon's success over the last three years. Two American League East titles, a World Series appearance and Maddon is considered one of the brightest managers in the game. This writer gets all that. After looking at the box score for last night's loss against the Mariners, it was noticed that the world's hottest hitters, Matt Joyce, was batting second. "Second?" wondered the Fan. Why second? And sure enough, Joyce hit another homer in last night's game but there was nobody to drive in ahead of him. This was just a week after Maddon tried to kick start Evan Longoria by placing him in the lead off position for a couple of games.

This observer has seen so many different Bay Rays' line ups that it just seemed bizarre. So the Fan went on Twitter and asked the open-ended question: Why is Maddon excessively tinkering with the line up? The response was somewhat unsatisfying: "He's always done that." Okay, that explains it. The underlying message in those responses was, "Joe Maddon has been successful. Joe Maddon is a genius and he's always tinkered with the line up." Got it. But does that mean that Maddon gets a pass here?

Doesn't it get to the point where you are trying to be so smart and use match ups to such an nth degree that you end up screwing up the whole thing? Most people like continuity. Most people enjoy consistency and a comfort zone. Wouldn't ballplayers be like most people? Wouldn't it be better for long term viability if hitters knew their roles from game to game instead of so much uncertainty and change? Haven't we heard that pitchers like to know what their roles are? Wouldn't batters be the same as pitchers?

This writer thinks so. Hitting is a lot like golf in that rhythm and flow are important. You have to feel comfortable. A line up is an important part of rhythm. Perhaps the Fan is overstating this. But it makes sense in this corner. Right now, the Bay Rays aren't hitting and they aren't scoring runs. This Fan says set a line up and play it thirty times and see what happens (barring injuries of course).  After careful consideration, this is how Joe Maddon should set his line up and keep it there with some justifications:

  • Lead off: Johnny Damon. Nobody on the team has more lead off experience than Damon. He did it for three quarters of his career. He's stolen six bases in seven attempts, so there is something left in his wheels. His OBP is down, but he can work on getting on base if that's his role.
  • Second: Ben Zobrist. With Zobrist having some pop in his bat, you'd like to bat him in the middle of the order. But those spaces (as we shall see) are filled. Zobrist knows what he is doing at the plate and can handle this position.
  • Third: Evan Longoria: Your best hitter should always bat third. Longoria's numbers are down, but by season's end, he'll be where he belongs.
  • Fourth: Matt Joyce: He's your power guy and is hitting the ball like crazy. It looks like he has arrived as a star in this league. Weak against left-handers though.
  • Fifth: B. J. Upton: Has some power. Strikes out a lot. If runners are on base, he has opportunities. If the pitcher navigates through the first inning with little trouble, Upton is like a lead off hitter for the second inning.
  • Sixth: Casey Kotchman. He's hurt right now but was hot before he was injured. We have a nice left right thing going here. While Kotchman is hurt, slide Sean Rodriguez in here to play second while Zobrist plays first.
  • Seventh: Catcher position. John Jaso and Kelly Shoppach are struggling. Shoppach has always been sort of useless. Get someone else if you can. Hitting the catcher seventh should allow for not clogging the bases when you get back to the top of the order. And there would be continuity no matter who catches.
  • Eighth: Reid Brignac. This Fan still feels like Brignac is going to be a very good shortstop. He has to work it out at the plate and you can only do that in the line up and not on the bench. He's going to be great in the field.
  • Ninth: Left field platoon of Sam Fuld versus right-handers and somebody for left-handed pitching. Not sure Justin Ruggiano is the answer. Fuld and Damon work well back to back as speed on the bases.

There you have it. A defensible line up that seems balanced and can work over the long haul. Mr. Maddon, give it a try and stick with it. After all, you allowed some local officials to pick a line up for you, right?

1 comment:

Jonathan C. Mitchell said...

I actually don't mind the lineup changes. I liked Longoria leading off and Joyce in the 2-hole. My ideal lineup would look a little like this:


I am a big proponent of getting your best hitters the most at-bats and stacking them at the top is a good way to do that. Also would rahter play Rodriguez over Brignac right now especially with all the LH batters at the bottom of the order.