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Sports How Blue Jays could optimize their batting order based on matchups

18:16  27 february  2020
18:16  27 february  2020 Source:   sportsnet.ca

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But the Blue Jays weren’ t done yet. With two out, McKinney beat out a bleeder to the right side to load the bases for Galvis, and the new Toronto shortstop Tigers centrefielder Mikie Mahtook then bobbled the ball when he finally caught up to it. Two runs were already in but McKinney wanted more and

The Blue Jays employ an elaborate modelling and evaluation system led by player development director Gil Kim in assigning and promoting players. The question will become, if it isn’ t already now, how long can they wait in trying to avoid the pitfalls of bringing a prized prospect up too soon?

a baseball player holding a bat: biggio_1280 © Frank Franklin II/AP biggio_1280

As spring training shifts from “best shape of my life” quotations to actual baseball games, one of the sport’s greatest traditions has returned: the analyzing of lineups.

During Grapefruit League action it’s possible to run out all kinds of bizarre lineups, but the starting nine the Toronto Blue Jays debuted on Saturday looked a lot like what you might expect to see on Opening Day.

Manager Charlie Montoyo has also discussed his lineup a fair bit in Dunedin, and appears to have pretty solid ideas about how he wants to deploy his group, particularly at the top where he favours Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio as his one-two punch.

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Finding the ideal batting order is overrated, but if you're going to do it, do it right. As teams begin to pare down their rosters towards the magical 25 number, spring training conversation will And since he bats with the bases empty more often than the hitters behind him, he should be a high-OBP player.

That small piece of information alone opens the door for criticism. Biggio’s penchant for drawing walks and underrated base-stealing acumen would play perfectly in the leadoff spot, while Bichette projects to draw free bases at a below-average clip and his power is best leveraged in a spot where he’ll have more runners on base.

Scrutiny of Montoyo’s lineup decision-making won’t stop there, though, especially if the Blue Jays win enough that maximizing their day-to-day effectiveness has real consequences. It will continue all summer as a reliable go-to discussion point for fans and media alike.

The difference between whether the Blue Jays become a surprise contender or march through another losing season may not come down to lineup construction, but there are runs to be had by doing it right and they shouldn’t be left on the table.

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The Royals and Blue Jays will get together for Game 3 in Toronto on Monday night. Although most of the sample sizes are small, Dickey has a strong cumulative track record against the Royals, allowing a .226 batting average, a .285 on- base and .396 slugging percentage against players on their roster.

Realistically, this team doesn’t have the components to form an elite lineup, but what’s the best they can do?

To answer that question you first need to acknowledge the difficulty of the task. Pencilling in a lineup is a form of prediction, and predicting baseball is tricky. At any moment an Eric Sogard type could burst onto the scene or a reliable producer could fall into a deep slump.

For example, below is a chart showing the players Montoyo wrote into his lineup on Saturday – and a couple of others who could figure into the Blue Jays plans in 2020. The manager clearly filled out his lineup based on what he saw from his guys in 2019, but a projection system like ZiPs has something very different to say about their fortunes this year.

Player 2019 OPSRank2020 ZiPs OPSRank
Bo Bichette0.9310.8072
Cavan Biggio0.79340.7249
Lourdes Gurriel Jr.0.86930.758
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.0.77260.8461
Rowdy Tellez0.74270.7537
Randal Grichuk0.73880.7773
Teoscar Hernandez0.77850.7715
Derek Fisher0.64790.7546
Danny Jansen0.64100.6910
Travis Shaw0.551120.7714
Reese McGuire0.87220.67311
Brandon Drury0.642110.67112
Anthony Alford0.519130.613

Making a judgement call on just the matter of who your best hitters are is harder than it looks. Shaw, for instance, could be anywhere between one of the Blue Jays best hitters and utterly unplayable. Just about every statistical measure available indicates there isn’t much of a chance of Alford becoming an offensive contributor in 2020, but his athleticism makes him the kind of guy who could conceivably click at any time. A number of these projections are so similar that matchups should be a deciding factor on a daily basis.

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So, in order to try and sort through this mess I took a combination of these players projections, 2019 numbers, career left-right splits, and track record against certain pitch types to take my best stab at the six best lineups the Blue Jays can run out.

The reason there are six is to account for six basic types of matchups: Fastball-heavy right-handers, breaking ball-heavy right handers, offspeed-heavy right-handers and their southpaw counterpoints. This six pitcher type classification is an oversimplification, but no one wants to see a proposed lineup for every single starting pitcher in the American League.

You’ll notice that no utility infielder like Joe Panik is included in any of these lineups, but that’s not because they won’t play. There’s just no statistical argument to made for playing a guy like that over Bichette or Biggio, they’ll just get their reps when one of those two needs a rest.

The lineups below are heavily influenced by the seminal Beyond the Boxscore piece “Optimizing your lineup by the Book” which means that the best hitters inhabit the 1, 2, and 4 spots. In most cases the next best hitter goes at 5, then the 3 hole – a hitter who sees a ton of two out no base runner situations – then 6 on down is in descending order of effectiveness.

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Here we go:

Fastball-Heavy Right-Hander (Example: Lance Lynn)

Biggio 2B

Guerrero Jr. 3B

Grichuk CF

Shaw 1B

Bichette SS

Gurriel LF

Fisher RF

Hernandez DH

Jansen C

Rationale: Biggio is locked at the top of all of these lineups because he posted a walk rate of at least 15.9 percent and OBP topping .360 against both righties and southpaws. Couple that with his 81st percentile sprint speed and you’ve got a leadoff man. Guerrero Jr. has performed best against right-handers, even in the minors, so he gets the coveted two hole.

When he’s going Shaw hurts right-handers so he goes above Bichette, in part as a way to space out the lefties. It might be surprising to see Grichuk that high, but he’s slugged .572 and .612 against right-handed fastballs the last two seasons.

Breaking Ball-Heavy Right-Hander (Example: Shane Bieber)

Biggio 2B

Bichette SS

Shaw 1B

Gurriel Jr. LF

Guerrero Jr. 3B

Hernandez RF

Tellez DH

Grichuk CF

McGuire C

Rationale: Guerrero Jr.’s primary struggles as a rookie came against breaking balls so he drops down to five here. Gurriel Jr. – who was outstanding against them – climbs up into the cleanup spot. McGuire draws in on the off-chance that his .704 career slugging percentage against breaking stuff means anything. Grichuk falls way down the lineup and Hernandez rises to acknowledge their differing strengths, despite their similar offensive profiles.

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Offspeed-Heavy Right-Hander (Example: Zack Greinke)

Biggio 2B

Guerrero Jr. 3B

Shaw 1B

Bichette SS

Gurriel LF

Tellez DH

Hernandez RF

Grichuk CF

McGuire C

Rationale: The big change here is Vladdy moving way up on the strength of his .654 slugging against right-handed offspeed stuff last year. It may not be a big enough sample to trust, but all year long the young third baseman handled changeups and splitters with ease. Fisher’s absence is notable in these two lineups, but almost all his MLB success – such that it is – has come against hard stuff.

Fastball-Heavy Left-Hander (Example: Eduardo Rodriguez)

Biggio 2B

Bichette SS

Grichuk CF

Gurriel Jr. LF

Guerrero Jr. 3B

Hernandez DH

Tellez 1B

Jansen C

Fisher RF

Rationale: The Blue Jays are relatively low on right-handed southpaw killers, but Gurriel Jr. fits the bill with his .928 career OPS against lefties – a major upgrade on his .767 against same-handed pitching. Bichette also showed well against left-handers last year, so those two get the two and four spots. Fisher and Tellez stay in because both have handled lefties fairly well, especially their hard stuff. To be honest, the alternatives aren’t appealing either. Shaw is only useful against righties, and it’s debatable if Drury is playable at all.

Breaking Ball-Heavy Left-Hander (Example: Chris Sale)

Biggio 2B

Bichette SS

Guerrero Jr. DH

Gurriel Jr. 1B

Hernandez LF

Grichuk RF

Drury 3B

Jansen C

Alford CF

Rationale: This lineup is ten-ply soft. The problem is that both Tellez and Fisher, who can hold their own against lefties generally, really struggle against the ball breaking away from them. Tellez hit .137 off that pitch last year and Fisher is baffled by breaking balls overall posting an atrocious 48.7 percent whiff rate against them in his MLB career. That forces Drury and Alford in. The best that can be said for this group is it gets the team’s best defenders into the game.

Offspeed-Heavy Left-Hander (Example: John Means)

Biggio 2B

Guerrero Jr. DH

Hernandez RF

Gurriel Jr. LF

Bichette SS

Grichuk CF

Tellez 1B

Jansen C

Drury 3B

Rationale: Tellez is able to draw back in here, but this still isn’t an encouraging group. These last lineups expose how an offensive upgrade over Drury would do the Blue Jays a world of good against lefties.

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