Longo/Ramirez or Ramirez/Longo?

Roger Mooney of TBO had a story yesterday that addressed the batting order in a few places yesterday. Several quotes jumped out to me:

As for batting in front of Ramirez, Longoria said it doesn’t matter. “Of course I’d like to have him hit behind me,” Longoria said. “If he does, the likelihood of whoever is hitting in front of whoever is going to see a lot better pitches. So, of course, I’d like to have him hit behind me, but we all know how Joe (Maddon) is. You never know what you’re going to get until you get to the game.”

Maddon also said he’s leaning toward batting Longoria third and Ramirez fourth

Last month, R.J. Anderson covered the process of hitting Longoria fourth in the lineup. A few sentences from that piece stand out from the rest of the story as it helps clear up some common fallacies about hitting your best hitter third or fourth in a lineup:

While batting third, Longoria comes up to empty bases 54% of the time and two outs roughly 50% of the time while always batting in the first. Batting fourth, those percentages shift to 7.2% and 59% while batting in the first less often. Runners are in scoring position only 24.4% of the time when Longoria comes up while batting third, whereas they are in scoring position 59.1% of the time he comes up when batting cleanup. In more concise terms: Longoria may bat less in the first inning while hitting cleanup, yet when he does bat in the first, those at-bats will hold more meaning and should leverage his skill set better.

Teams in baseball do it both ways. Drunky, err, Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols are arguably two of the best hitters in all of baseball. Tony LaRussa has hit Pujols third for most of his career while Cabrera hit in the clean-up spot 150 times for the Tigers last season.

Longoria said it best that you never really know what Maddon is going to do until you get to the ballpark but the data Anderson pointed out is undoubtedly data that Maddon and the guys behind the curtain at 1 Tropicana Drive in St. Petersburg (you’re welcome, Mayor Foster) understand. If we know anything at this point, it is that the decisions Maddon makes on the field are data driven rather than gut drive and all of his tinkering and machinations have a purpose.

Statistically, Manny Ramirez does not care where he hits in the lineup. Here are his splits while hitting out of the third spot and fourth spot in the lineup:

  • hitting 3rd: .311/.412/.600 in 1275 plate appearances
  • hitting 4th: .320/.420/.602 in 6293 plate appearances

There is very little difference between his slash lines out of the spot but he clearly has a tremendous body of work in hitting clean-up as a player that has been in baseball for 18 seasons now and is most often the best hitter on his team. Longoria, meanwhile, does show a difference statistically in those two spots in the lineup:

  • hitting 3rd: .270/.363/.477 in 940 plate appearances
  • hitting 4th: .303/.361/.561 in 512 plate appearances

Neither sample size is large enough to draw definitive conclusions for Longoria, but an 84 point difference in his slugging percentage is quite noticeable.

Overall, there is not a huge difference statistically but if Longoria were to hit fourth, the statistical supporting evidence is there. From a pure baseball stance, the reason for hitting Longoria third likely comes down to the basepaths. Over the past three seasons, Longoria has hit into 50 double plays while Ramirez has hit into 30. If Longoria is hitting third, Maddon can put him into motion with Ramirez at the plate either in straight steal situations or hit and runs to avoid the double play.

If Longoria is hitting fourth, there is not much Maddon can do with Manny to avoid staying out of the double play as he is not that fleet of foot and there is no guarantee Manny can score from first base on a Longoria double. Conversely, there is little doubt Longoria can score from first on a Ramirez double and he is still a stolen base threat for the team and having Ramirez in front of him hinder those opportunities.

The statistics are there to support both arguments, but the logistics of baseball are likely the driving factor in this roster decision for Joe Maddon.


About Jason Collette

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10 Responses to Longo/Ramirez or Ramirez/Longo?

  1. raysprof says:

    Greetings Jason – glad you provided a link on the BP site.

    You raise an interesting issue that you claim with certainty, but I have not seen confirmed. Specifically, that Maddon’s decisions are data driven not gut driven. While I would like to believe this, there seems to be evidence that could be used to argue against it. For example, Maddon runs like crazy and yet I have seen studies which suggest the team would score more runs if he were less aggressive on the basepaths. Now that was for 2008 and 2009, and certainly in 2010 it looks like the teams BRR was positive, but his choices appear to be against common statistically driven arguments. Can you provide some sources that I can use in arguments at other blog sites?

    A second question came to me: do you know if Maddon really wants an assigned closer or does he adopt the data driven view that closers aren’t special and one should use the best reliever at key points of the game, regardless of the inning number (or save condition)?

    • Glad you made it over 🙂

      I would point to Maddon’s loading the lineup vs Danks with all lefties and the lineup vs Marcum with nearly all righties as two strong examples of data-driven decision making. One of the shames of not living locally are fans do not get to hear his pre-game chats on the radio with the radio team as he outlines a lot of his thought processes in lineups, defensive shifts, and what not.

      Stolen bases are definitely considered risky because you’re giving up an out 25-30% of the time, but taking the extra base is not risky and it is a way the Rays made up for their offensive inefficiencies in both batting average and power from last season.

      Here is one example that I wrote during the ALDS last season and here is one that R.J. Anderson (also at BP) wrote on his blog and his ending to that post is one of my all-time favorites.

      As far as the closer goes, Maddon is a strong believer in leverage and using people in the right situations. He was lucky enough to have both Benoit and Balfour last season and did not really need to get to Soriano before the 9th too often last year but if you look back at 2008 and 2009, you see examples of him using pitchers based on leverage rather than “the book.”

      • raysprof says:

        A few comments:
        With a zeroth order approximation, I fail to see how taking an extra base is inherently less risky than a stolen base. Both place the runner off the base. Can you point to a study that shows risky running increases runs? Memory serves that one of the BP studies looked at 3rd base coaches who kill rallies with reckless running decisions.

        Next – thanks for the links. I think your piece was more convincing, the other relied too heavily on implication. However, neither completely satisfied me. I am hoping that at some point Maddon will say something like, “I look at the information I possess, make analytical comparisons, and make a decision that will more likely lead to success. ” (But I’m not betting my house on it.)

        Finally, your analysis of Maddon’s choices are similar to mine – particularly in 2008 (Balfour) and 2009. In some ways, Benoit should have been anointed the “chosen closer”, but Maddon didn’t need to.

      • raysprof says:

        I’ll take it back – I think you may have included enough for me. Maddon says: “There is something to back it up. If I say, ‘I just feel like if you did this, we might be better off,’ that does not carry as much weight. All of these things matter, if you are willing to use them….We mock what we do not understand.”

        Sorry – I read over that the first time.

      • No worries. Maddon is often mocked in this area, practically on a daily basis.

  2. Maddon said what you are looking for in a BP interview a few years ago. That process is still in place.

    Does this read on baserunning help? If not, the conclusions reached by Carleton back in February 2010 at BP should do the job.

  3. raysprof says:

    Holy cow! What a joy it is to find intelligent arguments on a subject I enjoy.

    Thanks for the link to the Maddon interview at BP – Can’t believe I missed it. It would be fascinating to hear him answer similar questions after 5 years of managing.

    • Maddon is a fascinating cat to listen to. I got to meet him at the winter meetings this year and chat briefly; I’m looking forward to hearing more direct quotes from him this year when I cover the team live throughout the season.

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