What’s in a Batting Order?

The Batting Order from 1 to 9 Remains Part Art, Part Science.

How many of you deep blue baseball fans have taken the time to try to explain to your kids and other lesser informed members of your household what goes into the arrangement of your favorite baseball club’s batting order and why it often seems to vary from game to game? My guess is that most of you have made the effort and that many of you were understandably glad when the “students” stopped asking questions like “Why don’t the Astros get themselves a player like Albert Pujols? Don’t we need a player who can hit a lot of home runs too?”

In a few words today, let’s cover the ground you probably need to cover in explaining the batting order lineup of any typical National League team. I refuse to even try to logically explain lineups for the American League because of the “designated hitter” rule that alters the whole strategy of how the game is played. I prefer to live in denial, treating NL baseball as the only version of real baseball – and dealing with the DH only during interleague play, the All Star Game in AL cities, and the World Series in AL parks.

I prefer the “Keep It Simple, Stupid” (K.I.S.S.) approach to explaining bating orders – and not because I’m so smart, but because there are so many places to get totally lost on the subject due to individual variances in philosophy from one school of hitting thought to another. (It almost sounds like rocket science, doesn’t it?)

Well, it isn’t always rocket science, so much, but human ego that prompts these differences. The old “my way or the highway” dies a slow death with some people. If I’m a “run and gun” manager, I’m not going to care so much if you can hit 40 homers per season if you strike out too much, if you can’t hit behind the runner, and if you can’t run when you do hit. If I’m a big percentages guy, I may not be too impressed with your .300 batting average either, if it all seems to come as a result of your record against opposite hand throwing pitchers. I will either platoon, bench, or get rid of you before I start you every day for my club. If you are a .300 average right-handed batter who hits only .230 against right-handed pitchers, you’re not likely to start too many games against right-handers, if I have any choices at all.

Here are the three most universal agreements we find in the component sections of most batting orders. For purposes of brevity here, I will use the most popular descriptions I’ve gown up with to describe them:

(1) Table Setters: Batters 1 and 2. These guys have good base-running speed, good batting eyes, high on base percentages, and hopefully good batting averages. They don’t have much long ball power, but they are good at reaching base. The number 2 guy is especially adept at not hitting into double plays. These guys understand their job: Be on base when the long ball hitters come to bat. Table setters are often middle infielders or center fielders on defense because those are the spots on “D” that also most require speed a requisite quality.

(2) Heart of the Order: Batters 3,4, & 5. These are the guys who drive the ball into the gaps and over the wall. The nmber 3 guy is usually the best hitter on the club for average and power. You want him coming up often with men on base and you want him batting 3rd to be certain that he has a shot from the very inning forward, It helps if he can hit behind runners as a situational hitter as well. The number 4 man is a power guy, and maybe the best home run hitter on the club, Number 5 is a good power ad average batter who looms as a punishment for pitchers who try to work around the numbers 3 & 4 hitters. A great # 5 hitter may save the season or career of a powerful #4 guy who has trouble swinging at pitchers out of the strike zone.

(3) The Ice Man, Batter 6. This is the guy who make the difference between winning and losing. You want him to have power, but more so, you want him to back up the #5 guy in much the same way that # 5 braces #.s 3 & 4. In fact, if batters 5 & 6 are both solid, theory says that the 3 & 4 guys are both going to see better pitches to hit. The quality of your “ice man” is the maker or breaker on your presentation of a lineup that resembles “Murderer’s Row.”

(4) The Bottom of the Order, Batters 7, 8, & 9. Sadly, this is the biggest wasteland n baseball. For Astros fans, it was often thought of as the Ausmus/Everett/pitcher dead-zone, the place where your two worst hitters and the pitcher clogged up the 2nd or 3rd inning and killed the opportunity for scoring. What you hope for here is that your two worst hitters are not bad hitters. Some managers (Larry Dierker comes to mind) would sometimes try to deal with unclogging the dead zone by hiding one of the two worst hitters at the top of the lineup to unclog the total blockade at the bottom in every game.

That’s about it from me on this subject. In sixty years of playing, watching, and studying the game, that’s the most common sense I can make out of batting orders and the thinking that goes into putting them together. The one other thought we do have to keep in mind is that these batting orders are only guaranteed to be in place once in every game – and that’s in the first inning. After that, the set-up/back-up plan is only in effect once another inning starts with the top of the batting order. The thing that does remain constant is the way your lineup backs up each hitter as best you are able with other batters who may punish pitchers for attempting to pitch around your best guys. The better your guys are, the better your batting order works, no matter where they are hitting in the plan for attack.

Happy early feel of spring Saturday, everybody. Baseball season gets closer to us by the day.

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4 Responses to “What’s in a Batting Order?”

  1. David Munger Says:

    My biggest gripe is around the 5th inninig, when the “Specialists” appear.
    A one out pitcher who is “Unhittable” against a lefthand hitter or the big
    Righty who struck this guy out in Little League. Your logic is simple Bill,
    it has been the thought process for years. Let these guys play ball and
    the heck with the computers……….Play Ball……..

  2. gary Says:

    There are some flaws in the traditional approach to batting order. First, you don’t want your best hitter hitting third because he will too often come up with 2 out and nobody on. So in that slot it’s better to have a guy with good power but not a great OBP. The number 4 hitter should be your best hitter in terms of OBP and SLG. The number 5 guy should actually be a better hitter than the number 3 guy because he will get better RBI opps than the number 3 guy.

    Another mistake made by traditional orders is the lack of power in the 2 slot. Having a guy with some pop there is very useful and more important than having a low strikeout/contact hitter with no power. By power I don’t necessarily mean a lot of homers – a lot of doubles will work too.

    Interestingly enough, as much as baseball fans talk about this, it does not matter that much.

    For more, see –
    http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2009/3/17/795946/optimizing-your-lineup-by

  3. Bill McCurdy Says:

    Gary:

    You’re right. It doesn’t matter much. Once you get past the first inning, we may never see that order again.

    I’m familiar with the arguments you make for having the best hitter bat 4th, but these are countered by the obvious: (1) If the best guy hits 3rd, he at least has a chance of coming up with men on base in the 1st; and (2) If he bats 4th, he may come up as the lead-off man in the 2nd.

    I agree with the idea of having more power in the #2 hole, as long as he’s a guy who can hit behind runners too and not be a big double play candidate.

    In the end, these choices would all be a lot more important if you got to make up a new lineup for every fresh time at bat. Of course, if that were in the rules, people like Brad Ausmus and Adam Everett would end up with maybe 10 career “at bats” – if they were lucky. 🙂

  4. garden Says:

    garden…

    […]What’s in a Batting Order? « The Pecan Park Eagle[…]…

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