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4 Ways To Optimize Your Batting Order

Baseball lineup cardHere are four tips for making sure that your batting order is designed to maximize your offensive potential. An optimal batting lineup can help add about 1 run every 10 games. Is it a huge deal? No. But ever edge matters.

While lineup optimization is a complex topic (with varying opinions), the tips listed below are all relatively undisputed by the stats community at-large.

1. Hit your best hitters early, and therefore often

You want your four best hitters all hitting in the top four lineup spots to maximize the number of at-bats they see across the entire season. This may seem like common sense, but you'd be surprised at how many teams we see hitting a light hitting speedster who can't get on base leadoff or in the #2 hole. Scan the list of Major League leaders in at-bats and you find mostly hitters that hit leadoff. If I told you I could give your best hitters 5-15 more at-bats in a season, wouldn’t you jump at the opportunity?

2. Speed at the top of the order is important. But way less important than getting on base

Wade Boggs is the example everyone gives for a slow leadoff hitter. And he was one of the best. You want to set the table for your best hitters right? Well, part of setting the table is being on base. Players that walk a lot are better at the top of the order than players who do not, but can steal bases. Plus, you’re best hitters are coming up anyway, who will have the power to move anyone over. Speed is overrated at the top.

3. When you can, alternate lefties and righties

This is less important at the youth level, but much more important in High School and College. In general, lefties hit righties better, and righties hit lefties better. What you want to do is eliminate the potential for the opposing team to bring in a reliever that has the handedness advantage over a lot of hitters in a row. However, be careful. This should be used to tweak the rules above, not break them.

4. Hit your best hitter third in the order*

Not cleanup. Not first (even though I hinted as much at the top). The reason for this is that this position has the best chance of hitting with runners on base and in clutch situations. Hitting first leaves you with the bases empty in the first inning, and behind the bottom of the order in the later innings. Hitting cleanup means you might be leading off the 2nd, and you’re sacrificing at-bats. Third? You’ll hit often, with runners on base, and often with the game on the line.

*There's a real argument to be made for hitting your best hitter second, but generally only takes into account OBP and not power.

These rules are not set in stone. Obviously, you will have to cater to the skills of your specific team. But the old logic of lineups (speed hitter leads off, 2-hole is someone who can bunt, cleanup is your best power hitter) has been proven dead wrong.

(Sources: Matt Klaassen, Manny Acta & Mike Chernoff, and the rest of the folks at FanGraphs. The Book has also contributed heavily on this subject.)

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