Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Hitting by Lineup Position, 2014

I devoted a whole post to leadoff hitters, whether justified or not, so it's only fair to have a post about hitting by batting order position in general. I certainly consider this piece to be more trivia than sabermetrics, since there’s no analytic content.

The data in this post was taken from Baseball-Reference. The figures are park-adjusted. RC is ERP, including SB and CS, as used in my end of season stat posts. When I started I didn’t have easy access to HB, so they are not included in any of the stats, including OBA. The weights used are constant across lineup positions; there was no attempt to apply specific weights to each position, although they are out there and would certainly make this a little bit more interesting.

This is the sixth consecutive season in which NL #3 hitters were the top producing lineup spot, while AL teams demonstrated more balance between #3 and #4. This is a fairly consistent pattern and the most interesting thing I’ve found from doing this every year. I have no explanation for this phenomenon and suspect that there really is none--the NL has had a run of outstanding hitters who happened to bat third in the lineup (e.g. Pujols, Votto, Braun, Gonzalez). NL hitters were more productive at spots 2-3 and 5-7, while the AL got more production at leadoff, cleanup, #8, and #9 (the latter is a given, of course).

The position that sticks out the most to me is AL #6; even with hit batters included, they managed an OBA of just .300 and outhit only AL #9, NL #8, and NL #9. I’d assume this is a one-year oddity and nothing more; in 2013 they created 4.55 runs, trailing only 3-5 among AL slots.

Next are the team leaders and trailers in RG at each lineup position. The player listed is the one who appeared in the most games in that spot (which can be misleading, particularly when there is no fixed regular as in the case of the Astros #5 spot). Or poor Matt Dominguez, who was perhaps the worst regular hitter in MLB (.215/.253/.330 for 2.6 RG, only Zack Cozart was worse among those with 500 PA), but doesn’t deserve to be blamed for sinking two Houston lineup spots as he had plenty of help in both.

Some random thoughts:

* You can see why Seattle felt they needed Nelson Cruz, with the worst production out of the cleanup spot in the AL.

* Texas #3 hitters were a complete disaster. At 2.54 RG, they managed to outhit only five non-pitcher lineup spots. No #1, #2, #3 (obviously), #4, #5, or #6 spots in the majors were worse.

* Kansas City’s production was oddly distributed. Their #1-3 hitters combined for 3.59 RG (no park adjustment applied in this bullet), their #4-6 for 4.86, and their #7-9 for 3.76. I’ll call that a 3-1-2 pattern of hitting by batting order third (1-3 least productive, 4-6 most productive, 7-9 in the middle). 22 teams exhibited a 1-2-3 pattern; 4 teams a 2-1-3; and 2 teams each with 1-3-2 and 3-1-2. Texas was the other team with a 3-1-2 pattern.

* And then there are the Padres, who take on the role that was filled so well by the Mariners for many years of being the source of ridiculous offensive futility factoids. As you can see, San Diego got the NL’s worst production at four lineup spots, all at the top or middle of the order, but also had the most productive #7 and #8 hitters. In fact, Padre #7 hitters were the most productive of any of their lineup spots. Two teams got their top production from leadoff hitters, six from #2, seventeen from #3, two from #4, two from #5, but only one from #7:

The next list is the ten best positions in terms of runs above average relative to average for their particular league spot (so AL leadoff spots are compared to the AL average leadoff performance, etc.):

And the worst:

The -54 figure for Texas #3 hitters is a big number; I’ve been running this report since 2009 and that is the worst performance by a team batting spot, topping the -53 runs turned in by KC’s Mike Jacobs-led cleanup hitters in 2009. Considering that the AL average RPG in 2014 was 13% lower than in 2009, that one run difference is approximately a full win difference.

The last set of charts show each team’s RG rank within their league at each lineup spot. The top three are bolded and the bottom three displayed in red to provide quick visual identification of excellent and poor production:

If you are interested in digging in yourself, see the spreadsheet here.


  1. I don't know when the trend to start one's best batter at 3rd instead of 4th began, but it hasn't always been this way. I checked the 1960s and in only 2 out of 10 years did the third line-up slot have a better OPS+ than the clean-up slot had.

  2. Interesting--I've never really looked at any historical trends nor have I attempted to suss out what conventional wisdom was at any given point in history.

    One thing I wonder is if the priority for managers has changed over time. For instance, when you write out your lineup card, how do you start--does the best hitter get slotted #3, or does the guy with the most power get slotted #4, etc.? One could envision shifts in the game over time, with some eras in which the best power hitter is more likely to be the most productive overall hitter, and others in which high power might tend to come at an OBA cost.

    In 2014 (obviously one year of data does not a trend make, especially when a handful of extreme players can significantly influence the league totals), the NL #3 hitters have the highest ISO of any lineup spot, but the AL cleanup hitters have the highest ISO but their lower BA makes them less productive overall than #3 hitters.


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