I have been running a series at my blog where I have been using my simulator and 2014 ZIPS projections to come up with the best lineup for each team. I have just finished with the Pirates. In this exercise the methodology is to use my simulator to find out which lineup wins the most games vs RH and LH pitchers. I do this by making the team of interest the "away" team, playing against a "make believe" team whose stats don't change from one sim to the next. In fact no stats (or input projections) change for either team, the only difference from one simulation to the next is the lineup of the team of interest. For player projections, I am using ZIPs projections which are available on Fangraphs. The lineup results will only be as good as the projections. Keep in mind, the results are not intended to match what a certain teams manager is most likely to do during the season. In fact, I know that many of the results will not happen due to manager philosophies and veteran favoritism but these are the most optimal lineups that the simulator spit out. In some cases the top couple of lineups had very small differences in results. The starting nine players were taken from MLBDepthCharts website.
Pirates 2014 ZIPS Hitting Projections
Best Lineup Simulator
|vs RHP||vs LHP|
|1||RF-Jose Tabata||RF-Jose Tabata|
|2||LF-Starling Marte||LF-Starling Marte|
|3||2B-Neil Walker||2B-Neil Walker|
|4||1B-Gaby Sanchez||1B-Gaby Sanchez|
|5||CF-Andrew McCutchen||CF-Andrew McCutchen|
|6||3B-Pedro Alvarez||3B-Pedro Alvarez|
|7||C-Russell Martin||C-Russell Martin|
|8||SS-Jordy Mercer||SS-Jordy Mercer|
|9||Pitchers Spot||Pitchers Spot|
MLBDepthCharts Projected Lineup
Marte - Mercer - McCutchen - Alvarez - Walker - Martin - Sanchez - Tabata - Pitcher
Skinny: This is only the second time this has happened so far, but the simulator likes the same exact lineup as the most optimal one vs both RH and LH pitchers. There is also quite a bit of difference between the lineup that MLBC thinks the manager will use and the one the simulator thinks is the best. And in this case the simulator thinks there is quite a bit of room for improvement from the MLBC lineup to its most optimal one. In fact against RHP the simulator thinks it saves 0.88 wins per 162 games and 1.1 wins/162g vs LHP. To put this into perspective, I created a putrid lineup (with the pitcher still hitting 9th) and the simulator thinks it saves 1.87 wins/162g vs RHP and 1.39 wins/162g vs LHP. Using the simulators best and the putrid lineups that I created as the best/worst that would put the MLBDC lineup at 47th and 78th percentile of best lineups with 0% being the simulator lineup and 100% being the putrid one.
Jose Tabata: Pundits will say that Tabata doesn't have a long enough resume to hit leadoff but he has the fourth highest projected OBP and the speed to go with it. The simulator likes Tabata hitting leadoff in all scenarios.
Starling Marte: Marte has a little bit more speed than Tabata but he really needs to learn how to draw more walks if he wants to add value as a leadoff hitter. Tabata and Marte make a decent one two punch at the top of the lineup as they both bring speed. Marte has more power than Tabata and makes an obvious choice to hit directly behind not in front of Tabata. Walker: Here is where things start to get a little bit weird. The simulator thinks Walker should bat third not McCutchen. Walker gets on base at a solid clip and can hit the occasional home run. Walker is a decent hitter and should hit in the top half of this lineup but the first two spots are taken by Tabata/Marte and as long as Walker can do his job of not making too many outs he adds value as the third hitter bumping McCutchen down a spot.
Gaby Sanchez: In case you didn't think Walker hitting third was weird then this will likely be where you think things got a little too weird. ZIPS thinks that Sanchez will draw walks at a 10% rate which is very good and the more people on base in front of McCutchen the merrier, no?
Andrew McCutchen: He is by far the best hitter on this team and as the best hitter one would think the simulator would have him batting third or fourth, that is what we've seen from all of the other teams we've looked at lineups at so far. There is no bias built in to these lineup rankings and there is obviously something that the math likes about McCutchen hitting here based on who the other four batters are hitting in front of him and the one batter hitting behind him. McCutchen can drive in a ton of runs here and apparently it makes up for the lesser number of at bats he would get hitting fifth instead of third (36) or fourth (18).
Pedro Alvarez: It seems like every team has their own version or two of Pedro Alvarez in their lineup, you know the guy who creams the ball... that is if he can ever hit it. ZIPS has Alvarez striking out at a whopping 32% clip. When he does make contact, chances are he will be driving in McCutchen. The simulator really likes these two players hitting back to back wherever they are in the lineup.
Russell Martin: Martin gets his share of walks but and gets on base as well as Tabata at the top of the lineup but he just doesn't run well enough to hit in one of the top two spots in the lineup and doesn't hit for enough power to hit third through sixth. Martin fits well as the seventh hitter in the lineup as the last bastion to the two black holes that follow below (Mercer, Pitcher).
Jordy Mercer: There is not much to see here. A low walk rate which leads to a low on base percentage and little to no power and slightly above average speed. There is no way Mercer should hit second in the lineup as long as the regulars are all playing. I know that some managers like to stretch the lineup by putting a weaker hitter second in the lineup but there are much better options - use them.
Disclaimer: My simulator takes into account (but is not limited to) defense, speed, leverage index, park factors, pitchers tiring and weather. The simulator plays "actual" baseball games, with baseball rules (on a microchip not on a baseball field) to come up with these results. It is able to output box scores for hitters and pitchers along with win frequencies for each team.