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Where to Bat your Best Hitter

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Offline  Where to Bat your Best Hitter
#1

Posted: November 02, 2019, 12:33 AM Post
Posts: 791
Location: Washburn, WI
I know there has been a lot of debate over the years about where to place the best hitter in your lineup. There was some discussion about it on MLB Network during the regular season where they presented this information and I figured it would be a good conversation to have here.

Below is a list of how many plate appearances there were in total from each spot in the order during the 2018 season.

Lineup Spot: Total PA/30: PA
1. 22,629: 754.3
2. 22,131: 737.7
3. 21,610: 720.3
4. 21,123: 704.1
5. 20,642: 688.1
6. 20,105: 670.2
7. 19,534: 651.1
8. 18,966: 632.2
9. 18,387: 612.9

Now, this next bit of information is based off of what an AVERAGE hitter during the season had for an OBP, which was .320. The below information is presented with your best hitter hitting second.

(1) Hitter A = .320 OBP
(2) Hitter X = Best Hitter

32% chance Hitter X hits with Hitter A on base.
68% chance Hitter X hits with bases empty.

Over the course of the season, Hitter X (best hitter) would have 52 plate appearances during the season with a runner on base in the first inning.

Now, the next bit of information is also based off of what an average hitter had for an OBP, but the information is presented with your best hitter hitting third.

(1) Hitter A = .320 OBP
(2) Hitter B = .320 OBP
(3) Hitter X = Best Hitter

43% chance Hitter X hits with Hitter A OR B on base.
10% chance Hitter X hits with both Hitter A AND B on base.

Over the course of the season, Hitter X (best hitter) would have 70 plate appearances with one runner on base in the first inning plus 16 plate appearances with two runners on base in the first inning = 86 PA with at least one runner on base in the first inning. An increase of 34(!) plate appearances over the course of the season with at least one runner on base in the first inning by hitting 3rd instead of 2nd

Finally, the RBI totals among some of the best in the game through August 31st of this season relative to where they bat in the order.

Through August 31st

RBI: PA w/ runners on: Primary Batting Position
Josh Bell: 109: 292: 4th
Freddie Freeman: 109: 281: 3rd
Anthony Rendon: 109: 283: 3rd
José Abreu: 104: 301: 3rd
Cody Bellinger: 101: 296: 4th
Pete Alonso: 101: 278: 2nd
Mike Trout: 101: 254: 2nd
Christian Yelich: 89: 238: 2nd

Based on this information, I think it would make the most sense to have Yelich hitting 3rd. The increase of 34(!) plate appearances over the course of the season with at least one runner on base in the first inning alone by hitting 3rd instead of 2nd is HUGE. Especially in the first inning when most pitchers tend to have control issues and are trying to get a feel for their pitches early on.

You could even make a case for dropping Yelich to 4th, but dropping him from 2nd to 4th would drop his plate appearances by roughly 34 over the course of the season by doing so. I think dropping him from 2nd to 3rd and lowering his plate appearances by roughly 17 is okay since there would be a significant increase in opportunities to do damage in the first inning.

Also, keep in mind that the numbers posted above for plate appearances with runners on base is based off of a hitter with a .320 OBP. Get a couple guys like Grandal and Hiura in front of him with OBP’s over .350 and there would be an even higher amount of plate appearances with runners on base in the first inning.

Hopefully Cain has a nice bounce back season and can be the leadoff hitter of 2018, Hiura continues to produce and is in the two hole, and Yelich can get bumped down to third to get more opportunities to drive in runs to get early leads in games for our pitching staff.


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Offline  Re: Where to Bat your Best Hitter
#2

Posted: November 02, 2019, 3:39 AM Post
Posts: 1013
The answer to the question of where to bat your best hitter shouldn't be "Where does our best hitter get the most RBIs?". That's one part of it, but the problem with the analysis above is that it ignores the on base ability of the best hitter and the RBI opportunities it creates for others. Yelich is both the best hitter for batting in runs as well as the best at getting on base for others. So he's simultaneously the best leadoff man and the best cleanup hitter.

So it's the balance between maximizing the RBI opportunities overall, or getting fewer overall but trying to get them at more opportune times. The former is important because this is not a zero-sum game; Yelich leading off will result in the team having the most baserunners (as in hits + walks mostly) and thus the most opportunities for RBIs overall. It will of course also mean benefitting less from his power, and seeing him have fewer of them. For every spot you move him down the order, the team as a whole will have fewer baserunners and fewer RBI opportunities.

Where to bat your best hitter also depends very much on who'd be in front of him, both their quality and their profile. If your second and third best hitters were of the Grandal variety (As in deriving their overall high value largely from walks and HRs rather than singles and doubles) i would make sense to put them in front of a Yelich and have him 3rd. But consider a situation where your 2nd and 3rd best hitters are instead of the Moustakas or Javy Baez variety (i.e low OBP but high slugging) you'd want them behind, and not in front of, a Yelich. So if you in that situation wanted high OBP guys at #1 and #2, they'd be worse overall hitters and you'd not only have to factor in that Yelich gets 17 fewer PAs, but that if the guy you're now batting leadoff is someone like 2017 Eric Sogard (An excellent .393 OBP, but a 109 wRC+ which would rank 7th on the 2019 Brewers) you'd be giving him 102 more PAs by moving him from #7 to #1, and giving not only Yelich but everyone else better than that 109 wRC+ 17 fewer PAs each. Yeah, Yelich gets more RBI opportunities, but does the team score more runs because of it? That's harder to answer.

Then there's also the fact that not every baserunner is created equal. Looking for example at Fangraphs UBR metric (Which is baserunning, as in going 1st to 3rd on singles or 1st to home on doubles etc, not including stolen bases which is separate) Yelich was worth 8 runs more than Grandal as a baserunner. 13.5 runs more if we include SBs. Whether the size of the differentiial is 100% right or not, the eye test wouldn't disagree that Yelich was the far more valuable baserunner. Now I didn't mind moving Grandal up because I still think that was the best fit, but one still needs to take Yelich's ability to manufacture runs on the basepaths into accoun; you're more likely to score a run with Yelich on base than with almost anyone else. Which ties into another reason to emphasize the OBP ability of great hitters like Yelich: You need a successful outcome of a plate appearance to get on base, but you don't need a successful outcome to drive one in. Now a run scoring *is* of course successful in and of itself, but what I mean is that there is no such thing as a productive out with nobody on. Whereas even a GIDP can score a run.

Most of all I'd argue that whether Yelich bats 2nd or 3rd (I don't really see a case for putting him anywhere else) overall makes very little difference. Bat him 3rd and he gets a few more RBIs, bat him 2nd and he scores a few more runs (i.e others get more RBIs). But to settle that argument, one needs to look at a lot more than just RBI opportunities for one player.


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Offline  Re: Where to Bat your Best Hitter
#3

Posted: November 02, 2019, 8:10 AM Post
Posts: 1779
Location: Madison, WI
Yelich should be hitting in the #2 spot, and the pitcher should be hitting in the #8 spot so there is a higher OBP in the lineup that is 2 spots ahead of Yelich for the majority of his at-bats.

I think this has firmly been established by pretty much every mathematical model that has had 50+ years of seasonal data plugged into it. High OBP guy lead off, stack the best hitters directly after him, and then put another hitter in the 9 spot to get more RBI opportunities for the guys in the #2 and #3 spots in the batting order.

I'm pretty astounded that the Brewers are so data driven, can sit there and look at Yelich's 44 home run and 97 RBI ratio, and think it's a good idea to continue to bat him two spots behind a .164 OBP (Brewer pitcher's OBP according to Fangraphs).


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Offline  Re: Where to Bat your Best Hitter
#4

Posted: November 02, 2019, 8:58 AM Post
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Ok, then where do you hide a crappy hitter like Arcia?

Can't hit him 9th, he doesn't fit the above mentioned requirement.

Can't hit him 8th, that is the pitcher's spot.

Under what is said above, he would have to hit 7th? I understand what is being said, I just don't have an answer for where you hide a guy like Arcia, because we certainly don't want him getting more at bats in the course of a season, and the higher he moves up in the order, the more at bats he gets. Same thing with Pina, where do we hide him? Hit Pina 6th and Arcia 7th?

Geez.

This just tells me that we can no longer afford to wait on this guy, we need a bat at SS, and we need to resign Grandal.

"I'm sick of runnin' from these wimps!" Ajax - The WARRIORS


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Offline  Re: Where to Bat your Best Hitter
#5

Posted: November 02, 2019, 9:11 AM Post
Posts: 12156
Most mathematical models I see on this simply look on how to make your best hitter as productive as possible. That isn’t the goal, they goal is making the most productive lineup. Giving the pitcher more ABs (or crappy pinch hitters), Arcia more ABs, and dropping a productive OBP machine to 9th is NOT the answer. Why is he batting 9th? Just bat him lead off and drop Yelich to 3rd! He losses a grand ole 17 PAs then...while the pitcher/PH gets 20 less and Arcia gets nearly 20 less. Don’t forget the productive OBP you dropped to 9th now gets about 130 more.

I don’t know the exact answer (probably not a right one), but that theory is certainly not it.


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Offline  Re: Where to Bat your Best Hitter
#6

Posted: November 02, 2019, 10:01 AM Post
Posts: 791
Location: Washburn, WI
MrTPlush said:
Most mathematical models I see on this simply look on how to make your best hitter as productive as possible. That isn’t the goal, they goal is making the most productive lineup. Giving the pitcher more ABs (or crappy pinch hitters), Arcia more ABs, and dropping a productive OBP machine to 9th is NOT the answer. Why is he batting 9th? Just bat him lead off and drop Yelich to 3rd! He losses a grand ole 17 PAs then...while the pitcher/PH gets 20 less and Arcia gets nearly 20 less. Don’t forget the productive OBP you dropped to 9th now gets about 130 more.

I don’t know the exact answer (probably not a right one), but that theory is certainly not it.


Exactly this. Third just makes the most sense. Why someone would want to take 130 at bats away from a high OBP guy sounds counter productive.

Lathund, I can see your point about having Yelich third and giving other guys the opportunity to drive him in. And to a point, I can agree that RBI isn’t the only stat to look at. But since Yelich is clearly the best hitter on the team, wouldn’t it make sense to have him bat third and drive in more runs since the goal is to score more than your opponent? And he definitely has the highest chance of doing that successfully on the team?

If you put Yelich second then and want others to drive him in, who are you putting behind him? I have way more faith in Yelich driving in guys like Grandal and Hiura with their high OBP’s than to have Moose (.252/.310 career), Grandal (.241/.348 career), or Braun (hit .285 last season, OBP of .343) hitting after Yelich and hoping to drive him in. Now you should probably look for a guy with a high average to drive Yelich in. Obviously average is not an end all be all stat, but if Yelich is on base and we are talking about someone being a serious threat to protect him, then it probably shouldn’t be a low average guy that walks quite a bit like Grandal since that’s not driving in runs either. Again, RBI isn’t the only stat to look at, but a guy hitting .330 is going to lead to more runs being driven in with higher on base guys in front of him than a .285 or .252 hitter following a very high OBP guy himself.

RBI is a stat that people tend to throw out the window these days, but how many runs you are driving in for your team and winning games by doing so shouldn’t be overlooked. 44 homers and only 97 RBI? The next closest guys on the team in RBI were Moustakas (87), Grandal (77), and Braun (75). If Yelich is on base so much, why aren’t the RBI totals higher for these guys since they were the guys hitting after Yelich most of the season?

To me, it makes no sense to have your best hitter second and expecting inferior players to drive him in and have that be the way the offense is constructed. Having guys that walk a lot and get on base to get your .330 hitter up who also has 40 homers himself and putting him third to drive in the guys in front of him makes much more sense to me. With all the analytics there are these days, people tend to look over average and RBI. Higher average is from a player hitting the ball and reaching base safely. Which would increase the amount of RBI since you’re driving the ball and reaching base safely, getting on base a lot yourself for the next hitter to drive you in, leading to possibly more runs scoring after your best hitter just drove in a run or two, giving you a better chance to win the game.


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Offline  Re: Where to Bat your Best Hitter
#7

Posted: November 02, 2019, 10:09 AM Post
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MrTPlush said:
Most mathematical models I see on this simply look on how to make your best hitter as productive as possible. That isn’t the goal, they goal is making the most productive lineup. Giving the pitcher more ABs (or crappy pinch hitters), Arcia more ABs, and dropping a productive OBP machine to 9th is NOT the answer. Why is he batting 9th? Just bat him lead off and drop Yelich to 3rd! He losses a grand ole 17 PAs then...while the pitcher/PH gets 20 less and Arcia gets nearly 20 less. Don’t forget the productive OBP you dropped to 9th now gets about 130 more.

I don’t know the exact answer (probably not a right one), but that theory is certainly not it.


Why are pinch hitters crappy? Generally it's a guy who is quite good if the L/R matchup works out, and R/R matchups are usually okay too.


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Offline  Re: Where to Bat your Best Hitter
#8

Posted: November 02, 2019, 10:22 AM Post
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Posts: 10652
Oxy said:
MrTPlush said:
Most mathematical models I see on this simply look on how to make your best hitter as productive as possible. That isn’t the goal, they goal is making the most productive lineup. Giving the pitcher more ABs (or crappy pinch hitters), Arcia more ABs, and dropping a productive OBP machine to 9th is NOT the answer. Why is he batting 9th? Just bat him lead off and drop Yelich to 3rd! He losses a grand ole 17 PAs then...while the pitcher/PH gets 20 less and Arcia gets nearly 20 less. Don’t forget the productive OBP you dropped to 9th now gets about 130 more.

I don’t know the exact answer (probably not a right one), but that theory is certainly not it.


Why are pinch hitters crappy? Generally it's a guy who is quite good if the L/R matchup works out, and R/R matchups are usually okay too.


I don't think that just because a guy is pinch hitting for someone that that means he is better than the guy he is pinch hitting for. Sometimes it's just a righty lefty match up thing, sometimes it's just another way for a tinkering manager to tinker, and sometimes it might be that the pinch hitter has had better success with a given pitcher than the guy who is supposed to be hitting...

A pinch hitter is often not any better than the guy he is hitting for imo.

"I'm sick of runnin' from these wimps!" Ajax - The WARRIORS


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Offline  Re: Where to Bat your Best Hitter
#9

Posted: November 02, 2019, 11:20 AM Post
Posts: 1779
Location: Madison, WI
turborickey said:
Ok, then where do you hide a crappy hitter like Arcia?

Can't hit him 9th, he doesn't fit the above mentioned requirement.

Can't hit him 8th, that is the pitcher's spot.

Under what is said above, he would have to hit 7th? I understand what is being said, I just don't have an answer for where you hide a guy like Arcia, because we certainly don't want him getting more at bats in the course of a season, and the higher he moves up in the order, the more at bats he gets. Same thing with Pina, where do we hide him? Hit Pina 6th and Arcia 7th?

Geez.

This just tells me that we can no longer afford to wait on this guy, we need a bat at SS, and we need to resign Grandal.


Arcia's pitiful .283 OBP is still far better than the average .164 OBP posted by the pitchers. As the numbers in post #1 show, 20 less plate appearance for the 9th spot opposed to the 8th spot...but with pinch hitting for pitchers that number is even less when looking at how many extra plate appearances would be forced on pitchers if they were moved to 8th in the batting order. #9 is the perfect place to hide Arcia, and still end up with a hitter that is roughly .120 OBP higher (on average) 2 spots in the order ahead of Yelich.

I don't think this would be the case, but there is always a chance that Arcia might hit a little bit better if he was batting ahead of another hitter instead of a pitcher. Again, I don't think so because Arcia just isn't a good hitter. But there is always that theory of hitters getting more or less strikes depending on who is hitting behind them.

Maybe Counsell doesn't like it because it might force someone like Thames to hit in front of a pitcher if he was slotted #7 in the batting order. But to improve the OBP .120 two spots ahead of Yelich in the order, I'd gladly have a pitcher hitting behind Thames.


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Offline  Re: Where to Bat your Best Hitter
#10

Posted: November 02, 2019, 3:54 PM Post
Posts: 4645
With Hiura's arrival, my instinct is to have Yelich bat third, especially if Grisham is leading off.

Preserves a L-R-L top three of the order, and it not only gives Yelich a good RBI opportunity, it also protects Hiura and gives him pitches to hit.


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Offline  Re: Where to Bat your Best Hitter
#11

Posted: November 02, 2019, 7:21 PM Post
Posts: 12156
Oxy said:
MrTPlush said:
Most mathematical models I see on this simply look on how to make your best hitter as productive as possible. That isn’t the goal, they goal is making the most productive lineup. Giving the pitcher more ABs (or crappy pinch hitters), Arcia more ABs, and dropping a productive OBP machine to 9th is NOT the answer. Why is he batting 9th? Just bat him lead off and drop Yelich to 3rd! He losses a grand ole 17 PAs then...while the pitcher/PH gets 20 less and Arcia gets nearly 20 less. Don’t forget the productive OBP you dropped to 9th now gets about 130 more.

I don’t know the exact answer (probably not a right one), but that theory is certainly not it.


Why are pinch hitters crappy? Generally it's a guy who is quite good if the L/R matchup works out, and R/R matchups are usually okay too.


Yah, sure, at face value it sounds good...but most players struggle badly at PHing. It just is not an easy task. Braun was horrid doing it last year and Gamel (a major PHer last year) barely cracked a .600 OPS. It depends on the year/player, but it isn’t exactly ideal. Typically you are asking bench bats to have a random AB once a game.


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Offline  Re: Where to Bat your Best Hitter
#12

Posted: November 03, 2019, 12:12 AM Post
Posts: 3741
Generally speaking, in my opinion, if your best hitter is also an above average runner, like Trout, Yelich, Bregman, I'd bat them 2nd.

If your best hitter is a below average runner, such as Nolan Arenado or Paul Goldschmidt, I'd bat them 3rd

The David Stearns era: Controllable Young Talent. Watch the Jedi work his magic!


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Offline  Re: Where to Bat your Best Hitter
#13

Posted: November 03, 2019, 8:22 AM Post
Posts: 2040
3and2Fastball said:
Generally speaking, in my opinion, if your best hitter is also an above average runner, like Trout, Yelich, Bregman, I'd bat them 2nd.

If your best hitter is a below average runner, such as Nolan Arenado or Paul Goldschmidt, I'd bat them 3rd


Agree, Yelich can run. Hate seeing him bat 3 and hit with no on and two out. It's all about the 1st inning scenarios and the added bonus of getting him a few more at bats for the year. We also have a great option in a Hiura to bat 3rd.


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Offline  Re: Where to Bat your Best Hitter
#14

Posted: November 03, 2019, 7:34 PM Post
Posts: 12323
RBI is a function of where a hitter is in the order more than how good they are. It really should be completely ignored.

Fan is short for fanatic.
I blame Wang.


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Offline  Re: Where to Bat your Best Hitter
#15

Posted: November 04, 2019, 6:33 AM Post
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MrTPlush said:
Most mathematical models I see on this simply look on how to make your best hitter as productive as possible. That isn’t the goal, they goal is making the most productive lineup. Giving the pitcher more ABs (or crappy pinch hitters), Arcia more ABs, and dropping a productive OBP machine to 9th is NOT the answer. Why is he batting 9th? Just bat him lead off and drop Yelich to 3rd! He losses a grand ole 17 PAs then...while the pitcher/PH gets 20 less and Arcia gets nearly 20 less. Don’t forget the productive OBP you dropped to 9th now gets about 130 more.

I don’t know the exact answer (probably not a right one), but that theory is certainly not it.


Not sure which models you are looking at but pretty much none of them do it this way. They generally maximize runs for the entire lineup, never seen one that just focused on one person. Your best overall hitter should generally bat 2nd. Since Yelich is such a balanced hitter he is an ideal #2 guy. If he were more power heavy with lower OBP like a Khris Davis it would make more sense putting him 3rd.

For the OP, your method is sound but what it is missing is the getting on base aspect. Yelich is not only the best power hitter on the team, he is the best on the team at getting on base. So you aren't just trying to maximize his PA with runners on, you want to maximize them in general. The extra PA he gets by batting 2nd are going to matter more for him than the extra PA with runners on from 3rd. If he weren't such a balanced hitter this might not hold true.


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Offline  Re: Where to Bat your Best Hitter
#16

Posted: November 04, 2019, 8:18 AM Post
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Here's what the lineup tool at Baseball Musings thought our best & worst lineups would have been in 2019...

https://bit.ly/32doolO

The main takeaway is that the difference between our best & 30th best lineup, in their estimation, would have been about .014 runs per game, or 1 run every 72 games, if you prefer.

As long as we don't bat the pitcher leadoff with Hiura & Yelich 8th/9th, the difference is miniscule.


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Offline  Re: Where to Bat your Best Hitter
#17

Posted: November 04, 2019, 8:26 AM Post
Posts: 500
JosephC said:
turborickey said:
Ok, then where do you hide a crappy hitter like Arcia?

Can't hit him 9th, he doesn't fit the above mentioned requirement.

Can't hit him 8th, that is the pitcher's spot.

Under what is said above, he would have to hit 7th? I understand what is being said, I just don't have an answer for where you hide a guy like Arcia, because we certainly don't want him getting more at bats in the course of a season, and the higher he moves up in the order, the more at bats he gets. Same thing with Pina, where do we hide him? Hit Pina 6th and Arcia 7th?

Geez.

This just tells me that we can no longer afford to wait on this guy, we need a bat at SS, and we need to resign Grandal.


Arcia's pitiful .283 OBP is still far better than the average .164 OBP posted by the pitchers. As the numbers in post #1 show, 20 less plate appearance for the 9th spot opposed to the 8th spot...but with pinch hitting for pitchers that number is even less when looking at how many extra plate appearances would be forced on pitchers if they were moved to 8th in the batting order. #9 is the perfect place to hide Arcia, and still end up with a hitter that is roughly .120 OBP higher (on average) 2 spots in the order ahead of Yelich.

I don't think this would be the case, but there is always a chance that Arcia might hit a little bit better if he was batting ahead of another hitter instead of a pitcher. Again, I don't think so because Arcia just isn't a good hitter. But there is always that theory of hitters getting more or less strikes depending on who is hitting behind them.

Maybe Counsell doesn't like it because it might force someone like Thames to hit in front of a pitcher if he was slotted #7 in the batting order. But to improve the OBP .120 two spots ahead of Yelich in the order, I'd gladly have a pitcher hitting behind Thames.


If the pitcher hits 8th then the #7 guy isn't going to see as many good pitches as he normally would, especially in crucial situations. Plus if the #8 guy gets on, a pitcher can bunt him over. For each hitter you try to help by batting a pitcher higher in the order, you hurt another hitter equally as much.


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Offline  Re: Where to Bat your Best Hitter
#18

Posted: November 04, 2019, 11:49 AM Post
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I'm pretty sure Tom Tango did a whole chapter on this in 'The Book', but I always thought the flaw was that he used data from previous seasons where the best hitter predominantly hit 3rd and I don't remember him adjusting for that fact, I think the conclusion was the optimal batting spots for the best hitter in order were 2,1 and 4.


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