Pittsburgh Pirates 2012 Lineup Optimization


It’s a question that comes up every year. What should the Pirates’ Opening Day lineup look like? To answer this, I thought I would use the smart people at Beyond the Boxscore and sabermetric pioneer Bill James.

The folks at Beyond the Boxscore have constructed a lineup analysis tool that allows you to pick your optimum lineup by plugging in the OBP (on-base percentage) and SLG (slugging percentage) of the nine players who will be playing that day. Obviously, since no games have been played yet, I don’t have said numbers. I decided to use the 2012 projections that Bill James has posted on Fangraphs. Things can definitely change- many thought Pedro Alvarez would hit twenty-five homeruns last year, however, for the purpose of this experiment it’s the best that we can do.

Anyway, I punched everything in, and assumed that Casey McGehee would be the starting first baseman. That could change, however, depending on the play of Alvarez, and whether or not Garrett Jones does anything in his starts against right-handed pitching.

The Lineup:

1.Andrew McCutchen, CF. Projected stats: OBP: .368, SLG .455- For the lead-off spot, there is nothing more important than OBP. Not only does the lead-off hitter come to the plate more times than the other eight spots, but you also want him to be on base whenever the power hitters in your lineup step to the plate. Manager Clint Hurdle should basically set the #1 spot in stone.

2.Alex Presley, LF. Projected stats: OBP: .346, SLG: .445- Your #2 hitter will come to the plate with the bases empty more often than the hitters behind him. You want another high-OBP guy, and Presley projects to be just that.

3.Casey McGehee, 1B. Projected stats: OBP: .322, SLG: .410- I have to be honest. When Hurdle was putting McCutchen in the #3 spot last year I wanted to throw up. The #3 hitter comes up to the plate more times with no one on base and two outs than any other spot in the lineup. This is a place in the order that should be filled only after more important spots are filled.

4.Pedro Alvarez, 3B. Projected stats: .332, SLG: .429- Bill James expects Alvarez to greatly improve on his rough 2011 season, hitting 19 homeruns for Pittsburgh. If Alvarez can do that, he’ll fit in well at the #4 spot.

5.Neil Walker, 2B. Projected stats:: OBP: .332, SLG: .426- Basically, your fourth best hitter goes here, as he can produce more runs than the #3 hitter from this spot in the lineup.

6.Rod Barajas, C. Projected stats: OBP: .274, SLG: .403- The #6 and #7 spots are pretty much interchangeable. If one of them happens to be a good base stealer, he could potentially give you more value as the #6 guy, but since neither Barajas or Barmes steal a ton of bases, you can put them both in either spot.

7.Clint Barmes, SS. Projected stats: OBP: .303, SLG: .393- See #6.

8.Pitcher- Tony Larussa has been criticized for using this strategy in the past, but it actually does help you score more runs, albeit not by much. Yes, the pitcher will end up with more at-bats, but by putting a better hitter in the #9 spot, it gives you a “double lead-off” situation, allowing you to set the table more for your upcoming power hitters.

9.Jose Tabata, RF. Projected stats: OBP: .349, SLG: .387- See #9.

One thing to keep in mind is that total lineup optimization doesn’t mean a whole lot. If a manager has twenty-five good players, he could have a dog pick the lineup and still be competitive. However, it never hurts to try to maximize your offense, especially for a team like the Pirates, who will probably struggle to score runs this year.