Recipe for a Championship Lineup

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Watching the Reds each night I am reminded that even as bad as they can look they are still a team made of (mostly) quality parts.  The problem is the parts don’t all seem to fit together as well as they should.  One only needs to watch the changing lineup card to recognize the challenges Dusty Baker faces on a daily basis trying to create a 9 man lineup when only having 6 or 7 effective parts.  You can heap some blame on Walt Jocketty for not giving Baker the tools he needs but some of the problem has been just bad fortune and balls that are hit well this year are not dropping in as they did last year.

How close are the Reds to having a productive lineup you ask?  Let’s take a look at the last 10 World Champions and see how the Reds stack up by comparison.  We will look at the aggregate total for each spot in the batting order for each team comparing batting average, on base percentage, on base + slugging (OPS), runs scored and RBI.

We will start at the bottom and work to the top of the lineup.  Maybe this will cause suspense to build as the three spots that seem to give Dusty the most trouble are the 1,2 and 4 spots in the batting order.

I adjusted the Reds current production of runs scored and RBI by multiplying current production by the dividend of 162 games divided by 127 current games played.

National League teams are at an obvious statistical disadvantage compared to American League teams in the 9th spot because pitchers are not effective hitters.  What jumps out here is the Reds pitchers hit a lot better than any National League teams on this list.  They are the best of this lot and with Alonso on the bench you have a ready made DH for American League parks.

The 8th hitter in the lineup seems to consistently be the weakest in American League lineups as they tend to have a better hitter in the 9 hole to take advantage of the top of the order.  The Reds are not the best in this group but they very competitive.  They are a bit weak in runs scored and RBI but this should not be a hindrance.  Remember the Big Red Machine consistently won with light hitting Cesar Geronimo in the 8 hole.  His defense made up for any offensive liability.  Paul Janish has the most at bats here followed by Hanigan and Hernandez.  Janish fits the bill of a defensive player in the lineup.

The Reds finish 3rd in batting average in this category, 6th in OBP, 7th in OPS, 10th in Runs, and tied for 8th in RBI.  They get on base but do not do enough with it.  With that said, they are again competitive against my expectations for this spot in the batting order.  This is primarily the catchers spot in the order and the Reds tandem of Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan have played quite well.

The 6 hole is first big problem for the Reds lineup.  The only team with a worse line is the 2006 Cardinals.  17 players have batted 6th for the Reds and Jonny Gomes has the most at bats with 76.  All this proves is Dusty never locked anyone in to this position.  Oddly the two best batting averages here were Edgar Renteria who went 6 for 10 and Gomes who went 22 for 76.  Maybe one of them should have seen more time back here. Drew Stubbs is closing the season in 6th and has struggled recording just 13 hits in 67 at bats for a .210 average.

The fifth position in the lineup is a mixed bag.  This spot is 9th of 11 in batting average, 8th in OBP, 4th in OPS, and they project to tie for 5th in Runs and 2nd in RBI.  Not bad production making this a solid choice.  Jay Bruce had the bulk of these at bats with half of the total.

Batting cleanup has been a challenge for the Reds and manager Dusty Baker.  The Reds have the worst batting average, OBP, and most troubling, the worst OPS of all of the teams in this analysis.  For the Reds to compete this must be fixed and it may be the single most important problem to address.  Brandon Phillips, Scott Rolen and Jay Bruce have the bulk of the at bats; Bruce was the best but Rolen struggled mightily in this position.  Reds should make this a clear priority to address.

When your number three hitter is the reigning MVP, you have a competitive advantage.  Joey Votto has 461 of 476 plate appearances in this position and he has not disappointed.  While his power numbers may not approach last season he leads the National League in batting with runners in scoring position.  Compared to this list he is 3rd in batting average, 1st in OBP, 4th in OPS, and projects to finish 8th in runs and tied for 10th in RBI.  This is more a reflection of the lack of lead off base runners than anything else.

The 2nd spot in the Reds lineup has been the focus of a good deal of controversy among Reds faithful.  The Reds have used several batters in this spot but consider the group of Edgar Renteria, Dave Sappelt, Chris Heisey, and Paul Janish.  These four men amassed 192 at bats and only recorded 35 hits.  This, in my mind, is the most effective condemnation of Dusty Baker that I have ever seen as they combined for a ridiculous .182 batting average.  Conversely Brandon Phillips who has the most at bats batting 2nd hit .292 when batting second and was a strong contributor to the team.

Finally we look at the lead off position.  Drew Stubbs has over three quarters of these at bats and as much as his speed is wonderful leading off, he simply strikes out far too much to be effective here.  Unless he can develop better plate discipline immediately he has no future as a lead off hitter.  Brandon Phillips, who is just 6 games into his proposal to manager Dusty Baker suggesting he lead off, is batting an amazing .500.  Certainly this won’t last but he does spark the offense from the front end in ways Drew just can’t manage to do.

This Reds team can measure up to any champion in the last decade.  They have worked out many of the kinks in the lineup.  I believe the tools are already in place for a championship run but they need to be organized properly.  July 4, 1975 was the light bulb moment for Sparky Anderson when he first used the lineup we now revere.  Dusty Baker needs to find that moment as well.

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