The optimal Padres lineup is a little weird. If I am honest, it is a lot weird.
Some really smart baseball guys wrote a book, ironically called “The Book”. In it, they used math to build a lineup. You can read “The Book” on your own, but to summarize: there are specific qualities demanded of each spot in a lineup. So, credit to those guys, as I will take most of my cues from their tome.
I was thinking about the Padres’ likely starting nine a lot this week and a thought kept popping up: this team’s best lineup is, like, weird.
At the outset, let me say I fully expect none of these recommendations to be implemented. Consider this more of a thought experiment. I am Morpheus in that meme that says “what if I told you….”
So, what if I told you the Padres’ ideal leadoff hitter is Chase Headley?
The math says OBP is all that matters in the 1-spot. Speed is nice, but hardly mandatory. The only real objective of the leadoff hitter is to be on base when the best hitters on the team are at the plate. That’s all. You also don’t want to waste home runs here, because the leadoff hitter won’t bat with runners on base as often has those below, so Hosmer and Myers are out.
Margot doesn’t have the OBP (.308) to lead off, and the only other player even close to Headley’s career .344 is Carlos Asuaje (.328), but he hasn’t logged enough MLB at-bats to overtake Headley.
Batting second: Wil Myers
My whole life, I was told a lie: put a bat-control hitter on this spot to advance runners, not to provide offense himself, as I glance over at the David Eckstein bobblehead on my desk.
“The Book” says this is incorrect. The number 2 hitter will collect more at-bats than anyone else in the lineup, except the guy above him. Again, he needs to get on base at a decent clip. He will also have runners on base slightly more frequently than the one below. Therefore, your second-best hitter goes here, and you’d like some power as well. Myers fits the bill both ways.
Oh, and play him in right field because I don’t care about the strength of Renfroe’s arm. He can’t catch fly balls. (I know I am exaggerating. Save your comments!)
Batting third: Carlos Asuaje
This was a bit of a surprise, but the math says the number 3 hitter will have fewer total runners on base, on average, than the 4 or 5 hitter. They also come to the plate with the bases empty and two out more frequently than any other spot in the lineup.
This may seem counterintuitive, but the number 3 spot is the least important of the top 4. Padre fans got used to seeing Tony Gwynn hitting out of the 3-hole, but maybe he shouldn’t have?
Asuaje won’t hit home runs from here, and that’s fine. If I am Andy Green, I tell the kid, “Look, you’re between our best hitters. The pitcher will relax when he sees you. Just do your thing. Don’t try to kill the ball. Just put it in play and let the guys around you do what they do.”
Batting fourth: Eric Hosmer.
Your best hitter goes here. Period. The clean-up hitter comes to the plate in the most important situations. We’re talking late-game, runners-on-base situations. In addition, number 4 will receive the largest number of at-bats with runners on base, so you’d like power here. Hosmer has the best OPS on the team, barely beating out Myers (768 – 781). So, Hosmer goes here.
Batting fifth: Manuel Margot
After you’ve filled the 1, 2, and 4 spots, your next best hitter goes here. There’s a few reasons for this. First of all, they get the runners on base when the clean-up hitter fails to drive them in, so you’d like a little power to collect those runs. Secondly, they bat at the start of the inning more frequently than the spots below, so think of them as a quasi leadoff hitter.
I really like Margot here. Get the kid at-bats, but don’t lean on him to be the lynchpin of the offense.
Batting sixth: Hunter Renfroe
Lets just assume the big guy is sincere in his efforts to cut down on strikeouts and improve his contact. This should improve his painful .284 OBP from 2017. Your “best of the rest” goes here, and that has to be Renfroe. In addition, batting him in lower-leverage situations will (maybe?) reduce the pressure on him to launch mortars into the Western Metal Building.
Just put it in play, Hunter! (I can dream can’t I?)
Batting seventh: Freddy Galvis
He gets on base more frequently than Hedges… That’s all I got.
Batting eighth: Austin Hedges
Just play solid defense and try to bat your weight, dude.
Batting ninth: the pitcher
Don’t be clever, just bat the pitcher here. Keep in mind, he’ll only hit twice in a game, then you’re going to your bench. “The Book” says swapping him with the 8th spot in the lineup is worth about 2 runs per year, so it’s basically a wash, anyway.
In summary, here is the optimal line-up, according to me and some math:
3B – Chase Headley
RF – Wil Myers
2B – Carlos Asuaje
1B – Eric Hosmer
CF – Manuel Margot
LF – Hunter Refroe
SS – Freddy Galvis
C – Austin Hedges
This is based on career numbers, meaning they are in the past. And, as one of my favorite people of all time used to say, that was then and this is now (I love you, Jerry Coleman). So, this probably will have to change during the course of the year. But it’s fun to deconstruct a lineup, and its also fun to have a legitimate MLB offense for a change.