On the radio broadcast last night, Greg Schulte lobbed a topic at Tom Candiotti: is it time to consider moving Goldy down in the batting order? Without skipping a beat, Candiotti responded: “I’d almost think about moving him up in the order,” citing his still-stellar on base percentage. Is that the right answer? If the D-backs move Goldy in the order, is that the direction he should be moved?
Yes. And there are two very compelling reasons for that.
Bat Goldy Second Because it Aligns the Offense Better
Batting order doesn’t have a big effect on winning games. Armed with results from over 200,000 MLB games, though, we do know a lot about how that very small effect actually works. And what we did know already favored moving Goldy out of the third spot — two years ago, we pitched the idea of batting Goldy second against RHP, and fourth against LHP. There is a first tier of very important spots in the order: first, second… and fourth. The third spot in the order is a step below, anyway.
The first and second spots are especially important because they come up most frequently, and because they come up in front of other good hitters — a lumpy offense is a good offense, and a flat, consistent one doesn’t score many runs. It’s not as intuitive that the fourth spot would be more important than the third, but it is, because more than any other spot in the lineup, a hitter there will come to bat with runners on base most frequently. The third spot is important, but in a second tier, and only about as important as the fifth spot. The idea that the third spot is not as important as you might think is the main takeaway from years of lineup research.
In the past, Goldy has been the lineup’s best power source and its on base machine. Between the first, second and fourth slots, you want to put the SLG-heavy guys later, and the OBP-heavy guys earlier. Goldy’s .456 SLG this season is still pretty good. So much of his offense, though, is about the 21.8% walk percentage he’s still running right now. In the fourth spot, you want hits, because a walk is not very likely to score anyone. In the second spot, you’re not the guy who needs to get the runner home — you’re the runner. With a .406 OBP, Goldy still is the team’s on base machine, even if he’s not the team’s best power source right now.
As things currently stand, we know who’s staying in the leadoff spot — Jean Segura will be there forever if he continues to hit over .350. After that, though, there is a grouping of players who have had similar success this year, according to our all-encompassing offensive stat: Welington Castillo (133 wRC+), Goldy (127), Yasmany Tomas (126), Brandon Drury (124), and Jake Lamb (119). Of those guys, Castillo, Tomas and Drury have strikingly similar batting lines, whereas Lamb’s profile has looked more like Goldy’s. If we ranked those five hitters by OBP, it’d be Goldy, Tomas, Lamb, Castillo, Drury. By slugging? Castillo, Drury, Tomas, Lamb, Goldy. For hitters with success so similar this year, they’ve been doing it in an unusual way. Why the SLG-heavy Drury has been hitting second is anyone’s guess (okay, it’s because his AVG looks shinier).
I ran last night’s lineup with this year’s stats in the old Baseball Musings Lineup Analysis tool, using the model for 1959-2004 games. I entered in this season’s statistics for each player, except that I used career statistics for Zack Greinke because he’s probably not actually a better hitter than David Peralta. The results: an average of 5.261 runs per game. Not too shabby. The tool also optimizes the lineup for you, using the statistics you entered. Here were the top five results for the top of the order:
And the bottom five top fives:
Yeah… we’re not batting Goldy leadoff, in part because we don’t expect his SLG to actually stay this low, and in part because what the actual hell. But note that Drury is nowhere to be found in the top fives, and he’s listed first in some of the worst lineups; that’s not because he’s been bad at the plate, it’s because his batting line has been weighted toward SLG so heavily, and his OBP is the same as that of Chris Owings.
I tried running the same lineup as last night with Drury moving down from second to sixth, and the four guys 3-6 all moved up one spot. The sim raised the average runs per game from 5.261 to 5.282, a pretty good-sized jump worth an extra 3.4 runs over the course of an entire season.
My point is not that we’ve found the perfect lineup — to do that, we’d want to (1) consider lineups for lefties and righties differently, (2) use current rest-of-season projections instead of current stats, (3) account for the fact that some of these guys tend to hit singles that advance runners more often than other guys and their singles, (4) include David Peralta in this mix, and (5) consider base running, too, among other considerations. My point is just that, yes, moving Goldy up in the order is a good idea, and it makes sense if he continued with the same batting line. Plus — can’t you see Goldy talking a walk with one out, waiting out Lamb, then stealing second to be in scoring position with Cleanup Beef at the plate?
Bat Goldy Second Because it Might Make Goldy Better
When there are two outs, baseball decisions are simpler. A third base coach deciding whether to send a runner only has to ask — is this runner more likely to score right now, or will the next hitter get an out, a hit, or defer to the next guy with a walk? And for a pitcher staring out at Goldy at the plate, he has to seem less dangerous with two outs. If no one is on, why the hell would you give Goldy pitches to hit? The same goes for first base being open, etc. But if Goldy is up there with one out, so many more things could happen. I think the prospect of walking Goldy probably seems more dangerous. Don’t you? That circumstance isn’t too rare to include in our plans. The leadoff spot leads off innings dramatically more than any other spot (4th is a distant second), and as magical as Segura has been, he does get outs more often than not. In a vacuum (or, at least, the context of past seasons), there’s a reason to think Goldy would get more pitches to hit if he were batting second rather than third.
But we’re not in a vacuum. In fact, we’re in a vortex — one that has had Goldy’s swing percentage spiraling out of control. Pitchers have been in the strike zone more than in the past, and being as selective as Goldy has been in the past is just not as advantageous as it’s been before, it seems. Goldy’s swing rate is lower than it’s ever been before, but it’s always been low. If pitchers are less inclined to pitch around him, at least in the first inning…
Here’s a likely scenario that pitchers could face with Goldy in the two hole, after they’ve retired Segura:
Walk him? Then he’s on first with one out, and my team can shift against Jake Lamb, but my first baseman will have to stay near the bag, and the shift might be a little less effective. Otherwise, Goldy might steal — or he might be very likely to take third on a single to the outfield, or less likely to be nabbed on a double play. If I don’t strike out Lamb, there’s a really good chance Goldy will move to second on the play (or walk). I can’t pitch around Lamb if I’ve pitched around Goldy, not with two outs. And so overall, even if I retire Lamb, Goldy is in scoring position for a guy who has been getting his hits in Welington Castillo. Not ideal. And it’s not like I can keep Lamb from getting a hit, not necessarily.
Pitch to him? After all, he hasn’t been doing too much damage, and since there’s no one on base, I don’t have to be too afraid of a homer…
We just saw that Nick Ahmed‘s success in the ninth spot is connected to something real: he appears to be much less inclined to swing at pitches off the plate. We’ve seen Chris Owings get eaten up by hitting in front of the pitcher’s spot, too: he’s got a 69 career wRC+ in the 8th spot that is not nice, and an 86 wRC+ in the 7th spot which is much nicer. Faced with a similar situation, Goldy has not been suckered into swinging at more bad pitches, and the result has been fewer swings, because he’s getting more bad pitches. Put in a situation where the inning is less likely to fall on his shoulders, doesn’t it seem like he could get more pitches to hit? You’d wish Peralta was healthy and mashing and providing some terror behind him, but it seems like Goldy would probably get more pitches to hit anyway. Even if it’s Lamb hitting behind him, pitching around two guys is more than twice as scary as pitching around one. And if Castillo and Drury will both continue to mash extra base hits, they could be lineup protection for Goldy, as well.
Anyway, happy Friday, folks. And kudos to Tom Candiotti. Pitchers have treated Goldy differently, and he’s stayed the same, which has made him look a whole lot different. But he’s the same guy. Different results means featuring him a different way, not featuring him less. This offense still revolves around Goldy. He may not want to do the “drive the bus” gesture on the field, but that’s because he’s actually got his hands on the wheel.
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