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:

Top Five Top Fives

And the bottom five top fives:

Top Fives Bottom Five

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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14 Responses to Move Paul Goldschmidt in the Batting Order: Up, Not Down

  1. Puneet says:

    Fantastic piece. Was thinking about moving him last night too. I think this falls on the management. They can’t make him swing more or hit better, but they can put the team in the best circumstance to win.

    This is the kind of thinking that people should be talking about on sports radio, instead of hyper-reactive statements about why Shelby sucks, or how Lamb is a platoon player.

  2. AZ Zonie says:

    Excellent analysis! Let’s hope someone’s paying attention in the Dbacks organization and will consider giving it a shot. And just maybe moving Goldy up to #2 in the order will shake things up enough to jar him back into being the Goldy we all know and love. Doesn’t seem to be much downside to giving it a try.

  3. Anonymous says:

    First off, goldy has himself crossed up in swing, approach, and hitting theory. He hasnt had any timing all year, and has been stuck on his backside with no clearing it at all. Until he goes back to see ball hit ball throw out and throws out theory and remember hes all about rhythm and timing, with him he will be back. When he goes back to his old approach, and not worry about pitch plane.Changing his line up position won’t change his approach right now. This team doesnt set unless goldy bops, throw out any analysis its wrong, you’re wrong and candy is too.

    • Ryan Brown says:

      That’s actually a stellar idea that I think the team and management should get behind. Don’t adjust lineups or use analysis or even current trends in play so far this season. Just tell goldy to be an mvp hitter! I guess nobody mentioned it. WEIRD. Why tinker with the lineup when they could just tell goldy to have better timing? YOU should be in that dugout, cheering him on.

      Excellent article btw.

      • Ryan Brown says:

        And just to add this bit: why are you suggesting a change in the approach of a .400 obp/.460 slg hitter? There’s another article on this site about his approach right now. But it has plenty to do with the pitchers approaches, too. Unless this is one of those ‘the best hitters adjust during the AB’ arguments, where you think elite hitters should change up their whole approach after a quarter-season after three straight all start appearances. Yeah, I bet Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout just walk up to the plate and hope for the best.

      • Anonymous says:

        What current trends? Do you now have punch and Judy hitters in the 3 4 5 hole now? with the juiced ball, maybe you are on to something. There’s no new current trends except the shift. since april 12 212/396/394. since may 1, 182/339/318. I won’t even bother with the splits. Yes he will continue to get pitched around, too, by the 3/4/5’s and by the 1/2’s if they suspect his swing and timing are there.

  4. John says:

    I think that to some extent this analysis demonstrates that Chip Hale has no idea what he’s doing. It’s clear that Goldy is producing a tremendous OBP, so why not utilize that in a position to be productive?

  5. Anonymous says:

    Goldy popped in the third, but it was an old goldy clearing approach. Wouldn’t surprise me if he’s close to finding his old self. things can that change that fast.

  6. Anonymous says:

    okay the sixth he he didnt stay patient and stay closed and and try to drive the ball to center right. he had 2 hanging pitches he could have driven. he’s pressing obviously, he’s going to find it again.

  7. Robert Allen says:

    You writers that never played the game and are trying to reinvent it drive me crazy. Of course the #4 hitter in the lineup comes to bat with the most baserunners. Anyone with half a baseball brain can tell you that and it’s because he’s following the #3 hitter who is the best hitter on the team and is on base more than anyone else. Anybody that follows Goldy is going to come to bat with the most baserunners because he gets on over 40% of the time! Move him to second in the order and the #3 hitter will come up with the most baserunners on. Stick to writing about something you know about.

    • Ryan P. Morrison says:

      I think if you’re being honest with yourself, you’ll realize that adding the disrespectful stuff to this comment was either 1) you doubting your own point, or 2) guessing I’d have a strong follow up, and trying to marginalize it in advance. Whatever the reason, though, if you’re going for broke, be right.

      You’re not. The quality of the hitters in front of a particular lineup spot absolutely does affect the number of baserunners that spot will have, but you’ve got your numbers out of proportion. On base 40% of the time still means an out 60% of the time — the quality of the hitters just doesn’t have a huge effect on this.

      No, it’s not because he’s following the #3 hitter who is the best hitter on the team and is on base more than anyone else. At least, that’s not the biggest reason. The math works out the way it works out because the game doesn’t start at a random slot in the order — it starts with the first slot in the order. With (really small) deviations from year to year, 51% of cleanup PAs happen with a runner on, more but not tremendously more than the third slot (48%). But it’s not really about percentage of PAs with runners, right?

      It’s about the total number of runners. Sure, moving Goldy to second in the order would give the guy in the third spot more runners on base, most likely. But in the first inning, except for when there’s a double play, the cleanup hitter also would have Goldy on base, in addition to the third slot guy, sometimes. Cleanup hitters have 3.2 runners on base for their PAs, on average, and third slot guys get 3.0.

      It’s a real slim difference. All lineup differences are slim, though, at least if you were running the game as if you were rolling dice. If Goldy’s stats are going to stay the way they’ve been this year, bat him second. But that was just the first reason — the second reason is that it could help make him better.

      • robert allen says:

        You continue to show your lack of fundamental baseball knowledge. The best hitter is never going to be the guy who comes to bat with the most men on base because he can’t be on base when it’s his turn to bat. I give you guys that have never played the game some credit for creating yourself a job by making up these ridiculous stories and stats(?) like WAR. According to WAR Gio Gonzalez was the 22nd best pitcher in baseball last year even though NL East followers know he was the worst starter on the Nationals. Or that a guy with a 4.96 ERA(Jeff Samardzija) was the 39th best starter in MLB last year (with 30 MLB teams that makes him and his 4.96 ERA a solid #2 starter) and a guy who hit .263 with 10 HRs and had a .298 OBP (Kevin Kiermaier) was the 15th best position player in all of baseball. Keep writing these ridiculous stories, apparently there are enough baseball fans out there that don’t know that who ever hits behind the guy who gets on base the most is going to have the most runners on when he steps up to the plate.

        • Ryan P. Morrison says:

          We’ve got hundreds of thousands of games of evidence, Robert, and know how to use them properly. Talk to Brandon McCarthy or Zack Greinke.

  8. robert allen says:

    Just as I thought, no explanation for the 5th best starter on a non playoff team being the 22nd best pitcher in baseball. No explanation for a pitcher with a 4.96 ERA being the 39th best starter in baseball. Not a typo, 5 runs a game and he is the 39th best starter in baseball and no explanation for a player who can’t reach base 30% of the time being the 15th best position player in the entire Major Leagues.
    And most of all even a person with no baseball knowledge and a basic understanding of math should be able to figure out that the player following the guy who gets on base the most is going to have the most base runners on when he hits.
    Put the best hitter in a different spot in the order and the numbers will change accordingly.

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