2013 Blue Jays’ Lineup Optimization: Old School vs. New School

Now that Alex Anthopoulos and the Toronto Blue Jays have infused their lineup with premiere talent that has not been seen in such concentration since the glory days of the early 90s. With the additions of speedsters Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio, high-average/on-base Melky Cabrera, and former 20-HR-hitting catcher John Buck, the team’s new/old manager, John Gibbons, will have to decide how to best position these weapons in the lineup to maximize run production. Though an optimized lineup will only result in a modest number of additional runs over the course of a season, the few additional wins could mean the difference between a 1-and-Done Wild Card appearance and a 3-game minimum Division Series in 2013.

(As a backgrounder, it would be helpful to read Sky Kalkman’s “Optimizing your lineup by The Book” which explores the relationship between old school and new school thinking on the construction of a batting order.)

With the selection of John Gibbons, Alex Anthopoulos has put in place a manager who has shown in the past that he is not afraid to mix in some new-school tactics by taking advantage of platoons (Frank Catalanotto/Reed Johnson), batting a high-OBP player leadoff despite them lacking speed on the basepaths, and effective splits-centric bullpen management. In his introductory press conference this morning, Gibbons hinted at his lineup construction when asked about where he saw Melky Cabrera fitting into the order. He felt that because of his ability to put the ball in play and get on base consistently, Cabrera would be best suited to hit at the top of the order, presumably 2nd. He alluded to Cabrera’s ability to get on-base as a reason to have him hit more often (be higher in the order) which is a tenet of the new school.

Gibbons gained the reputation as a bit of a station-to-station Manager during his time at the helm of the Jays, though this may have been more of a product of the lack of speed on his rosters. However, he said that because of the powerful bats hitting in the middle of the order, there was no reason for the players ahead of them to run into ‘stupid outs’. Presumably, Jose Reyes would be given the green light to move up, but the rest of the hitters would be held according to the situation.

Position Old School Thinking Blue Jays’ Old School Order New School Thinking New School Order Vs. LHP New School Order Vs. RHP
1 Speed is of the utmost importance. OBP is an added bonus. Power is not important. Think Devon White. Jose Reyes OBP is all that matters since they come up most without runners in scoring position and are followed by the power heavy hitters of the lineup. Jose Reyes Jose Reyes
2 This spot requires a bat-control guy who doesn’t necessarily have great power or even hit for a good average but is able to move the leadoff man over. Brett Lawrie Has nearly as important appearances as the #3 hitter, but has them more often. Bats with the bases empty more often that players behind him and should therefore possess strong on-base skills. Should be a better hitter than the #3 and the one of the 3 best overall. Melky Cabrera Melky Cabrera
3 The old-school book says to put the hitter with the best average. Power is not a necessity for the 3-hole. Melky Cabrera Appears with fewer runners on base than the #4-5 hitters that follow him. Should therefore have less power than both. Brett Lawrie Brett Lawrie
4 The old-school book says to put your big power bat here, probably a guy with a low batting average, who will hit the big multi-run homeruns. Jose Bautista Comes to bat most often in the high-leverage situations but is equal to the #2 hitter in importance. Best hitter on the team with power. Jose Bautista Jose Bautista
5 The old-school book says the number five guy is a wannabe cleanup hitter. Edwin Encarnacion Provides more value than #3 hitter with non-HRs (1B, 2B, 3B, BB, HBP). Should be the team’s 4th-best hitter, though they should not be a strict HR hitter like Mark Reynolds. Edwin Encarnacion Edwin Encarnacion
6 The old-school book says the rest of the lineup should be written in based on decreasing talent. Hitting ninth is an insult. Adam Lind The Book agrees that the #6-9 hitters should descend in talent, though the manager should consider that base stealers are best optimized in front of high-contact singles hitters. Rajai Davis Emilio Bonifacio
7 Colby Rasmus Emilio Bonifacio Adam Lind
8 JP Arencibia / John Buck JP Arencibia / John Buck / Travis d’Arnaud Colby Rasmus
9 Emilio Bonifacio Colby Rasmus JP Arencibia/John Buck/Travis d’Arnaud

Old School 2013 Blue Jays Batting Order:

The old school mentality would likely result in a Blue Jays’ batting order that started with speedster Jose Reyes at the top of the order with Brett Lawrie slotted into the 2-hole where he could be expected to sacrifice an out to move up Reyes. Melky would likely find himself in the 3-hole because of his pedigree as a high-average hitter that lacks the power necessary to bat 4th or 5th. Don’t be fooled though. If the lineup were a little thinner, Melky could be batting cleanup as a proven ‘RBI-guy’. Naturally, Jose Bautista would be slotted into the cleanup spot with Edwin Encarnacion following him in the ‘wannabe cleanup’ spot.

The 6th through 9th spots are not so clear cut but Old School mentality dictates that veterans are better than younger players, and peak production trumps what they’ve done for you lately. Therefore, Adam Lind would find himself batting 6th behind the top power hitters where he’d be expected to hit the 3rd straight grand slam every time he came to the plate. Colby Rasmus, the 20 HR-hitting center fielder, would probably follow Lind. Fellow 20-HR hitters JP Arencibia/John Buck (who are basically the same player), lack a bit of the batting average/on-base production of Rasmus, and would likely follow him in the order. The last spot in the order would then fall to Emilio Bonifacio who lacks the power numbers to hit higher in the order. He would likely have to split time at 2nd with Maicer Izturis who has less upside but has more experience/wisdom. Though the old school managers have gotten a little better at adjusting based on whether they faced a left or right-handed starter, they still manage to mess it up by doing it inconsistently. So there’s only one lineup listed.

If an old school manager were particularly wary of using young players at the top of the lineup, then Brett Lawrie could be dropped down in the order and a more experienced hitter used in his place. He plays the game the right way though, so it’s unlikely the other options that don’t fit the traditional profile as well would move up. He could also be dropped down to the bottom of the order where there’s supposedly less pressure. In that case, Edwin may be flipped with Bautista with former Silver Slugger Adam Lind moving back to his way too familiar spot 5th in the order.

New School 2013 Blue Jays Batting Order:

The lineup for a follower of The Book’s lineup optimization philosophy would likely look a lot different with Brett Lawrie swapped for Melky Cabrera who’s superior hitting/on-base skills would be better utilized in the 2-hole which is the 2nd-most important spot in the lineup because of the additional plate appearances they receive. Though Melky and Reyes have similar contact/on-base skills, the latter’s edge in speed would see him bat leadoff in a new school lineup. Brett Lawrie’s power was much less evident in his first full season after a blistering debut in 2011 and unless he slows down and it returns, he will likely find himself in the 3-hole of a new school lineup with the current core.

Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion would remain slotted #4-#5 in a new school lineup. However, the 6th through 9th slots would change under a new school manager based upon the starter. Versus lefties, the Jays might try to bat Rajai Davis behind the middle of the order since he brings elite speed and above-average offensive production. Fellow speedster and singles-hitter Bonifacio would likely follow him with JP Arencibia coming ahead of Colby Rasmus who can often struggle against lefties. If Rasmus struggles mightily in CF, he may start losing his at-bats especially versus lefties to the likes of Maicer Izturis or even Moises Sierra/Anthony Gose. However, the Jays will likely afford Rasmus plenty of rope with the quality additions made to the offence.

Versus righties, Emilio Bonifacio might be best utilized immediately after the heart of the order where his speed could be utilized ahead of a hitter like Adam Lind who hits plenty of singles versus righties. Lind does have the power numbers to warrant the 6th spot, but if that were the case Bonifacio might be better used in the 9th spot where he would interact with the top of the order since the Rasmus/catchers aren’t known for hitting lots of singles. These players’ slots could change rapidly though based on their performance since they’ve shown different talent levels/potential during their careers.


One thought on “2013 Blue Jays’ Lineup Optimization: Old School vs. New School

  1. david cohen

    Filling out the batting order is why many of us wish to be manager. Based on your old school or even new school,with the team as presently constituted I agree that Reyes is the best lead off hitter. With certain injuries, he may at some point if hitting for high average hit third. To me before and after I read your choices, Emilio Bonifacio is clearly the guy with best bat control, and 2011 close to best on base percentage. As such, ideal number 2. I would note that Lawrie, who led off for many at bats ground into 12 double plays.

    Saying Melky stays as a .300 batter, he can ideally hit 3rd or 5th. of course he could hit second, but his high number of hits to abs and extra base hits makes him more attractive at 3 and you feel Batista must be three (could hit 3,4), then batting Melky fifth keeps those who choose to pitch around Jose and Edwin honest.

    My front five based old school is SW , SW, SW, R (hits better against r than l) R and new school SW, SW, R, R, SW
    So sixth hitter would be Lind L or Lawrie R unless Toronto signs right handed platoon for Lind.

    7th hitter is Lawrie, or Arencebia with no right handed hitting platoon for Lind

    8th is Arencebia. 9th is Rasmussen or Maicer Itzuris, whomever is playing.

    I would try and alternate on the less consequential players left and right.


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