It’s February. The Super Bowl was played yesterday, meaning football season is finally over. As baseball fans we have endured a long, dreary winter, but our time is about to come. We’re only about a week away from pitchers and catchers reporting, marking the official start to the 2017 baseball season.
Given that we’re so deep into the offseason, it’s probably safe to say that the roster for our Milwaukee Brewers is pretty much set for the upcoming season. Sure, there might be another minor league signing or two, but we’re not likely to see any blockbusters along the lines of trading Ryan Braun or anything of that magnitude before the regular season begins. With the starting nine all but in place, one major question that remains is: in what order will Craig Counsell write their names on the lineup card on April 3rd?
Counsell, to his credit, has shown a bit of an analytical bend during his tenure as skipper for the Milwaukee Nine. He’s been very flexible with his starting lineups and has stated that his goal is to win games on a daily basis during the regular season (as it should be as manager). If CC is truly willing to play the numbers, he’ll do his best to optimize his starting lineup according to “The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball.” According to the research done by Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman, and Andy Dolphin in “The Book”, having an optimized lineup can lead to an additional one or two wins during the regular season. That may not sound like much, but every win counts just the same whether it’s in April or September during a pennant race. So if Counsell is going to write his starting lineup by “The Book”, how should the Milwaukee Brewers be set up in a typical game against a right-handed starter?
(1) Jonathan Villar
According to “The Book”, the leadoff hitter should be a team’s best OBP player. That, of course, was Jonathan Villar last season with a stellar .369 mark thanks to an 11.6% walk rate. Speed and power are less valuable at the top of the lineup than they are elsewhere, but those facets of Villar’s game are less relevant here than his excellent ability to get on base. The leadoff hitter comes to the plate the most times during a game and a season, so why waste outs?
(2) Ryan Braun
According to “The Book”, the #2 hitter comes to the plate more often in high-leverage situations than anyone else in the lineup. The player in the two-hole should be a high-OBP guy and really the best overall hitter in the lineup. For the Brewers that would unarguably be Ryan Braun, who posted an outstanding 133 wRC+ last year while bashing 30 home runs. Braun has batted almost exclusively in the three-hole during his career, but by “The Book” he should be hitting #2 for the 2017 Brewers.
(3) Travis Shaw
We’ve been programmed by old-school conventional baseball wisdom to think that the #3 spot is one of the most important places in the lineup, but statistically that’s just not the case. On average, the #3 hitter comes to the plate with runners on base less often that the #4 and #5 hitters. “The Book” says this is a spot to fill once the more important lineup positions are filled, so we’ll stick Travis Shaw here and forget about it.
(4) Domingo Santana
Behind the two-hole hitter, the cleanup hitter is the most important spot in the lineup. A team’s #4 hitter should be the best power hitter in the lineup, and for the Brewers we’ll go with Domingo Santana. When he’s healthy, Santana has shown the capability of 25+ home run pop to go along with a solid on-base percentage thanks to his excellent walk rate. Sticking the right-handed hitting Santana here also helps separate the lefties to avoid possible match up issues in the later innings.
(5) Eric Thames
“The Book” says that the #5 hitter should be the next best hitter after filling spot numbers 1, 2, and 4, a player who can get on-base and doesn’t live and die by the long ball. Korean import Eric Thames will be our man here. His left-handed bat will slot in nicely behind Santana, and if the projection systems can be trusted at all, we should hopefully see 20+ home runs and a .320+ on-base percentage out of Thames here.
(6) Keon Broxton
“The Book” says that spots 6-9 should basically be filled out with the most-to-least talented offensive players after the 1-5 hitters are established, with the caveat that stolen bases are more valuable in front of single hitters. That would put Keon Broxton, who did enjoy a solid breakout season last year and is easily capable of stealing 20+ bases, in the #6 spot.
(7) Andrew Susac
Susac’s shown the ability to be about a league-average hitter, he just hasn’t had the opportunity to prove it during a full season’s worth of at-bats. He’s not as speedy as Keon, so we’ll bat him seventh.
Counsell has had the pitcher hit eighth in the past, and statistically having your pitcher bat #8 can be worth about two runs per season. That’s not a ton, but if CC is trying to eek every win he can out of his starting lineup, he’ll put the pitcher in the #8 slot.
(9) Orlando Arcia
Arcia’s offensive showing was pretty brutal during his MLB debut last season, and he doesn’t really profile as the type of player who will ever be an offensive threat. His lack of punch with the bat warrants hitting at the bottom of the order, where he can still be valuable if/when he gets on base for the top of the order hitters as the lineup turns over.
Click here for more information and to purchase “The Book”
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs