The Phillies new-look lineup versus right-handed pitching was introduced last night and immediately produced the desired result, a 6-5 win over the Colorado Rockies.
Lineups are always a popular talking point in baseball, but until this morning I never realized just how many at-bats are gained or lost depending on where a batter hits. In his Phillies Report Inquirer beat writer Todd Zolecki notes that “each spot a hitter drops in the order costs him about 20 plate appearances over a season.” That translates to roughly 80 lost AB’s for new sixth place hitter Aaron Rowand and 20 gained AB’s for current fifth place batter Ryan Howard.
Then, of course, there are the matters of “protecting” hitters, breaking up too many right or left-handed batters in a row, and figuring out where speed, power and contact figure in the overall scheme.
The most intriguing feature of the new-look lineup has Chase Utley hitting second. The debate here focuses on whether Utley, already a proven RBI man, should be batting in a spot where fewer runners will be on base. Zolecki points out that he should see more fastballs with Jimmy Rollins leading off ahead of him, a theory whose ultimate proof will depend entirely on J-Roll’s ability to get on base. Certainly, with Lieberthal and the pitcher’s spot ahead of Jimmy, Utley is not likely to find a lot of men on base when batting second. It is worth noting that a cursory check at Retrosheet of box scores for the Chicago Cubs showed Ryne Sandberg batting second. He seemed to do all right as I recall.
Finally, local critics will note that David Bell is still starting in this lineup versus right-handed pitching. You can’t have everything, even when everything else changes.