Much has been made of the many varied lineup that Mike Scioscia has used this season. The lineup has become some unpredictable that I am actually seriously considering instituting some sort of pre-game batting order prediction contest. Through 16 games this season, the Halos have presented us with 14 distinct batting orders. Even for Scioscia, that’s a lot.
And I do mean that. Scioscia has a propensity for using a great number of lineup permutations. In 2011, Scioscia used 129 lineups. He used 133 the year before that. And in 2009 when the offense was actually good, he used 123. This has been the pattern for Scioscia his entire tenure. To be fair, most teams use well over 100 lineup in a given season. Knowing this full well and knowing that statistical research strongly suggests that batting order doesn’t matter that much, I didn’t really think too much of Scioscia’s early lineup tinkering.
However, after looking at some of the numbers and discussing the issue with various people online, I’m starting to think that this might be a problem after all. It isn’t just that Scioscia is making small adjustments here and there, he is monkeying with the batting order at such a level that it actively interferes with the lineup being able to establish any level of consistency. Just look at the number of starts each player has gotten at each spot in the lineup.
Starts per Lineup Spot
- Aybar (13), Izturis (2), Abreu (1)
- Kendrick (14), Abreu (2)
- Pujols (16)
- Morales (9), Hunter (7)
- Hunter (8), Wells (4), Trumbo (4)
- Wells (8), Abreu (3), Trumbo (2), Morales (2), Callaspo (1)
- Callaspo (5), Izturis (4), Trumbo (3), Wells (2), Iannetta (1), Morales (1)
- Iannetta (10), Callaspo (2), Wilson (2), Izturis (1), Aybar (1)
- Bourjos (12), Wilson (2), Iannetta (1), Callaspo
There is good stability in the top three spots of the order and a fair amount in the bottom two, but the middle of the order looks like Scioscia has been selecting by pulling names out of a hat. It is just all over the place and probably no coincidence that this is the section of the order that has struggled the most. Actually, that’s not true at all, it might not be a coincidence in the least. Maybe it is just the players being used in the middle spots generally underperforming that caused the problem. It is a classic chicken or the egg scenario. Are those players not hitting because they keep getting moved around the lineup or getting moved around the lineup because they aren’t hitting? I’m inclined to believe it is more the latter since I have a hard time believing that guys hit substantially differently based on whether or not they bat fifth or sixth or seventh in the order.
Where I think the real problem lies isn’t in how often a player mans a lineup spot, but how frequently and consistently a player is actually in the lineup. This list provides how many starts each player has received as well as the longest consecutive start streak and consecutive non-start streak.
- Abreu – 6 starts, 1 consecutive starts, 2 consecutive days on the bench
- Aybar – 14 starts, 5 consecutive starts, 1 consecutive day on the bench
- Bourjos – 12, 6 consecutive starts, 1 consecutive day on the bench
- Callaspo – 9 starts, 3 consecutive starts, 2 consecutive days on the bench
- Hunter – 15 starts, 9 consecutive starts, 1 consecutive day on the bench
- Iannetta – 12 starts, 5 consecutive starts, 1 consecutive day on the bench
- Izturis – 7 starts, 2 consecutive starts, 5 consecutive days on the bench
- Kendrick – 14 starts, 6 consecutive starts, 1 consecutive day on the bench
- Morales – 13 starts, 5 consecutive starts, 1 consecutive day on the bench
- Pujols – 16 starts, 16 consecutive starts, 0 consecutive days on the bench
- Trumbo – 9 starts, 4 consecutive starts, 3 consecutive days on the bench
- Wells – 14 starts, 10 consecutive starts, 1 consecutive day on the bench
- Wilson – 4 starts, 1 consecutive starts, 5 consecutive days on the bench
What strikes me as concerning in that breakdown is that few players ever sit for more than a game or two. Even Izturis who sat out much of the first week has been in the lineup more often than not in the second week. Trumbo, Morales, Izturis, Callaspo, Bourjos, Abreu, they are all in and out of the lineup all the time. Sure, core guys like Pujols, Kendrick, Hunter and (ugh) Wells get consistent playing time but the entire other half ot he order doesn’t. Where is the consistency supposed to come from there? As in the case with Bourjos, how is he supposed to get back in rhythm if he is getting yanked around? Conversely, how is Trumbo supposed to stay hot if he plays a few times then sits for one or two or three games?
More importantly, how is this lineup supposed to establish an identity with a rotating cast of diverse characters being shuffled around. A lineup with Wells in center, Abreu in left, Trumbo at third and Morales at DH makes the Halos a very station-to-station power dependent lineup. But put Bourjos in center, shift Wells to left and insert Izturis or Callaspo at third and the Angels are suddenly more reliant on speed and Scioscia’s beloved “situational hitting.” Those are two very distinct approaches and the Angels aren’t very good at either of them right now, and I have to believe it is because Sosh hasn’t yet picked a strategy.
Yes, I realize players need days off. Yes, I realize that some players on this team are best used in a platoon situation, but it clearly isn’t working right now. That’s why every time I see a new lineup now, all I can think of is this bit of brilliance via the guys at Productive Outs:
That’s very funny, but it also appears to actually be Scioscia’s strategy for pulling this team out of the offensive doldrums they are mired in. But here we are, 16 games in and it has done nothing to rectify the situation, even in the slightest. This begs the question, at what point does he just take a step back and leave the batting order alone? Constantly changing it obviously isn’t working, why not just pick a lineup and use it every game for two or three consecutive series, regardless of matchups, and see what happens?
I realize that is far from a ground-breaking suggestion, but it clearly hasn’t occurred to Scioscia yet, not in a way that’s stuck at least. I don’t even care which lineup (though I certainly have my preferences), just pick one and stick to it.