I’m not a big fan of writing about lineup design, particularly when it comes to the Dodgers and the complex tactics they use putting together the daily batting orders. At first glance, the lineups sometimes look carefully thought-out and well constructed, while other times the order looks like it will have absolutely no success at all. Additionally, fans often see a player who is scorching hot at the plate given an unwarranted day off, resulting in frustrating reactions, especially when the team is not winning.
Lineup design certainly isn’t what it used to be. Decades ago, a true speedster was always seen at the top of the order, while an established contact hitter with superb bat control was found in the two-hole. Today, however, offensive success is found with getting runners on base—period. Sacrificing, small ball and base-stealing aren’t highly prioritized (although they still seem to sometimes have effectiveness when executed properly), as OBP is now the king of all run-producing statistics. Breaking it down even further, with today’s technology, techies take into consideration hot and cold zones, as well as a player’s success against a specific pitcher, or at least the percentage of certain pitches they throw, when they make their daily lineup recommendations to the skipper.
According to Baseball Reference, the Dodgers have used 101 different lineup combinations this season—131 when counting the inclusion of the starting pitchers. Sometimes, it seems as if the lineup card is written to add to the creativity; however, there’s surely at least a little reasoning behind all the madness.
To make things even more complicated, rosters expanded on Saturday. Now, the club has even more position players at its disposal to employ a wide range of approaches on offense. Nevertheless, with just 26 regular season games remaining in a very tight NL West division race, the Dodgers don’t exactly have the luxury of resting their highest producing players as much as they did last year. Every game matters, and although we’ll see the random Chase Utley and Alex Verdugo starts sprinkled in here and there, the lineups, for the most part, should begin to show a little more consistency.
Some sabermetric-minded folks will argue that aspects like chemistry, unity, and cohesiveness are insignificant, but these factors could play small roles during the stretch run of the year when games count the most. While we’ll certainly see different plans of attacks against right-handed pitching as opposed to southpaws, the general lineups for each should start to show some signs of similarity.
Last season, the Dodgers one-through-four hitters—Chris Taylor, Corey Seager, Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger—remained untouched for the majority of the year. And with less than 30 contests remaining in 2018, these same patterns of consistency are beginning to emerge conce again. Against lefties, we’re seeing a trending quartet of Brian Dozier, Turner, Manny Machado, and Matt Kemp at the top, while against righties, we often see a combo of Joc Pederson, Turner, Machado, and either Bellinger or Max Muncy. Of course, player matchups will trump all, but these general setups may hold true throughout September.
So, all that being said, a basic lineup against RHP could look something like this:
Against left-handed pitching, a good possibility could be:
Taylor could see a few opportunities, but the addition of David Freese makes Taylor somewhat obsolete, because it gives the team the luxury of playing Freese at third base and keeping Machado at short when Turner needs a day off. With the expanded roster, it also limits Taylor’s need in the outfield.
In theory, if the Dodgers are desperate enough for offense, we could even see Kyle Farmer in place of Austin Barnes against southpaw pitching, but it’s tough to think that Farmer would supplant Barnes on a playoff roster (if the Dodgers are indeed able to clinch a postseason spot) when management appears to still not trust Farmer’s defensive duties behind the plate.
It’s also important to keep in mind reverse splits, like those of Yasiel Puig. Against lefties this year, he’s slashing .212/.280/.356 over 132 PA, while hitting .288/.342/.509 in 240 PA against righties, opening the door for somebody like Taylor to slot into center and Hernandez in right against southpaw throwers.
Obviously, there are many more complex theories, equations, and algorithms employed by the tech group, but these are just a few of the more popular assumptions. Conversely, if we start to see some players become increasingly hot down the stretch, we may see them play more regardless of the mathematical matchups, especially if the divisional race comes down to the final few games.