Lineup design tends to follow a classic formula: the leadoff hitter gets on base, the number two guy gets him over, the number three or four guy knocks him in. It’s that simple. Or it would be in an ideal baseball world. The Met lineup has generally been anything but ideal this season as their recent record-setting 0-for-19 with RISP stretch during the soon-to-be-infamous 20-inning Marlin meltdown proves. And it will surely take more than a simple flip-flopping of the batting order to remedy the situation but I would like to propose one nevertheless.
A breakdown of the numbers has revealed one apparent indicator for a greater probability of run production by the Mets: Daniel Murphy should hit third. The reasoning is fairly simple: batters who can put the ball in play with greater regularity will have a higher level of success in advancing and scoring runners than those who do not. As of this writing, Daniel Murphy and David Wright have both recorded 249 plate appearances this season. In those appearances, Wright (the incumbent #3 batter) has put the ball in play 173 times resulting in 60 hits and 1 sacrifice fly. Murphy has put the ball in play 203 times resulting in 67 hits and 2 sacrifice flies. Assuming a constant level of runners in scoring position, one would expect that the odds of one being driven home would increase with a higher level of balls in play. Murph’s propensity to put the bat on the ball not only has resulted in seven more hits and one more sac fly, but also created a higher probability of an error being committed by the opposition due to the increased number of chances, something that could also result in a run scoring. The offset to this is the higher probability of a double play as demonstrated by Murph’s 6 GDP’s which leads the team. Still, we are looking for every edge we can in getting runners home and the tradeoff for a hard hit ground ball possibly being turned into a DP less than 3% of the time is still preferable to a strikeout or popup for a run starved offense.
Installing Murphy as the number three hitter naturally pushes Wright into the cleanup slot, a position for which he is well suited. Duda fits logically into the 5 hole behind him, and frankly, everything else is pretty much a crapshoot at this point. If the team is going to find a successful model to emulate, short of making an unlikely series of trades and FA signings to transmogrify the lineup into a run-scoring dynamo, they are probably best off following the example of the recent version of the SF Giants and the classic Dodger teams of the early ‘60’s. This would fit with the apparent shape the team is taking now, with an emphasis on dominant starting pitching, but needing an efficient top-of-the-order mechanism to generate at least a modicum of regular scoring chances. A big time slugging lineup a la the Yankees or Reds is not in the cards for a team that plays half its games in Citi Field, newly friendlier confines or not. So for the model to work, the team needs to find a real leadoff man or better yet, a tandem in the 1-2 holes to allow them to take advantage of what they have in Murphy and Wright. If some of those components are currently available on the roster (possibly in the form of Quintanilla and Valdespin) remains to be seen, but a long-term solution is probably still dependent on moves yet to be made.
We can anticipate changes to come, obviously, but if the Mets are to find the winning formula, they need to make the best use of the assets they have. One of those is Daniel Murphy and at this point he can be put to better use. We may be grasping at straws here, but eventually, moves of this type could be more meaningful once the talent level of the players surrounding the team core is elevated, assuming it is. It is likely that we will see a fair amount of movement with respect to the roster and the lineup as management searches for an effective combination of players to put on the field. Some degree of stability will be needed and establishing a consistent core in the middle of batting order would go a long way toward providing it. Daniel Murphy is not a perfect player by any means, but he has a certain set of defined abilities that could be utilized in what could be a more productive manner.