Success and Lineup Consistency

During the MLB Network broadcast of Reds, Brewers game, the color commentator suggested that in order for a team to be successful, they need consistency in their lineup. The commentator insisted that a lineup must include a leadoff man who maintains that slot in the lineup every day. He went on to mention that for a team to win, slots 1-4 in the lineup must be filled with non-platoon players. If you have a platoon in the leadoff spot, things can go wrong. “Your first four hitters in your lineup have to be in there pretty much every day. You don’t want a platoon time player as your leadoff guy”. The comment was given regarding the Brewer’s lack of a true leadoff hitter. Scooter Gennett is the closest thing they have with Jean Segura batting second.

I can’t help but think that lineup consistency is simply a result of overall team talent. If a team has four players who are so good that they belong in the lineup every day, then they will play every day. A consistent lineup will result from the desire to get the best players out there every day. If a team has significantly less talent, their lineup will not be as consistent and will include more platoons. The players that make up the starting lineup of the less-talent team will more closely preform at replacement level than the more-talent team whose players play every day. If a starting lineup includes replacement level players or players within a win or two of replacement level, there will be more platoons and swaps between bench players.

Lineup consistency is not a measure that must be achieved in order for success to be attained; it is a byproduct of a team with plenty of talent who doesn’t need to tinker with its lineup. Lineup consistency and winning do not directly affect each other.

Joe Maddon

Joe Maddon of the Tampa Bay Rays is known both for being one of the best managers in baseball and for often shuffling his lineup around. Maddon clearly does not subscribe to the rule of consistency, and just has plenty of talent to work with. Maddon’s method provides an example in which talent is isolated and lineup consistency is thrown out.

Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times detailed Maddon’s strategy:

“Maddon was at his best — or worst — using a majors-most 151 batting orders for their 162 games, and no one more than three times.”

That stat refers to the 2012 season in which only three Rays exceeded 575 plate appearances. In 2013, as pointed out by Rob Rogacki of SB Nation, five Rays exceeded those 575 plate appearances, the most by a Joe Maddon coached team since 2010.

Maddon has earned himself a reputation as a man who tinkers with the order of his lineup, yielding a batting order described as anything but consistent. Despite this well-documented strategy, the Rays as a team, remain quite consistent, winning 97, 84, 96, 91, 90, and 92 games in each season since 2008 respectively. Maddon has managed every one of these teams.

The Tampa Bay Times’ Gary Shelton provided the totals as far as different lineups were concerned.

“For each of the past five years, Maddon has started an increasing number of lineups. In 2008, it was 115. The next year, it was 123. In 2010, it was 129. In 2011, it was 130. Then last year (2012), with Longoria hurt, it was a whopping 151 lineups in 162 games.”

There are three factors at work here and this announcer was looking to thread them together when in reality, correlation does not imply causation. The three factors are lineup construction, talent and winning. Talent and winning always belong together, lineup construction proves to just be the third wheel.

Why have Maddon and the Rays been so successful despite notoriously tinkering with their lineup? Talent. Is manufacturing a batting order with the same team members slotted in their respective places a plausible strategy or a oft occurring result of a talented team that does not directly influence success?