Thursday, January 20, 2011

The First Step in the De-Citofication Process

Rock Paper Scissors for the Cleanup Spot!
Despite the slightly incendiary title, I come today not to bury Cito. Nor do I plan to excrete anything on or around his grave. I hope to pose a simple question1: should Vernon Wells continue as the Blue Jays cleanup hitter?

The easy answer is no. Despite putting up strong numbers in 2010 Wells is ill-suited to the role. The Book suggests your best hitters in the 1,2, and 4 spot. Wells hits fourth because he's The Team Leader and other such stuff. Jose Bautista hit third much of the year, starting in late June. Vernon batted cleanup every game, all year long.

It is difficult to argue the results as both men put up huge numbers. What is open to debate is the role their spot in the batting order plays in that success. From a "winning games" perspective, hitting Bautista third and Wells fourth is less than ideal.

Consider a great post on a great blog The Process Report. The finest Rays writers come together to provide excellent, high-end analysis. This week, they examined if the Rays best hitter — Evan Longoria — was better suited to hitting third or fourth.

How does that relate to the Jays? Applying the same thinking the Process Report guys used for Longoria2, I thought I'd take a look at the opportunities afforded Bautista and Wells. Nothing too fancy or esoteric, simply what was the situation when they came to the plate.

The first assumption we must make to assuming Jose Bautista is a "better" hitter than Vernon Wells. In 2010, he certainly was. In addition to his prodigious power, Jose Bautista made far fewer outs than Vernon Wells. Even if the home runs dry up, this trend stands to continue thanks to Joe Bau's discerning eye and Vernon Wells' nervous twitches.

Like the Process Report dudes, I'll focus on first inning plate appearances. Check out the chart(s) below!

To summarize, cleanup hitter Vernon Wells came to the plate 99 times in the first inning, compared to only 64 appearances in the second (where he would leadoff, nobody on & nobody out.) Of those 99 first inning plate appearances, Wells batted with a running in scoring position more than 40% of the time. Compare that to number three hitter Jose Bautista, who saw runners in scoring position a mere 17% of his first inning plate appearances.

I recognize this isn't an "apples to apples" comparison when we consider how much Wells benefits from hitting behind an OBP machine like Jose. Bautista's plate appearances in the cleanup role won't mirror Vernon's but the differences will be relatively slight. Numerical vagaries aside, having an out-making fool like Wells hit with two out and nobody on isn't the end of the world.

Should Wells reach, Bautista's ability to extend the inning only increases the chance of scoring. Should Wells do his Vernon Wells-thing, making the third out of the inning, there is ersatz leadoff man Jose Bautista doing his patient slugger-thing at the top of the second inning. Win-win!

On a team without:
  1. a prototype leadoff guy(?) and
  2. in no real rush to get on base in the first place
The standard line of "RBI guy in the 3 spot!!11!" kind of goes out the window. Wells has the power to put up instant offense from that spot without killing nascent rallies started by the (last year, at least) more proficient Bautista.

Provided everyone is warm and fuzzy about it, this team would be far better positioned to score more runs with Wells/Bautista 3/4. And yes, I realize this very debate was bandied about last year at this time regarding Hill and Lind shifting from 2/3 to 3/4. Things change; it is baseball we're talking about.

Moving elder statesman Vernon Wells too far from the middle of the order isn't a wise move for a new manager on his way into town. Hopefully Farrell can use his fresh eyes and new perspective to convince the players that a more optimized lineup helps them all in the end.

1 - Completely unrelated to contract arbitration, as that shit is for the birds.

2 - I basically stole their chart format, too. No honour on the internet indeed.

Credit to AP Photo (courtesy of Daylife) for the photo, Fangraphs for the play by play info and The Process Report for the original idea.


  1. I heard Wells on the FAN a little while back and he said (without prompting!) that he'd already told Farrell he was willing to hit anywhere in the lineup. Which is great, except figuring out where to put him in the order isn't actually all that simple. I never would've thought of the 3-spot myself, but you make a pretty convincing argument.

    If we're going on last year's performance then that absolutely makes sense. But if Adam Lind can get put up a .370 OBP again, it'd be hella nice to see him closer to the top of the order. I'm sure whatever the lineup is to start the year, it'll be completely different by mid-season when Lind, Hill, Snider, and all the other giant question marks on the team start answering themselves. Until then, Vernon batting 3rd sounds like a pretty nice idea.

  2. I wouldn't be surprised if the lineup becomes very fluid this year. We probably won't see anything concrete until near the end of the spring, but an early prediction as of right now could look like this:


    I don't see the point of a power hitting 9th, and before his 36 HR season, Hill wasn't considered one, but more of an average+gap type guy, which would be great for the 9 hole.

    I'm putting Snider 5th instead of 7th because I believe he's going to have a killer spring and earn himself the 5 hole spot.

    This lineup will definitely skyrocket Snider's RBI totals this season, if he has that breakout season I believe he will have, especially if Bautista is constantly walking ahead of him.

    Also brings some added speed to the top of the lineup as Davis, Escobar and Wells are all either quick around the basepaths, or smart baserunners.

    I think that the only 2 items that can change there are a Snider/Lind swap depending on ST performances.

    Regardless, that is a pretty solid lineup that will probably maximize performance.

  3. (Re)Building year...I'd love to see Snider start the year batting 3rd followed by JBau, Wells, Lind. Hill (another out making fool) could bat 2nd or 7th depending on where Escobar/Davis/Damon/Manny(!?) are batting. I would bat Snider 3rd because it gets him something like 18 more at bats during the year and he'll need them all to prove to everyone what he can do.

  4. Sometimes I fail to wrap my head around things. One of these things was the argument that a No. 4 hitter should be better than a No. 3. (Third gets more at bats!) You've explained it in a way I can understand. Thank you! My brain is not broke anymore.

  5. Two things:

    1- I want to show this post to everyone I know.
    2- Isn't the 'nerding it up' tag starting to border on being redundant at this point?*

    *- This is intended to be a compliment

  6. Yeah, so now that VW's gone, this isn't a problem anymore.

    Thoroughly excellent work as always, though.

  7. Well, way to go in being presumptuous about the whole thing, Drew. The "out-making fool" will render his services elsewhere, thank you very much.


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