For Baseball Managers, A New Day, a New Lineup
St. Louis — If it seems like Don Mattingly is writing out a new batting order for the Los Angeles Dodgers every night, it’s because he just about is.
With the season approaching the halfway point, Mattingly used a major league-high 75 different batting orders in the first 79 games for his injury-stricken team.
Seattle (73) and Miami (72) were just behind entering Saturday, while Baltimore and St. Louis (40 each) were the standards of stability, according to Stats.
“I don’t know if there’s a manager alive that wouldn’t want to come to the park and have one through nine set for you,” Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. “A manager is always trying to figure out that spot where guys have the most success and it benefits the team. I think that’s the beauty of managing, trying to figure that out.”
Injuries, statistics, slumps and matchups all play a role in trying to find that perfect order.
And then there was Billy Martin, who said he occasionally pulled names out of a hat to determine his batting order when his teams were scuffling.
“You like having things set,” Chicago manager Robin Ventura said. “That would be nice, but it’s not always that easy having teams where you’re just going to sit there and have the same nine guys play, the same guys hitting.”
Only two White Sox players have been fixtures at their slots this season: leadoff man Alejandro De Aza and third-spot hitter Alex Rios.
Texas manager Ron Washington used 55 batting orders, with five players sharing the No. 3 hole and six batting No. 5.
During his career, Washington appreciated relative certainty. In 1982, Washington’s most productive season as a player, all but 20 of his starts came batting first or second.
“As soon as we get back to the way I know we can go, you can see that same lineup. It ain’t going to be jumping back and forth,” Washington said. “I think these guys love when they come to the yard knowing exactly where they are every day.”
Washington judged that Elvis Andrus failed in the leadoff spot because he stopped being aggressive, that he took too many strikes early in the count. Ian Kinsler took over at the top of the order in mid-June, and he says familiarity brings comfort.
“You definitely understand the players around you and the players that are hitting in front of you and behind you and what they like to do and their tendencies,” he said. “The more you play with the guys around you, the better feeling you have.”
Mattingly has had to work around injuries to Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawford, plus Andre Ethier’s season-long slide. Eight players have batted cleanup and a dozen have hit fifth.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny took over last season from Tony La Russa, a manager he played under. In leading the Cardinals to the 2011 World Series title, La Russa used 126 lineups during the regular season. And that was down from 147 the previous season.
Matheny changes up the batting order to keep players fresh during the grind of 162 games in 182 days.
Oakland’s Bob Melvin, the reigning AL Manager of the Year, relies heavily on matchups. Chris Young has hit in every spot but cleanup, Jed Lowrie in all but the No. 8 hole and Seth Smith everywhere but leadoff, according to Stats.
“Based on some of the resources we have, this is the way we have to do it,” Melvin said. “I’m all for it. It keeps everybody involved.”
Redmond notes conditions change after the first time through the order, and isn’t averse to a little experimentation.
“I always thought if you take a guy who’s used to hitting fourth or fifth and lead him off, sometimes it energizes guys and this could be kind of fun,” he said.
Cincinnati’s Dusty Baker, a three-time NL Manager of the Year, complains that his team has been “behind the 8-ball” since Ryan Ludwick tore cartilage in his right shoulder while sliding on opening day.
“Well, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” Baker said. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Still, no alibis, no excuses when it doesn’t.”
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire maintains creativity is been an absolute must. He recalled an era where when filling out the lineup card was as easy as pushing the print button.
“I don’t mind moving people around and trying different things and reading all these stats that you guys love so awful dearly much, which are fun, it’s fun stuff to read,” Gardenhire said. “It’s kind of fun at times to try different things and see how it goes, but it’s so much easier when you can at least set six or seven guys in one spot and kind of play with the other guys and make sure everybody gets at-bats.”
And going into a game, a manager never knows which slot will come up in the moment.
“I’ve always thought that’s a topic that’s pretty selfish, where you hit in the lineup,” Matheny said. “I address this with youth coaches and parents a lot, too. It shouldn’t be a conversation because that seventh spot could be the most important spot in the lineup that night.”