Saturday, September 6, 2008

Batting Seventh, Luis Castillo

Overnight rain washed away the second game of the Mets-Phillies series today, so I have another day or two before I really start to panic. Jerry Manuel has been putting a new-look lineup out for the last five games, with his left fielders (Daniel Murphy or Nick Evans) batting second and his second basemen (Damion Easley and Luis Castillo) in the seventh hole.

First of all, I hope this just happens to be a coincidence and not a concerted effort by Manuel to assign lineup order by fielding positions. Met fans constantly complained about the former manager's head-scratching propensity for batting his second basemen in the second spot in the order, no matter who was playing the position that day. I will choose to assume that Manuel simply thinks his rookie left fielders will benefit from having Jose Reyes on base in front of them and the protection of the 3-4-5 hitters behind them. Doing so theoretically forces pitchers to throw more fastballs - both to prevent Reyes from stealing and to avoid walks that would put two guys on base in front of David Wright.

There is an added bonus to the structure - "fan favorite" Castillo belongs at the bottom of the lineup, where his .320 SLG and his 83 OPS+ is more at home. I was surprised to see him seventh though, and was initially annoyed that Manuel didn't bat Castillo eighth - something I've been advocating all season.

However, I realized something earlier today, which may explain why Castillo is a good fit for the seventh spot. Both he and Brian Schneider have similar numbers this season:

Castillo, overall: .257/.357/.320 with 3 HRs and 15 SB in 269 at-bats
Schneider, overall: .257/.343/.356 with 7 HRs and 0 SB in 292 at-bats

Castillo, righties: .266/.362/.300 with 0 HRs and 11 SB in 203 at-bats
Schneider, righties: .278/.360/.404 with 7 HRs and 0 SB in 230 at-bats

The obvious difference is that Schneider has more power (although that certainly is a relative term!) and less speed, and therefore seems like a more natural fit to bat seventh. However, on my Strat-o-Matic team I often like to bat a speedster seventh or eighth, if the bottom two or three hitters in my lineup have similar on-base numbers.

Why? Because a base-stealing threat changes the pitcher's approach in a way that benefits the hitter. The pitcher throws more fastballs, for one, and is generally preoccupied with a man on first. In Strat, holding a runner on base increases a batter's chances of getting a hit by about 3 percent (which translates into roughly 25 points of batting average). If you bat the slow runner in front of the fast runner, the fast runner gets no such benefit when the first batter gets on base in front of him.

If given the choice between two batters of roughly equal on base percentage, it always makes sense to bat the faster runner higher. The variable, of course, is the difference in slugging average. Ryan Church's SLG is 168 points higher than Castillo's, even though they have a similar OBP. The difference in SLG is large enough that it wouldn't make sense to move Castillo in the sixth spot and Church into the seventh, even if it might lead to a small jump in Church's batting average.

So it looks like Jerry Manuel may have stumbled upon the ideal place to bat Luis Castillo - on the days he decides to play him. I hope he remains in the seventh spot for the rest of the season.

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