The Black Hole at the Bottom of the Lineup

That black hole at the bottom of the Phillies' lineup you perceived last year? Well, it wasn't just a bad dream you had starring David Bell, Mike Lieberthal, and your pick among pitchers, Endy Chavez, Tomas Perez, and a cast of other outmakers constantly hitting weak grounders right to the shortstop for an easy out (or two!).

No, it was real. And it was the worst in baseball.

A couple months ago, I looked at batting order data for the 270 individual teams' lineup positions for 2005 and wrote up a couple of neat studies you can find here and here. For this study, I took that data and grouped together the teams' first 6 hitters and their bottom 3 hitters. Then, I calculated the average stats for each group.

The Phillies fared terribly in this study: they had the worst OPS gap (.222), the second worst AVG gap (.063), the worst OBP gap (.089), and the third worst SLG gap (.134). Basically, to put it simply, the performance difference between the Phils' first 6 batters and their last 3 batters was the worst in baseball by a good margin. It was indeed a black hole you witnessed at the bottom of the lineup.

Now, we at the Good Phight are well-versed in the studies that show that lineup ordering is largely irrelevant in terms of overall run scoring. However, we're also aware that at the extremes, lineup ordering can make a difference. Moreover, lineup ordering can certainly affect how opposing pitchers pitch to batters (why not pitch around the 5 and 6 hole hitters if the 7-8-9 guys are atrocious?) and how consistently a team puts pressure on an opposing pitching staff (it's nice for the pitcher to get a breather every 6 hitters). And, from a fan's perspective, lineup ordering can definitely affect how we enjoy the game (who wants to watch three hitters in a row ruin rallies or produce quick innings so frequently?).

But, the conclusion of this study isn't that the Phils need to do a better job dispersing the terrible hitters at the bottom of their lineup throughout the rest of the lineup. Rather, what we can take away from this data is that if the team wants to truly capitalize on the immense talent in the first six spots in the lineup, it needs to put better hitters at the bottom of the lineup as well. This conclusion is not really surprising given that the foibles of this crew are well known, but the numbers show just how badly this team needs to make that improvement rather than acquiring more useless sixth starters or washed-up middle relievers.

Here are some charts with the data for the Phils and all other teams in MLB (ranked by OPS):

Team Position BA OBP SLG OPS
NY Yankees 1 thru 6 0.285 0.369 0.483 0.852
Boston 1 thru 6 0.287 0.365 0.484 0.849
Philadelphia 1 thru 6 0.289 0.375 0.466 0.841
Cincinnati 1 thru 6 0.278 0.359 0.475 0.833
St. Louis 1 thru 6 0.282 0.359 0.463 0.822
Chicago Cubs 1 thru 6 0.285 0.341 0.479 0.820
Texas 1 thru 6 0.273 0.336 0.484 0.820
Atlanta 1 thru 6 0.275 0.347 0.466 0.813
Cleveland 1 thru 6 0.279 0.345 0.468 0.813
Arizona 1 thru 6 0.270 0.347 0.465 0.811
Milwaukee 1 thru 6 0.278 0.346 0.456 0.803
Colorado 1 thru 6 0.287 0.352 0.449 0.801
Houston 1 thru 6 0.269 0.338 0.452 0.789
Florida 1 thru 6 0.286 0.353 0.434 0.787
Baltimore 1 thru 6 0.273 0.332 0.452 0.784
Detroit 1 thru 6 0.283 0.333 0.450 0.783
Pittsburgh 1 thru 6 0.277 0.344 0.435 0.779
Chicago Sox 1 thru 6 0.271 0.335 0.444 0.779
Tampa Bay 1 thru 6 0.275 0.332 0.436 0.768
LA Dodgers 1 thru 6 0.263 0.336 0.426 0.762
NY Mets 1 thru 6 0.266 0.327 0.432 0.759
San Diego 1 thru 6 0.268 0.346 0.411 0.758
Seattle 1 thru 6 0.266 0.333 0.424 0.756
San Francisco 1 thru 6 0.276 0.334 0.420 0.754
Washington 1 thru 6 0.263 0.338 0.415 0.753
LA Angels 1 thru 6 0.276 0.331 0.418 0.749
Kansas City 1 thru 6 0.272 0.333 0.413 0.746
Toronto 1 thru 6 0.266 0.331 0.408 0.740
Oakland 1 thru 6 0.267 0.332 0.405 0.737
Minnesota 1 thru 6 0.261 0.326 0.400 0.726
Team Position BA OBP SLG OPS
Texas 7 thru 9 0.255 0.313 0.432 0.744
Oakland 7 thru 9 0.251 0.324 0.412 0.736
Toronto 7 thru 9 0.265 0.330 0.405 0.736
Cleveland 7 thru 9 0.254 0.313 0.422 0.735
Boston 7 thru 9 0.265 0.337 0.392 0.728
Tampa Bay 7 thru 9 0.269 0.321 0.398 0.719
NY Yankees 7 thru 9 0.256 0.323 0.386 0.708
Baltimore 7 thru 9 0.257 0.316 0.392 0.707
LA Angels 7 thru 9 0.258 0.311 0.389 0.699
Minnesota 7 thru 9 0.254 0.316 0.374 0.690
NY Mets 7 thru 9 0.239 0.308 0.381 0.689
Chicago Sox 7 thru 9 0.245 0.295 0.389 0.684
Cincinnati 7 thru 9 0.222 0.290 0.385 0.675
Detroit 7 thru 9 0.244 0.294 0.379 0.673
Florida 7 thru 9 0.241 0.304 0.357 0.661
Atlanta 7 thru 9 0.239 0.295 0.364 0.659
Kansas City 7 thru 9 0.240 0.289 0.358 0.647
San Diego 7 thru 9 0.232 0.301 0.343 0.644
Milwaukee 7 thru 9 0.218 0.295 0.348 0.643
Chicago Cubs 7 thru 9 0.236 0.285 0.355 0.640
LA Dodgers 7 thru 9 0.229 0.302 0.326 0.628
St. Louis 7 thru 9 0.242 0.288 0.337 0.625
San Francisco 7 thru 9 0.228 0.282 0.342 0.624
Arizona 7 thru 9 0.224 0.298 0.325 0.623
Colorado 7 thru 9 0.222 0.290 0.329 0.620
Philadelphia 7 thru 9 0.226 0.286 0.332 0.619
Seattle 7 thru 9 0.230 0.282 0.322 0.603
Washington 7 thru 9 0.228 0.282 0.319 0.601
Houston 7 thru 9 0.228 0.287 0.314 0.601
Pittsburgh 7 thru 9 0.219 0.271 0.325 0.596
Team Position BA OBP SLG OPS
Philadelphia diff 0.063 0.089 0.134 0.222
St. Louis diff 0.040 0.071 0.126 0.197
Houston diff 0.041 0.051 0.138 0.188
Arizona diff 0.045 0.049 0.140 0.188
Pittsburgh diff 0.058 0.074 0.109 0.183
Colorado diff 0.065 0.062 0.120 0.182
Chicago Cubs diff 0.048 0.056 0.124 0.180
Milwaukee diff 0.059 0.051 0.108 0.159
Cincinnati diff 0.056 0.069 0.090 0.159
Atlanta diff 0.036 0.052 0.102 0.154
Seattle diff 0.036 0.051 0.102 0.153
Washington diff 0.035 0.056 0.096 0.152
NY Yankees diff 0.029 0.047 0.097 0.144
LA Dodgers diff 0.034 0.034 0.100 0.134
San Francisco diff 0.047 0.051 0.078 0.129
Florida diff 0.046 0.049 0.077 0.125
Boston diff 0.022 0.029 0.092 0.121
San Diego diff 0.035 0.045 0.068 0.114
Detroit diff 0.039 0.039 0.071 0.110
Kansas City diff 0.033 0.045 0.054 0.099
Chicago Sox diff 0.026 0.040 0.054 0.094
Cleveland diff 0.026 0.031 0.046 0.078
Baltimore diff 0.016 0.016 0.060 0.076
Texas diff 0.018 0.023 0.052 0.076
NY Mets diff 0.027 0.019 0.051 0.070
LA Angels diff 0.018 0.021 0.029 0.050
Tampa Bay diff 0.006 0.010 0.038 0.049
Minnesota diff 0.007 0.010 0.025 0.035
Toronto diff 0.001 0.001 0.003 0.004
Oakland diff 0.017 0.008 -0.007 0.001
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