David Wright is going to hit eighth, and after some false starts, I've found a reason to be mad about it.
At first I figured stats would make an effective weapon, so I went out and did some furious Googling for the latest sabermetrical thinking on optimal batting orders. It's an interesting subject, though frustrating if you're in a revolutionary mood. As best I can determine, the definitive recent take on this is by James Click of Baseball Prospectus. That article is behind the subscription wall, but it's excerpted and discussed here, on Baseball Musings.
The gist of it (and I'm undoubtedly missing the subtleties) is that players should bat in descending order of on-base average. But this look at the problem, by Roger Moore, finds that the advantages of the optimal lineup are pretty small — 0.4 game per season. The conventional batting order isn't dumb at all, Moore says: It's “close enough to optimal that it took far more games than have been played in the history of MLB to show that the descending OBA order was statistically significantly better.”
Mark D. Pankin goes into a bit more detail on what's wanted from each position in the order; the math was tough sledding for me, but I liked his discussion of the biggest managerial blunder: putting a guy who can steal bases but has a low OBA in the leadoff spot. Unfortunately for us, that description fits a certain Mets shortstop perfectly: One might call this error the Reyes Fallacy. And, in fact, MetsGeek's Michael Oliver suggests we'd do better with Reyes hitting 7th. (He has Wright hitting 2nd.)
Still, the Reyes Fallacy doesn't necessarily dictate Wright's place in the order. TRF aside, the difference between a conventional-wisdom order and an optimized one is small. And Randolph's lineup begins with three switch hitters (Reyes, Matsui, Beltran) before alternating right- and left-handed hitters (Piazza, Floyd, Cameron, Mientiewicz, Wright) the rest of the way, which is certainly nicely balanced and should be tough on enemy relief corps.
So I was still trying to be outraged, but lacking a good reason. My next move was to think, “Well, this is going to cost Wright plate appearances, and any fool can see you'd rather have more PAs from Wright than from Cameron or Mientiewicz.” And it will cost him PAs — but the cost is somewhere between 20 and 35 PAs, which isn't enough to get worked up about. (I'm basing that on thinking Wright should hit 6th — batting him 2nd would give him an extra 60 PAs or so, which is a different story.)
Returning to Newsday's account, I re-read what Rick Down had to say about the move. And finally I found my reason to be ticked.
Here are Down's comments:
“The fact that he's in the lineup, hitting eighth is still better than being on the bench.”
Wha? It's also better than being sent to Norfolk, released, or shot, which would also be stupid things to do with David Wright.
“…if it's not him, who is it?”
How about the right-handed hitter who had a lower OBA last year and, unlike Wright, has never shown the ability to draw walks? How about Mike Cameron?
“It's a nice luxury to have to be able to say that our No. 8 hitter has the abilities that David Wright has.”
It's also a nice circular argument to make. You could put Ted Williams in the 8th slot and have a heckuva No. 8 hitter, but that wouldn't make it a good idea.
“Experience-wise, too. It will be his first full season…”
Ah. Here's the outrage.
I mean, is this a baseball team or a frat initiation? Wright is straight outta Boys' Life – it's not like he's a bad seed who needs to be put in his place. If this is about Mike Cameron's psyche, as the Daily News suggested, I don't want to hear it — Mike Cameron is a fabulously well-paid adult, and Wright shouldn't be punished for being a team guy. And Randolph and Down's Yankee teams won because they worked counts, wore out pitchers and played solid situational baseball — not because Jeter and Rivera were fetching Gatorade for veterans. If they aren't clear on this point, I've overestimated them.
David Wright has never shown that he's anything less than Gallant in blue and orange. So why is he getting Goofus'd?