Optimizing the 2015 Milwaukee Brewers Lineup


Last week, Steven published his projected 2015 Brewers starting lineups. While he took a more traditional approach (and one that we have a good chance at seeing Ron Roenicke actually use), that doesn’t mean that it is necessarily the best approach. If you’re familiar with my work, you’ll notice that I tend to use sabermetrics and advanced statistics when talking about and evaluating players, and when setting my optimized Brewers lineup it is no different.

In 2009, Tom Tango, Mitch Litchman, and Andy Dolphin published “The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball.” Within “The Book,” the trio goes in depth about the batting lineup, stressing that it is a continuous loop, and breaks down what type of batter should hit in each slot in the order. Although the difference between a traditional lineup and an optimized lineup is equivalent to only roughly one win per 162 games, every game counts. If the Brewers want to put themselves in the best positions to compete next season, here is what their starting lineup should look like:

1. Jonathon Lucroy-C

A catcher hitting leadoff? It’s not as crazy as you think; Jason Kendall actually hit leadoff for 374 games in his career. While Lucroy doesn’t have blazing speed, he can still score from second on a single. What he does possess is the highest on base percentage (by 17 points) of anyone on the team, which is much more valuable out of the leadoff spot. Most power hitters (Prince Fielder, for example) don’t like runners moving around on the base paths while they’re hitting, so the fact that Lucroy has below average speed shouldn’t hinder run production.  I’m almost sure Lucroy would rather come up in front of guys like Ryan Braun and Carlos Gomez, anyhow, as it gives him a much better chance to score. Though he lead the league with 53 doubles last season, Lucroy only scored 73 runs, showing that the bottom of the order guys behind him weren’t getting it done. Putting Lucroy at the top gives the Brewers the best chance to start games off with a lead after the first inning.

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2. Ryan Braun-RF

According to “The Book,” the number two hitter comes to bat more times in important situations that a number three hitter does, and there is a runner on base in roughly 44% of their plate appearances. The number two hitter should be your best overall hitter. While Lucroy or Gomez may have been the best hitters on the team last season, when he’s healthy, Braun is among the best hitters in baseball. Braun should be hitting number two. Over his career, Braun has an OPS+ of 143, including his “down” season last year when he still managed to be 14% better than league average offensively. Following offseason thumb surgery, Braun says he feels pain free, and if this is the case, we can expect him to be much closer to his pre-injury form. ZiPS projects Braun to put up 27 home runs, an .852 OPS, and a .367 wOBA, all best on the team. Should these projections hold true, the Brewers can maximize Ryan Braun’s value by placing him in the two hole.

3. Adam Lind-1B

The number three hitter is much less important than conventional baseball wisdom seems to think, as they come up to the plate with two outs and nobody on more than any other spot in the lineup. The reason I think Adam Lind would be a fit here is to break up all of the right handedness that the Brewers’ lineup features. Sticking a lefty in the three spot rather than, say, the five hole, provides much greater balance in the lineup. This is especially true later in games, when managers tend to mix and match relievers based not only on matchups at the plate, but also who might be in the on-deck circle. Lind in the three hole means a power throwing righty who struggles against left handed hitters could only get two batters in an inning, instead of as many as four.

4. Carlos Gomez-CF

I recently published a more in depth look at why Gomez should be cleanup hitter, which you can see here. According to the optimized lineup, Gomez would still be the cleanup hitter as the player with the highest slugging percentage on the team. Gomez shines with runners in scoring position, jumping from a .268/.340/.484 slash with bases empty all the way too .331/.404/.477 with a 146 wRC+ mark. He lead the team with 23 home runs and a .477 slugging percentage. While his speedy baserunning doesn’t necessarily fit the old school cleanup hitter “profile,” Gomez provides the most value to the lineup when hitting fourth.

5. Aramis Ramirez-3B

“The Book” says your five hitter holds similar value to the three hitter, although the three hitter should provide more home runs. Although he’s clearly declining, Ramirez still should be a capable producer in the Brewers lineup. Ramirez produced at a clip roughly 10% above league average last season, and he had a slugging percentage over 100 points higher as five hitter than as the cleanup guy in 2014. If Ramirez can match his projection of .278/.332/.440 slash line, the Brewers should have solid protection for Gomez and company.

6. Khris Davis-LF

“The Book” says hitters six-through nine are basically the best of the rest in descending order. Khris Davis had a solid 2014, and my gut feeling is that he’ll be even better in 2015. I’m looking for him to hit closer to .260 avg/.330 OBP while supplying his trademark power, and I think he’ll beat his 21 home run projection.

7. Scooter Gennett-2B

All signs point to Scooter as the everyday second baseman in 2015, which may not be a good thing. In any case, his presence in the seven hole is mostly base on his left handedness, a further attempt to balance the lineup. He provides a solid contact profile, but doesn’t walk enough to be featured higher in the order. If he figures out how to hit lefties and improves his on base percentage, he could be a fit in the leadoff hole.

8. Jean Segura-SS

Segura had a career worst season last year, posting a meager 67 wRC+ and 71 OPS+, and is projected to again be the Brewers lowest producing regular. While Segura probably isn’t the guy all-star player that hit .294/.329/.423 in 2013, he should be better than he was last season. Putting Segura in the eight hole allows him to begin to rebuild his offensive value and confidence in the what should be the lowest pressure spot in the order.

9. Pitcher

Though there is some credence in batting the pitcher eighth, it has been shown to be worth only about two runs per year. We’ll just stick with the status quo on this one.

There you have it, the Brewers 2015 optimized lineup. While it may not end up being the lineup that Ron ends up employing, I certainly believe that this lineup would maximize each player’s offensive potential to the fullest, allowing the Brewers to improve on a 2014 season that saw them average 2.73 runs per game during the free falling month of September. I implore the Brewers brass to put some credence in the advanced statistics that I hold so dear, because who knows if that one win could make the difference between being on the outside looking in next October?