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Getting All Your Jays In A Row

When I was a kid, I was fascinated with batting order construction. But in the days long before Twitter, it wasn’t so easy to find out how the Blue Jays were lining up on any given day. I loved going to the ballpark, because they’d have the order posted on the screens in the outfield. But before the high-tech video boards on the outfield wall, it was much more crude than that. It would have the position on top, with the players jersey number underneath. So you also needed a working knowledge of the roster to figure things out. But I knew my stuff, so it was fine.

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Lineup junkies know all about scoring the game

If you weren’t at the Dome, things were much more complicated. You had to be in front of the TV (or the radio) right when the game began to catch the graphic, or be watching from the start of the game. There were countless occasions were I was late tuning in, and usually had to figure out the lineup by watching the game, and usually counting/filling in by myself based on where Carlos Delgado was hitting.

The way managers fill out their lineups has evolved over the last few years. Even a decade ago, it would have been absurd to have your best hitters hit 1-2 (like the Jays have done with Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson). There was a standard template to follow. Your fastest guy hit leadoff. A solid contact hitter hit second. Best hitter third. Power guy hitting cleanup. Then try to alternate handedness the rest of the way, for the most part. But the rise of new statistics and information tells us you want your best hitters at the top of the order, even if that means they’ll hit in the first inning with nobody on base. The rationale is you want those hitters to come to the plate as many times as possible. If you get an unexpected rally from the bottom of the order late in the game, do you really want your best hitter (in the #3 slot) standing on deck when an inferior player strikes out with the bases loaded to end the game?

In the last week of spring training, and Monday night in Montreal, we got a glimpse into how rookie Jays skipper Charlie Montoyo will line things up, at least to start the season. Things will change drastically when he gets a shiny new 20-year old power-hitting toy to play with in early May.

Montoyo, we’re told, is a blend of old-school “trust your eyes” thinking and new-age data-driven analyics. That, coupled with the fact his roster lacks the true high-OBP & speed types means he has to get creative when trying to figure out his batting order. (Note: Bo Bichette seems like he could very easily be the Leadoff Hitter Of The Future.) There are a number of offensive metrics we could use to evaluate the Blue Jays roster, but I’m going to use career OBP, as well as OPS+. Keep in mind some of the sample sizes, most notably Danny Jansen, are on the smaller side and perhaps not true indicators of their potential.

Let’s start with facing right-handed pitchers.

3 3B Brandon Drury R .319 100
15 RF Randall Grichuk R .299 102
37 OF Teoscar Hernandez R .309 103
14 1B Justin Smoak S .327 105
13 2B Lourdes Gurriel Jr R .294 92
8 DH Kendrys Morales S .328 102
11 CF Kevin Pillar R .292 94
9 C Danny Jansen R .333 104
16 SS Freddy Galvis S .293 102
21 C Luke Maile R .257 88
7 IF Richard Urena S .302 95
28 LF Billy McKinney L .339 113

Given also what we’ve seen in the small samples of Spring Training, I really like this line-up. 10 days ago we were told Randall Grichuk would get the reps at the top of the order, but in the final week of camp, there’s been a shift to Brandon Drury. I’m in favour of that decision. As you can see, Drury’s career OBP is slightly higher than Grichuk’s. And if Drury can get on, it increases the chances of Grichuk being able to drive in runs. Despite Dury’s three-strikeout performance on Monday, both players have hit well in spring with OPS rates of .945 and 1.193, respectively. Blue Jays fans should be excited about Drury’s potential, something he wasn’t able to flash in his brief time at the end of last season. He was playing with a broken hand, and often buried at the bottom of John Gibbons’ lineups. He’ll also be motivated to put up a strong first month of the season, as once Vladimir Guerrero Jr joins the club later in the month, he’ll be competing with the likes of Billy McKinney, Lourdes Gurriel Jr and Kendrys Morales for playing time.

Following that top two, we get a more traditional look with power hitters Hernandez and Smoak. Raw stats would point to Morales hitting 5th, but in a year when they want to see if Gurriel is going to be an everyday player or simply a platoon/bench guy, I’m willing to let him come up in RBI situations more often. And perhaps there’s an element of “lineup protection” by putting the veteran Morales behind him.

The bottom of the order is pretty straightforward, and I could see the trio of Pillar-Jansen-Gavlis being re-arranged in any order based on matchups and hot streaks.

Things don’t change all that much when McKinney will draw into the lineup.

28 LF Billy McKinney L .339 113
3 3B Brandon Drury R .319 100
15 RF Randall Grichuk R .299 102
14 1B Justin Smoak S .327 105
13 2B Lourdes Gurriel Jr R .294 92
8 DH Kendrys Morales S .328 102
11 CF Kevin Pillar R .292 94
9 C Danny Jansen R .333 104
16 SS Freddy Galvis S .293 102
37 OF Teoscar Hernandez R .309 103
21 C Luke Maile R .257 88
7 IF Richard Urena S .302 95

McKinney replaces Hernandez, moves to the top, and bumps Drury and Grichuk down. What will be interesting is if he draws in at first base, bumping Smoak to DH and removing Kendrys Morales. I could see that situation moving Drury down to the fifth or sixth slot.

Here are a couple of options for how they’ll line up against lefties.

15 RF Randall Grichuk R .295 96
3 3B Brandon Drury R .304 101
14 1B Justin Smoak S .309 88
8 DH Kendrys Morales S .327 96
37 OF Teoscar Hernandez R .289 93
13 2B Lourdes Gurriel Jr R .347 120
11 CF Kevin Pillar R .315 116
9 C Danny Jansen R .391 86
16 SS Freddy Galvis S .281 95
13 2B Lourdes Gurriel Jr R .347 120
3 3B Brandon Drury R .304 101
15 RF Randall Grichuk R .295 96
14 1B Justin Smoak S .309 88
8 DH Kendrys Morales S .327 96
37 OF Teoscar Hernandez R .289 93
11 CF Kevin Pillar R .315 116
9 C Danny Jansen R .391 86
16 SS Freddy Galvis S .281 95

We saw Gurriel hit near the top of the order against lefties last year, and clearly he’s had some success against them. That might be an avenue worth pursuing again this season. Also, Hernandez hasn’t hit lefties as well as he has righties, so he gets bumped into the middle third of the order.

Now, things are going to change throughout the season. Injuries, cold streaks, and trades will shuffle players in and out of the lineup, and necessitate adjustments by the manager. At some point, Vlad Jr will arrive and someone is going to lose playing time, and the offensive phenom will likely slot somewhere in the middle of the order, with my bet being on 5th to start the year, but working his way up through the season.

In 2018, the Blue Jays used 154 different batting orders in 162 games. Their “most common” used order was used just THREE times, per Baseball Reference. The coveted versatility, both offensively and defensively, could lead to a repeat of this. With players being able to play multiple positions, the same starting 9 will differ from game to game. However, I think we will see a bit more consistency in the lineups this season, probably even more so following the promotion of baseball’s top prospect.

Follow the blog on Twitter, @jaysbalk.

Follow Matt, @di_nic

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