Matt Kemp needs to bat fourth, not third for the Dodgers

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Fact: people like me spend way too much worrying about how lineups are arranged. Simulations suggest that only the worst lineups, ones that even Dusty Baker would never conceive of, have a real impact on run scoring. The difference between what a major league manager would typically run out there and a supposed optimal lineup isn’t usually very signifcant.

Fact: Matt Kemp should bat cleanup for the Dodgers this season.

That’s not the plan right now. As Eric Stephen reports on True Blue L.A.:

Don Mattingly said Dee Gordon was his leadoff man and Kemp would bat third, but that the rest of the lineup is not yet fully decided. Mattingly said [Andre] Ethier would likely hit cleanup against right-handed pitchers and that Juan Rivera could hit cleanup against lefties. Mattingly said Mark Ellis will get the first shot at batting second, though Mattingly wouldn’t mind James Loney or even [Jerry] Sands hitting in the second spot in the lineup.

How can it be a good idea to stick maybe the NL’s best RBI guy immediately behind Gordon and Ellis? Gordon had a .325 OBP in 224 at-bats after arriving in the majors last season. Ellis came in at .288 in 480 at-bats with the A’s and Rockies.

Kemp is going to be stepping up to the plate with none on and two out an awful lot in this scenario.

If Kemp has to come up with none on, it’s much better that he does it with none out in the inning. That’s part of why hitting him fourth makes so much more sense. If Kemp is batting fourth and he bats in the first inning, he’s guaranteed to have at least one man on base. If he has to wait until the second, then that’s a better chance the Dodgers are going to have of scoring in the second inning.

Want a little evidence? National League No. 3 and No. 4 hitters were practically identically productive last season. No. 3 hitters hit .280/.353/.457, while No. 4 hitters came in at .269/.352/.455.

No. 3 hitters, though, averaged .127 RBI per plate appearance, while cleanup hitters came in at .139 RBI per plate appearance. No. 4 hitters get to hit behind better hitters, for the most part.

Plus, the Dodgers lineup actually sets up better with Ethier hitting third and Kemp batting fourth. Mattingly is going to want Loney hitting fifth against right-handers, and if Ethier hits cleanup, that puts lefties back-to-back. That’s why Kemp was the Dodgers cleanup hitter last year until Ethier went down.

Of course, Kemp, already an MVP candidate before Ethier was hurt, performed even better after moving into the third slot. I’m sure that’s what’s on Mattingly’s mind here. That and getting him those extra two or three plate appearances every month. But I think Mattingly had the right idea last year.

Yoenis Cespedes blames a lack of golf for his early season slump

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Back during the 2015 playoffs the sorts of New York media types who love to find reasons to criticize players for petty reasons decided to criticize Yoenis Cespedes for playing golf the day of a playoff game. The Mets won the series with the Cubs during which the controversy, such as it was, occurred and it was soon dropped.

It was picked back up again in 2016 when Cespedes, while on the disabled list with a strained quad, was seen playing golf. Despite the fact that everyone involved said that golf did not contribute to his injury and that golf would have no impact on his injured quad, it was deemed “a bad look” by a columnist looking to get some mileage out of bashing Cespedes for having a hobby that probably half of all ballplayers share. They did it when he showed off his fancy cars too, by the way, even though just about every ballplayer has a fancy car or three. When you’re a superstar in New York — especially when you’re one with whom the media is not particularly close for various reasons — you’re going to catch hell for seemingly nothing.

Now there’s a new twist to the Cespedes golf saga. Yoenis himself says that his poor start — he’s hitting .195/.258/.354 and leads the league in strikeouts — is due to . . . not enough golf! From the New York Times:

He gave a possible reason for the poor start this weekend: not playing enough golf, a hobby beloved by many baseball players. And, yes, he is serious.

“In previous seasons, one of the things I did when I wasn’t going well was to play golf,” he said after a game on Friday in which he struck out four times but still drove in the go-ahead run in the 12th inning. “This year, I’m not playing golf.”

The story says Cespedes quit golf last summer because he worried that it was contributing to hamstring problems. He’s thinking about going back to it soon, as he thinks it’ll help his swing. Given that he’ll catch hell either way, he may as well do what he wants.