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.

Blue Jays release John Axford

John Axford
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The Blue Jays have released right-handed reliever John Axford from his minor league contract, per an announcement on Saturday. Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi speculates that the move could provide an avenue for the club to rework Axford’s contract, but the Blue Jays have yet to confirm or deny the report.

Axford, 35, was dealt a blow on Thursday after getting diagnosed with a stress reaction in the olecranon bone of his right elbow. Elbow soreness dogged the right-hander through much of his time in camp, and although he was scheduled for a follow-up examination later this spring, a definite return date had not been established.

Prior to the diagnosis, Axford was tabbed for a setup role with the team in 2019. He pitched to mixed results in 2018 (thanks in part to a late-season fracture of his right fibula) with a 5.27 ERA, 4.9 BB/9, and 9.8 SO/9 through 54 2/3 innings with the Blue Jays and Dodgers. Now, however, it’s not certain that he’ll return to the mound this season in any capacity.

Axford isn’t the only reliever the Blue Jays have lost to injury lately, either, as right-handers Ryan Tepera and Bud Norris have been sidelined with right elbow inflammation and forearm fatigue, respectively. Per Davidi, the Blue Jays offered Norris a $100,000 retention bonus to prevent him from opting out of the minor league contract he signed in February.