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

10 Comments

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.

Joe Musgrove shut down with ab discomfort

Joe Musgrove
Getty Images
1 Comment

Pirates right-hander Joe Musgrove is done for the year after suffering an abdominal wall muscle strain and stress reaction in his pelvic bone. While he isn’t expected to undergo surgery or miss additional time in 2019, he’s been prescribed six weeks of rest before resuming any baseball-related activities.

Musgrove, 25, finished out his third year in Pittsburgh with a 6-9 record in 19 starts, backed by a 4.06 ERA, 1.8 BB/9, and 7.8 SO/9. Despite logging a career-high 115 1/3 innings at the major league level, he’s also been dogged by a string of injuries, from the shoulder strain that robbed him of eight weeks at the start of the season to an index finger infection that kept him sidelined for a minimum 10-day stay on the disabled list in June.

While he works his way back up to full strength yet again, rookie right-hander Nick Kingham is expected to cover for him and will make a spot start during the Pirates’ series finale against the Brewers on Sunday. The 26-year-old righty hasn’t started a single game for the team since August 1, and currently carries a 4.69 ERA, 2.7 BB/9, and 8.1 SO/9 over 71 innings out of the rotation and bullpen.