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.

Clayton Kershaw might return to the Dodgers’ rotation next week

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Dodgers southpaw Clayton Kershaw is nearing his return to the mound, according to club manager Dave Roberts. Both Kershaw (left biceps tendinitis) and fellow lefty Rich Hill (left middle finger blister) are scheduled to toss simulated games on Saturday; depending on the outcome, Roberts says Kershaw could forgo a minor league assignment and slot back into the rotation by Thursday.

Kershaw, 30, was diagnosed with biceps tendinitis as the team closed out their Mexico Series at the start of the month. He has not made a start in several weeks, but was finally able to resume throwing on Sunday and managed to get through two successful bullpen sessions. Though Dodgers’ ace hasn’t been completely injury-free over his 11-year career in the majors, this is the first significant issue he’s had with his pitching arm so far. The team is expected to take every precaution with the lefty, and will likely limit him to just four innings during Saturday’s simulated game.

Prior to his injury, Kershaw was working on another dominant run with the club, sporting a 2.86 ERA, 2.0 BB/9 and 9.8 SO/9 through his first 44 innings of the season. While Kershaw, Hill and left-handed starter Hyun-Jin Ryu served their respective terms on the disabled list this month, the Dodgers utilized a combination of relievers Ross Stripling and Brock Stewart, both of whom impressed during their limited time in the rotation.