My simulator is a good tool for looking at optimal batting orders. It can play tens of thousands and even millions (with a smaller set of games) of games while keeping the opponent static which can give you a good idea which lineups win more games. Taking an idea from the "straight arrows" over at The Book Blog, I decided to take the 2014 Dodgers most common lineup, that one can find over at the Baseball Reference website and compare how well that lineup does against tens of thousands of other possible lineup permutations. I did set some filters to cut down on the permutations, like I only looked at lineups where the pitcher hit 8th or 9th and where the best hitters didn't hit 8th or 9th and the worst hitters didn't hit 3rd or 4th etc... I wanted to see how well Mattingly's most common lineup compared to what the simulator thought was the most optimal lineup. Of course you can't expect any manager to be implementing the most optimal lineup but you also don't want him to be giving away fractions of wins each game that can add up over a 162 game season. So down below, I list the Top 25 lineups along with the most common 2014 lineup in a table sorted by Wins/162 games. I also list a table showing the frequency of where each player batted in each of the top 25 lineups. I love the batting order frequency tables as they show you which players have a few dedicated positions in the order they should be hitting in and which players are more versatile in giving you an optimal lineup. I used 2014 final season stats as the input projections for each hitter because that is for the most part what Don Mattingly went by. And I did all the simulations with the opposing team using a right handed starting pitcher.
Before we begin, here is the most common 2014 Dodgers lineup.
Top 25 Lineups
And for comparison sake the worst lineup was 3.55 wins/162 games worst than the best lineup.
Batting Order Frequency Table
So the simulator thinks that Mattingly left around 0.84 wins off the table over 162 games with his most common lineup. I will leave that up to the reader if they think that is significant. Keep in mind that one win (or WAR) is going for about $7 million dollars on the free agent market.
I think Mattingly's lineup is an above average one when using common and traditional methods for constructing a lineup. A look at the Batting Order Frequency Table (BOF Table) does show what the simulator thinks are a few glaring mistakes though. When we look at the BOF Table you will notice that a few players are more versatile in the lineup slot that they give the most value in. Puig for example only slots into three locations... leadoff(3), second(8) and fifth(14) while players like Kemp and Ellis slot in to many more locations but not as frequently. Let's walk through each player in Mattingly's lineup one at a time and look for strengths and weaknesses.
Player by Player Analysis:
Leadoff - Dee Gordon: Mattingly has Dee Gordon in the leadoff spot and according to the simulator that is the best spot for him, though hitting 6th can be good as well as batting 2nd depending of course on the rest of the batting order makeup. Nails it.
Second - Yasiel Puig: Puig's best spot is hitting fifth where he can help rack up the RBIs but hitting second is also a good spot for Puig. I think Mattingly does well on Puig's position in the order. Good
Third - Adrian Gonzalez: Just like with Puig, Mattingly has slotted Gonzalez into his second best spot in the batting order. The simulator prefers Gonzalez hitting one spot lower which wouldn't ordinarily be that big of a deal as long as the person batting fourth in his place belonged there too. Good
Cleanup - Matt Kemp: The simulator thinks Kemp is many things but a cleanup hitter on this team is not one of them. According to the simulator it is a big mistake to bat Kemp fourth. There are many lineup positions that Kemp can slot into and you can still have a highly optimal lineup but fourth is not one of them. Stink
Fifth - Hanley Ramirez: Out of the top 25 lineups the simulator has Ramirez hitting fifth only once. The simulator seems to like Gonzalez and Ramirez hitting in the 3rd/4th slots in either order making this another glaring mistake according to the sim. The 4th and 5th spots in the lineup are probably not good spots to be making mistakes at. Stink
Sixth - Carl Crawford: Crawford also is pretty versatile in where he slots in to the top 25 lineups and Mattingly gets back on the winning track as he nails this one. Crawford hits 6th in 11 out of the top 25 most optimal lineups including three of the top five. Nails it.
Seventh - Juan Uribe: The simulator thinks that Uribe should hit seventh or eighth and that is exactly where Mattingly puts him. Slow, low on base second tier power hitters are good for the bottom of the lineup as they tend to give you that last good chance to clear the bases before the black hole of the pitcher batting. Nails it.
Eighth - A.J. Ellis: Ellis like Kemp is able to slot in to many different lineup spots without causing carnage to the optimization of it. Ellis is not a very good hitter but he still does bring a decent skill of drawing walks to the table, that is why you see him hitting at the top of the lineup a few times and ninth. His poor hitting but good on base skills are a good fit for hitting 9th and moving the pitcher to 8th as he turns in to a quasi leadoff hitter in the 9th spot. Good.
Ninth - Pitchers Spot: The simulator has the pitcher hitting 9th in 17 out of 25 (68%) of the top lineups. So there can be some value to hitting the pitcher eighth but you have to have the right personnel and batting order mix to make it work. Nails it.
Overall, Mattingly does a pretty good job but the simulator thinks he made big mistakes in hitting Matt Kemp cleanup and Hanley Ramirez fifth and really with the tools that Mattingly has (instincts) you really wouldn't know this was a mistake.