The Schedule Analysis Tool: Astros 2022

We’re approaching that time of year when fans love to chat about building the lineup. And (whispering) I really don’t like discussing batting order lineups. I probably shouldn’t divulge this, because I want you to keep reading the article.

The thing is, the points/per-game difference between alternate batting orders is usually quite small. Outside of inexplicably bad lineup decisions (e.g. hitting a really bad first-position hitter), I don’t think it’s worth the considerable effort to debate alternate batting orders. That said, perhaps we can discuss what analytical methods might tell us about an Astros batting order in 2022.

I used the Baseball Musings Range Analysis Tool (based on the work of Morong, Arnest and Armbrust) which uses OBP and SLG inputs for each starting player to develop the best batting orders (in terms of expected runs per game). The tool contains algorithms that simulate scoring opportunities over the course of a season for each position in the roster. It depends on the rating environment, which can vary from year to year. Two data periods are available (1959-2004 and 1989-2002) for an average runtime environment. The first period is a lower average score period because it includes the low score 1960s. I picked the highest rating period that starts in 1989, and the run/game average for all Astros lineups in that environment is 5.286, which is just below the 5.33 Astros’ actual R/Gs in 2021.

I used the ZIPS 2022 projection for Astros hitters as an input for OBP and SLG. I assumed McCormick is in the CF because that seems the most likely. Queue analysis produces a large number of best and worst queues based on the inputs. Here are the five best batting orders for the 2022 Astros.

(R/G) followed by batting order positions 1-9

5.39 Bregman Tucker Gurriel Alvarez Altuve Pena McCormick Maldonado Brantley

5.388 Bregman Tucker Brantley Alvarez Altuve Pena McCormick Maldonado Gurriel

5.388 Bregman Alvarez Gurriel Tucker Altuve Pena McCormick Maldonado Brantley

5.386 Bregman Tucker Gurriel Alvarez Altuve McCormick Pena Maldonado Brantley

5.386 Bregman Alvarez Brantley Tucker Altuve Pena McCormick Maldonado Gurriel

The worst lineups are about half a run per game worse than the best lineups. Most of the “worst formations” either have Pena at 1 and Maldonado at 2, or Maldonado at 1 and Pena at 2. A formation with Maldonado in the lead or No. 2 is highly unlikely. However, if Sunday’s spring lineup is any indication, Dusty Baker appears to be toying with Pena’s idea at first. Could this be a harmful deviation from the ideal composition? It really depends on the projection accuracy of ZIPS for Pena (OPS+ of 95). As a rookie, Pena’s striking stats are particularly iffy. If Pena beats the ZIPS projection by a good margin, getting him in the lead might not hurt much. But he’s still not the ideal first hitter, given that his OBP is unlikely to be among the team leaders.

It’s fascinating that Bregman is the leading hitter on all of the most successful rosters. One of the main reasons is that ZIPS projects Bergman to hit the team’s highest OBP (.380). In three of the top five lineups, Tucker is the 2-pitch hitter. Tom Tango, the sabermetrics expert, argues that the team’s best hitter should be in 2nd place. Tucker and Alvarez are the team’s top two hitters (by OPS+), according to ZIPS. The other two top-five formations have Alvarez at No. 2.

Although Maldonado is the worst hitter according to ZIPS, he is at No. 8 rather than No. 9. The best batting orders have good hitters (Brantley or Gurriel) at No. 9. In fact, the analysis treats the No. 9 hitter as the second lead hitter when the batting order changes.

Any ideas on queues? The batting order debate may not be very important, but get it out of your system now, I guess.

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