Musings on Jim Leylands Lineups


Or: What makes a ‘tough righty’ tough?

John has already addressed the questionable start for Alex Avila on opening day against ‘tough lefty’ C.C. Sabathia. Will Rhymes got the start too, Leyland seemingly determined to go with him starters on opening day come hell or high water. Rhymes and Avila both went hitless. I’m not planning on digging any deeper than that when it comes to Sabathia. I’m looking at Leyland’s lineup choices against A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes.

Follow me through for a little analysis and a lot of grumbling:

Raburn is defensively somewhat suspect and not so much better with the stick than Brennan Boesch that sitting one for the other couldn’t make sense. Raburn also has among the highest right-left splits among Tigers batters: a .751 OPS against righties and an .860 OPS against lefties. He’s also notoriously sluggish in April & May. I’m not disagreeing, in principle, with a decision to platoon Raburn & Boesch – or at the very least start Boesch against ‘Tough Righties’. Here’s what gets to me: against A.J. Burnett game 2, Raburn sits and Boesch plays the field. Game 3 against Phil Hughes, Raburn is back in the lineup. Now, I can’t complain about the results – Boesch got a hit game 2. The substitutions I wouldn’t have made game 3 may be paying off (or maybe that’s just Cabrera’s dingers). I’m just hoping this doesn’t set a pattern for the rest of the season.

Is A.J. Burnett the ‘Tough Righty’? Burnett and Phil Hughes have exactly the same career OPS allowed – .702. That’s pretty solid, because, of course, they are both pretty decent major league starters. Burnett has a much longer track record, though Hughes was clearly better in 2010, so one could consider him the ‘tougher’ pitcher overall. But… Burnett’s career splits are negligible – a .701 OPS against righties and a .703 OPS against lefties – and he’s been around long enough for those numbers to mean something. He’s a pretty good pitcher, but he’s no harder on righties. Hughes is a different story: against righties only a .631 OPS allowed, against lefties .773. That is what I would call a tough righty: he is a decent pitcher overall, but above all else he’s a nightmare for righties. Hughes is exactly the sort of pitcher I would prefer to see the full lineup switch against: Raburn out for Boesch, Inge out for Kelly and Peralta out for Santiago. If Avila and Rhymes need days off, this shouldn’t be the one – we need as many lefties in the lineup as we can get.

Boesch, Kelly and Santiago are – as I write this – in the game. But they are replacing Ordonez, Rhymes and Avila – Raburn, Inge and Peralta are still in. As of the end of the fourth, the three of them are 1/6 with no walks, no RBIs or run and no extra bases. 100% of the Tigers offense has come from the top 4 in the lineup – where Boesch is earning his questionable 3rd slot in the lineup. After all, he is subbing for Ordonez…

The early impression is that A.) Leyland still intends to platoon Raburn, but doesn’t really understand who to sit him against B.) Leyland will not, by and large, pay attention to platoon splits when giving guys days off & C.) No one has managed to convince Leyland that a backup shouldn’t occupy the same lineup slot as the guy he’s replacing.