Elbo: The last man

As my old friend Steve Goldman notes, "[t]he main function of the batting order is distributing playing time." Although we're all familiar with the traditional roles of a speedy leadoff hitter, a slugging cleanup guy, etc., the new school of thinking is that batting orders should be created with one primary goal in mind: to favor your best hitters by getting them more at-bats than your worst hitters.

Someone has to be the person who makes the last out of the game. Suppose, just for a moment, that all your hitters are equal. Each successive place in the batting order would be about 11% less likely (one-ninth less likely) to make that last out, simply because each person is that much less likely to get up to bat one last time. Conversely, for each spot you are closer to the leadoff slot, you're 11% more likely to get an "extra" at bat, i.e. one more than the guy after you.

All hitters aren't equal, of course. Last year, some people made outs about 47% of the time, while others made outs about 67% of the time. Wouldn't you want to get the guy who makes outs 47% of the time a bunch more at-bats than the guy who makes outs 67% of the time?

That's right, I would too. But Felipe Alou evidently doesn't. Because cleanup hitter Barry Bonds was standing in the on-deck circle tonight, while #3 hitter Michael Tucker made the final out of the game. With the bases loaded, Tucker waved at a changeup, then failed to successfully check his swing on two more changeups. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you're outta there. Game over.

I'm not sure what Michael Tucker was doing in the #3 spot anyway, because doesn't really fit the profile. He hasn't hit above .267 since 1997, has cleared 800 in OPS only once, and has never hit more than 15 homers in a season. Traditionally the #3 hole goes to pretty much the best hitter on the team: high OBP, plenty of power, a dangerous type that's even more dangerous when he gets fastballs (i.e. with the cleanup man behind him). Tucker isn't any of those things, and tonight it really cost the Giants.

Look, I think Tucker is a very good player in some respects, and he'll fill a void for the Giants in right field on many nights. And maybe Alou thought Tucker might have one of his best seasons yet, like Grissom did last year, seeing fastballs in front of Barry. But after the flaw in this strategy was exposed tonight, I'll be much happier seeing him hit seventh.


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