With all the injuries suffered by the Rays this season, Joe Maddon has played match-up both offensively and defensively even more than he would probably like. And so far this season, he is not doing a very good job.

Here’s a look at how well the Rays batters are hitting based on where they hit in the lineup, as compared to the American League average…

OK, we all know the Rays are a below-average offensive team. That’s not news. But notice where the Rays have struggled and where they have excelled.

The best hitters, on average are batting fifth and seventh. And clean-up batters are only hitting better than those that bat ninth. In fact, the seventh-place hitters have an OPS that is 120 points higher than those batting fourth.

Of course, every batter must hit. And it has been shown that actual batting order makes only a little difference in runs scored over the course of a season. But for a team that values every lit edge they can find, and struggles as much at the plate as the Rays do, it is not good that the bottom of the order has been more productive.

And it is not one overachieving batter either. Fifteen different players have batted seventh for the Rays this season.

Simply put, Maddon is not getting the right guys in the right spots in the lineup.

 
 

17 Comments

  1. Lane Meyer says:

    I think your chart shows the exact opposite. The biggest deficiencies are in the #3 and #4 spot where Longoria and Scott would have resided regularly except for both being out for extended periods. Add to that several weeks without the regular #1 hitter (Jennings) and the regular #5 hitter (Joyce) and you have a recipe for a tough year at the plate. When you are replacing your big slugging % guys with significantly lighter hitting backups, it creates a glaring difference. Maddon has made due with what he had and done a good job with the lineup overall. Maddon is and always will be a stat driven guy but in the few spots where he is normally set on certain batters, he has had to scramble.

    • Cork Gaines says:

      Yes, but he is filling those holes with the wrong guys. It is more than just taking the player that replaces Longo and putting him in the 4-hole. It is about taking the best bats and best match-ups each night and putting them at the top of the order. That’s not happening.

      • Lane Meyer says:

        There are no right guys, that is my point. You can’t replace your best 4 hitters with reserves and expect to get production regardless of where you put them in the order. We aren’t the Yankees, depth is not ever going to be our strong suit.

        • Cork Gaines says:

          Nobody is arguing against that. But the players Maddon does have on a nightly basis are not being maximized. The best hitters THAT ARE AVAILABLE are more likely to be hitting 7th than 4th. And that’s not good. If there are going to be holes, you want those holes at the bottom, not the top.

          If, on an average night, Maddon took the guys hitting 5th and 7th and moved them up to 3rd and 4th, the Rays would score more runs and win more games. Yes, a lack of depth is a problem. But if you look, Rays 7th hitters are hitting as well the average AL clean-up hitter. Some hitters are producing. The problem is they are not at the top of the order.

  2. Lane Meyer says:

    I would tend to agree with you if the same 2 guys had been hitting 5th and 7th all year but that is far from the case. I think you’re oversimplifying it by saying you could plug a Rhymes or EJ into the #4 spot and get better production than you would with Keppinger of Zobrist for example. The pitch selection and protection in the lineup would work differently. A Rhymes batting say 3rd in front of let’s say Scott won’t see the same pitches he’ll see as a number 8 hitter in front of a Molina. He’s more likely to get hits there because no one is afraid of Molina suddenly turning into an RBI machine. Maddon has tried any number of combinations with decent success but I don’t think the answer is to move the historically weak non run-producers to the middle of the lineup.

    • Cork Gaines says:

      Don’t make this more than it is. I never said plug anybody specific into any specific spots. And I am not saying Maddon needs a set lineup every night. My point is simply that for some reason Maddon is getting more production from the bottom of the order. And when those players are getting fewer at bats each game, that is a problem. No manager in their right mind would want a 7-hitter hitting 120 points better than a 4-hitter. And yet, the lineups that Maddon produces are doing just that.

  3. Lane Meyer says:

    With all things being equal and everyone healthy my ideal lineup would be:

    Jennings LF
    Zobrist/Keppinger 2B
    Longoria 3B
    Scott DH
    Joyce/Zobrist RF
    Upton CF
    Pena 1B
    Johnson/Rodriguez SS
    Lobaton/Molina C

  4. don says:

    BOY.I’m glad I haven’t been sigining this song for weeks/months..the problem with Maddon he doesn’t know where to place his available talent.. He doesn’t understand EJ is more help scoring runs hitting 1st or 2nd not 7th or last..He doesn’t understand a strikeout man who can’t run or sacrifice hurts the team hitting 2nd…I could go on and on…but this is all coming out like I said it would, people realize after a while…what is going wrong..

  5. KT says:

    My problem with this is simply that when you have shut like EJ hitting 7th, he’s able to relax without feeling like the team is on his shoulders. We’ve simply not had any top or middle of the order hitters this year and theres nothing Maddon magic can do with that

    • Longofan567 says:

      But wouldn’t that be the same for guys hitting 7th on every team? If anything, there is more pressure on the bottom of the order for the Rays because the top of the order is not as good as other teams.

      • KT says:

        Of course. But most teams have at least a couple prototypical 3-5 hitters, this team does not with all the injuries. No one on this team, even EJ, has hit well enough to scream that they need to be at the top of the order, in my opinion.

        Desmond and Zobrist for the first two spots should be a regular thing in my opinion, but then with Longo and Joyce out and Peña’s hot streaks way too few and far between, who do you have 3-5? Quite simply there aren’t enough options for Maddon to really work with.

        • Cork Gaines says:

          This is true. And I have no problem with Maddon shuffling the lineup. But whatever criteria he is using on a nightly basis is not working. If this was just completely random with 6-7 interchangeable parts, then we would expect most of the spots in the lineup to have similar production. But either Maddon has been VERY unlucky this season, or his formula is not working.

  6. KT says:

    Someone, not shut, damn autocorrect

  7. Gus says:

    Golden Rules of batting order:

    1. Your best hitters should be towards the top, so they get up more frequently.

    2. Your worst hitters should be up towards the bottom, so they get up less frequently.

    3. A high OBP guy is always nice at the top to get the team in a good frame of mind (and unnerve a starter).

    4. Batting 4th is something different; it carries something with it.

    Maddon has had garbage offensively all year to work with. He has done okay with the exceptions of: consistently batting Joyce too low early in the year; thinking BJ can hit anywhere higher than 6th; messing with Des and taking him out of the lead off slot (I know he’s been less than 100%, but still), batting Elliot Johnson RH and moving him up in the order. Keppinger at clean-up it too clever by half.

  8. KT says:

    Of course. But most teams have at least a couple prototypical 3-5 hitters, this team does not with all the injuries. No one on this team, even EJ, has hit well enough to scream that they need to be at the top of the order, in my opinion.

    Desmond and Zobrist for the first two spots should be a regular thing in my opinion, but then with Longo and Joyce out and Peña’s hot streaks way too few and far between, who do you have 3-5? Quite simply there aren’t enough options for Maddon to really work with.

  9. Dave L says:

    You can shuffle this deck any way you want, the fact is Joe is forced to choose from a Rays Roster full of mostly mediocre, some streaky good and alot of bad hitters.

    At one point this season, we were the worst hitting team in franchise history.

    I made a point earlier in the season at that the Yanks, Sox, and Rangers, our playoff rivals of the past few seasons, have better hitters at every position than the Rays do. That was never challenged of course as it is fact.

    If you are told to make a soup and you are given a turnip, some st. augustine grass clippings and a sucrets as the only ingrediants, its going to taste like sh*t I dont care what proportions you use or how you mix them.

    Any question to which EJ batting higher in the order is the answer is unanswerable by its very nature.

    To me its amazing we are just out of the wild card

  10. Indiana Rays Boy says:

    Great column, Cork. Since 2008, Maddon’s tactics has gotten worse every year. In 2009, it took JoeMa 3 months to figure out that Jason Bartlett has the capabilties to hit leadoff while Upton was strugging at that spot. 2010, he botched up the ALDS by activating Baldelli (that didnt play most of the season but Sept) and deactivated Aybar for Game 1 along with not playing Joyce and Jaso (two players that played well in Games 3-4) in Game 5 and the taking Shields out with 66 pitches in a tight game and putting Qualls (worse reliever) in high leverage situations that gave up a 3 run homer to Michael Young. In 2011, they dealt with the Manny fiasco which they had no business signing him in the first and Damon cover their mistakes with the DH issues and his dislike of playing Joyce everyday for no reason what so ever with his quote on quote “It will mess his swing up.” Have a steady lineup instead of moving them around on a daily basis is the main problem on why the offense is struggling. When asked about an everyday lineup, he siad “Be careful what you wish for, you gonna make them worse;you want to have an extra bat on the bench to keep them fresh.” That is called micromanaging and that kind of strategy comes back to haunt a manager.

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