The Super Lineup

The A's started nine right-handed batters against Twins lefty Francisco Liriano Thursday, and you could say that it worked out pretty well.

  AB R H RBI BB K LOB Season Avg 
K. Suzuki c 4 2 2 2 1 0 1 .316
M. Ellis 2b 5 2 2 0 0 0 3 .247
M. Sweeney 1b 4 0 2 2 0 0 3 .322
    D. Barton 1b 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .262
F. Thomas dh 3 1 0 0 2 0 1 .000
E. Brown rf 4 1 1 2 0 0 3 .276
B. Crosby ss 4 1 1 0 1 0 1 .297
C. Denorfia lf 4 0 1 1 1 2 3 .286
D. Murphy 3b 5 3 3 4 0 1 3 .286
R. Davis cf 4 1 3 0 0 0 1 .750

Liriano faced all nine of them and was bounced before the inning ended. He only got one of them out, yielding five singles and three walks. 

I think there's a powerful argument for enacting this type of lineup when we see lefities more often.  Sure, the classic lineup card alternates left- and right-handed hitters in the order, to prevent an opponent from shutting down your offense in the late innings with one dominant lefty specialist.  But Thursday we saw an example of how the opposite approach can completely change the complexion of a game, or even an entire series

The Super Lineup, as I'm dubbing our all-righty crew, put six runs on the board and chased Liriano after nine hitters. Not only did they practically put the game out of reach in the first inning, but they forced the Twins 'pen to throw a whopping 123 pitches. Imagine if it were the first game of the series and the A's could feast on a tired bullpen for the next two or three days.

I look at the all-righty lineup as low-risk, high reward:  They're more vulnerable to being shut down by righty relievers late in the game...but why not try to dominate the early innings by leveraging your platoon advantage vs. the opposing SP to the max?

To me it's an extension of the sabermetric principle of playing for the big inning. You want to eschew outs, whether via the sacrifice bunt, or via the unfavorable lefty-vs.-lefty matchup.  The A's had nine favorable matchups in a row in today's lineup, and, not coincidentally, they had a big inning.  Who cares that they had four 0's later on?

Their reward was a breezy, less pressurized seven innings for Greg Smith and hurting the opponent's bullpen.

I think this lineup might even correlate to less runners left on base in the early innings, because it stacks favorable matchups in order, rather than staggering them every other hitter, which the L-R-L-R approach sometimes does.

That's my layman's take, certainly open for debate.  I'd like to see our Staturday trio or Tom Tango  tackle the pros and cons of that lineup vs. lefties from a more statistically rigorous point-of-view.

I hope to see The Super Lineup Saturday against Erik Bedard and the Mariners.  More Donnie Murphy vs. lefities, and more Mike Sweeney at first base against them, too.  Sometimes that one extra hit in an inning is the difference between leaving the bases loaded, or breaking the game wide open.

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What allows for this luxury is the fantastic starting pitching Oakland has received thus far.  The A's are carrying 14 position players, and I hope they'll continue to even after Duke comes off the DL to start Saturday (I think we'll see Braden sent down again).  The team can afford to carry 11 pitchers for now. 

It's further evidence of how critical it is to build a bullpen and even part of the bench with 0-3 service time players with remaining option years.  Braden/Devine's ability to shuttle up and down between AAA and the bigs will probably be used all year, and it practically allows the team to have a 27 man roster (please read that if you get a chance, it's exactly how Beane and the best GM's manage their active roster day-to-day). 

If they wanted to be really crazy (hey, the '89 A's did it), they could carry 15 position players for a few weeks when Buck gets back and truly leverage an amazing platoon advantage:  Buck/R. Sweeney/Cust/Hannahan/Barton vs. righties and today's lineup vs. lefties, with a boatload of pinch-hitting and defensive sub options as needed.

It's not as crazy as it sounds.  With fresh-legged young players that can play every day, no Rule 5 pitchers, plenty of option-flexible relievers, no LOOGYs, six capable starters, and every reliever capable of throwing 2 innings, this might be the one team in baseball that could succeed with a 10-man staff and 2.5 designated hitters.

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