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Melvin's Missteps: Loopy Lineups of the Early Season

We typically don't like to nitpick this early in the season... but seriously?!

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At least the socks are great...
At least the socks are great...
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

A few quick disclaimers before moving forward:

First, the season is all of two games old. Just as we wouldn't say "OMG Sam Fuld is a .500 hitter!!!1!", drawing any meaningful conclusions about managerial performance this early on is laughable.

Next, Bob Melvin is generally a pretty excellent manager, with a great track record of lineup management and squeezing lots of production through efficient matchups. The A's have become famous for their platoon management and Bob Melvin deserves much if not most of the credit.

That being said, some of the lineup decisions in the past 2 days have made me want to put my head through my desk.

Loopy Lineup, Game 1: Craig Gentry Bats Leadoff... Against a Righty

At first glance, batting Gentry leadoff doesn't look like a bad decision at all. Traditionally, leadoff guys are the fast guys who get on base and use that speed to steal bases, distract the pitcher and generally cause mayhem. Practically speaking there's one part of leading off that's the pre-requisite to doing all of that: getting on base.

But again, Gentry doesn't grade out terribly in this department: he had a .319 OBP last year which while not great for a leadoff hitter was actually slightly above league average.

So why was I so annoyed at BoMel for leading Gentry off against Yovani Gallardo? You've probably realized where I'm going with this from the section heading (sorry for the spoilers!), but Gentry is pretty awful against same-handed pitchers.

Need proof? Gentry, for his career, has struck out a full 20% of the time against righties, and posted an wRC+ of 62. For perspective, an OPS+ is a ratio and a league average OPS+ is set at 100. So against right-handed pitchers, Craig Gentry is a full 35% worse than the league-average hitter. Yet somehow, this is the man NewBob decided to start at the leadoff spot.

Lest you think Bob Melvin knew something we didn't and is a wizard and/or platoon whisperer, Gentry went 0-5 with 3 strikeouts.

Loopy Lineup, Game 2: Eric Sogard bats 2nd (??!!)

Again, traditionally speaking, the second hitter in the lineup is a gritty contact hitter who knows how to move the runner over and put the ball in play. More recently, however, the prevailing theory is that the 2-spot is perhaps the most important spot in the lineup. While the reasoning is perhaps most completely elucidated in Tom Tango's The Book, the short explanation is that the 2nd hitter will bat more often than the 3 or 4 hitter (being higher in the lineup), while being more likely to bat in situations with runners on and less than two out, or lead off an inning.

In today's game, here are some of the hitters who often hit #2 in their team's lineups: Mike Trout. Joey Votto. Jose Bautista. Robinson Cano. The 2-spot in 2015 should be filled with hitters who can do things like get on base, hit, hit for power, generally look awesome in a baseball uniform. Guess who can do absolutely none of those things?

... Ok, Sogie looks pretty cool in those socks. But you get my drift.

Remember how I said above that Craig Gentry is over 35% worse than the average major league hitter against righties? Well, Sogard has a career wRC+ of 67... against everyone (Again, that's bad. Like, really bad. As in, 33% worse than avaerage bad). So instead of putting our best hitter in the 2-spot, instead BoMel played perhaps our worst (Brett Lawrie's golden sombrero says "yo, sup").


Loopy Lineup, Game 3: Cody Ross takes Sogard's Spot

As I was writing this, the A's lineup for Game 3 was posted, and newcomer Cody Ross is slotted into the 2-spot. I just described the reasons for putting a strong hitter in the second spot in the lineup above, so you can already see a bit of a trend here.

If you squint really, really, really hard, this isn't indefensible in the same way that batting Sogard 2 was. Maybe Melvin is looking at Ross' obscene splits against lefties (he's got a 141 wRC+ against lefties, or 40% better than league average), and betting on working his matchup magic.

... then again, he's Cody Ross. He's a 34 year-old who was just released by the Diamondbacks who was a significantly below-average hitter for them last year (I'm not even talking about his defense, which is pretty... not great). Even his success against lefties fell off last year: he was even below average there too.

It's not that I think Ross is a terrible signing: he's a perfectly acceptable stopgap 5th outfielder. But a number two hitter he is not.

It remains to be seen whether Melvin is just trolling us all, or whether he's genuinely just forgotten how to use the second spot in the lineup. While we're only 2 (almost 3!) games into the season, this is definitely something I'm keeping a keen eye on moving forward.