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Matt Kemp needs to bat fourth, not third for the Dodgers

Feb 22, 2012, 6:12 PM EDT

Matt Kemp Getty Images

Fact: people like me spend way too much worrying about how lineups are arranged. Simulations suggest that only the worst lineups, ones that even Dusty Baker would never conceive of, have a real impact on run scoring. The difference between what a major league manager would typically run out there and a supposed optimal lineup isn’t usually very signifcant.

Fact: Matt Kemp should bat cleanup for the Dodgers this season.

That’s not the plan right now. As Eric Stephen reports on True Blue L.A.:

Don Mattingly said Dee Gordon was his leadoff man and Kemp would bat third, but that the rest of the lineup is not yet fully decided. Mattingly said [Andre] Ethier would likely hit cleanup against right-handed pitchers and that Juan Rivera could hit cleanup against lefties. Mattingly said Mark Ellis will get the first shot at batting second, though Mattingly wouldn’t mind James Loney or even [Jerry] Sands hitting in the second spot in the lineup.

How can it be a good idea to stick maybe the NL’s best RBI guy immediately behind Gordon and Ellis? Gordon had a .325 OBP in 224 at-bats after arriving in the majors last season. Ellis came in at .288 in 480 at-bats with the A’s and Rockies.

Kemp is going to be stepping up to the plate with none on and two out an awful lot in this scenario.

If Kemp has to come up with none on, it’s much better that he does it with none out in the inning. That’s part of why hitting him fourth makes so much more sense. If Kemp is batting fourth and he bats in the first inning, he’s guaranteed to have at least one man on base. If he has to wait until the second, then that’s a better chance the Dodgers are going to have of scoring in the second inning.

Want a little evidence? National League No. 3 and No. 4 hitters were practically identically productive last season. No. 3 hitters hit .280/.353/.457, while No. 4 hitters came in at .269/.352/.455.

No. 3 hitters, though, averaged .127 RBI per plate appearance, while cleanup hitters came in at .139 RBI per plate appearance. No. 4 hitters get to hit behind better hitters, for the most part.

Plus, the Dodgers lineup actually sets up better with Ethier hitting third and Kemp batting fourth. Mattingly is going to want Loney hitting fifth against right-handers, and if Ethier hits cleanup, that puts lefties back-to-back. That’s why Kemp was the Dodgers cleanup hitter last year until Ethier went down.

Of course, Kemp, already an MVP candidate before Ethier was hurt, performed even better after moving into the third slot. I’m sure that’s what’s on Mattingly’s mind here. That and getting him those extra two or three plate appearances every month. But I think Mattingly had the right idea last year.

  1. Mark - Feb 22, 2012 at 6:16 PM

    “But I think Mattingly had the right idea last year.”

    I believe that’s the first time anybody has ever suggested that Mattingly had the right idea about anything.

    • adeedothatswho - Feb 23, 2012 at 1:02 AM

      He said that C. Montgomery Burns was a better team owner than George Steinbrenner, and obviously, he was correct there.

  2. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Feb 22, 2012 at 6:32 PM

    I think the NL West finally figured out that they should never pitch to Matt Kemp since he was the single threat in the Dodger’s lineup. I would imagine Kemp fourth with Loney 5th would mean Kemp sees exactly 7 pitches in the strike zone all year, and hits 8 HR.

    And with so little to cheer about this year in Chavez Ravine, give the fans those extra few Kemp ABs.

  3. paperlions - Feb 22, 2012 at 7:19 PM

    Fact: Matt Kemp is nothing like the best RBI guy in the NL.

    Want a little evidence?

    Over the last 3 years he is 40th in RBI % (percent of runner on that were driven in) for guys that have had at least 500 runners on over that time period.

  4. dwrek5 - Feb 22, 2012 at 9:04 PM

    I was going to write that I tend to agree, but the main problem isnt Kemp at 3rd, its Gordon and Ellis 1,2. But then I tried to figure out who else would fit there and couldnt find anyone. This lineup up is bad, which is unfortunate. Only the great Vin Scully can make this team watchable.

  5. capnsparrow23 - Feb 23, 2012 at 12:18 AM

    Kemp hits 10 points better and just crushes the ball in the first inning! Stop with Dawny’s idiotic idea of hitting him fourth!!!

  6. westsideculture - Feb 23, 2012 at 12:55 AM

    Kemp 2012 MVP

  7. cup0pizza - Feb 23, 2012 at 2:43 AM

    You’re underestimating Dee Gordon, but overall the hitting situation for L.A. outside of Kemp and occasionally Ethier is very dire.

    • lanflfan - Feb 23, 2012 at 3:31 PM

      Agreed on Dee Gordon that most are selling him short. It’s probably better that way, make for a better story (and lots of crow) when Dee does well.

      I think Either is best for 3rd spot, just need to keep him healthy and in a good frame of mind (neither will be easy). Keep Kemp 4th, with Loney (or whoever else is hot) behind him. Sands could surprise, but probably needs constant play and that probably won’t happen in LA. It won’t be pretty this year, but once McCourt has been exorcised from the owner’s box things should turn around significantly.

      I just hope Ellis isn’t another Uribe, and Uribe at least hits his weight and stays healthy (thanks again, Needle Head Ned, can’t wait until your gone).

  8. Mike Cook - Feb 23, 2012 at 5:07 PM

    To my knowledge, the authoritative research on this topic is chapter 5 of “The Book,” titled “Batting (Dis)order.” A good summary is provided on p. 132:
    “Your three best hitters should bat somewhere in the #1, #2, and #4 slots. Your fourth- and fifth-best hitters should occupy the #3 and #5 slots. The #1 and #2 slots will have players with more walks than those in the #4 and #5 slots. From slot #6 through #9, put the players in descending order of quality.”
    So based on this, Kemp should bat 1st, 2nd, or 4th. Since more of his value derives from SLG than the other players you’d consider for those three slots, his best slot in the lineup is 4th. The surprising finding is that 3rd is not the next-best slot for him; 3rd should in fact be your 5th-best hitter. I can’t think of any teams that currently construct their lineup that way though.

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