Commentary

Why batting order matters

Research shows that MLB managers are setting lineups inefficiently

Updated: April 20, 2011, 5:15 PM ET
By Matt Meyers | ESPN Insider
Jason HeywardKevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesJason Heyward is too valuable a hitter to be in the No. 6 spot in Atlanta's lineup.

One of the most hotly debated topics of the young season is the Atlanta Braves' lineup, specifically manager Fredi Gonzalez's insistence on hitting Jason Heyward, arguably his best hitter, sixth, while putting Nate McLouth in the No. 2 spot.

Gonzalez has been getting a lot of grief for this decision, although he has seemingly seen the error of his ways by hitting Heyward second the past couple of nights. The truth is that folks shouldn't have been on Fredi's case in the first place. Not because his decision to bat Heyward sixth was correct (it wasn't), but because if we're going to criticize him, then we should be piling on pretty much every skipper in baseball. As a whole, none of them know how to properly configure a lineup.

For years, baseball lineups followed a pretty basic logic: fastest guy hits first, contact and/or fast hitter is next, high-average guy bats third, power bat in the cleanup spot and the next few guys in descending order of general skill. There was nothing scientific about this method -- it seemed tied to some old-school vision of small ball -- but many managers remain obsessed with it despite evidence that refutes the usefulness of such strategies as bunting and base stealing.