The Detroit News's Lynn Hennings line-up
Lynn Henning of The Detroit News plays manager for a day and makes out a batting order he might go with for a typical game in 2007:
1. Curtis Granderson, CF:
Strikeouts were his problem in 2006. But only Carlos Guillen had more walks, and Granderson's .335 on-base percentage will improve in 2007 as his strikeouts diminish. His extra-base hitting (his 19 home runs were as many as Guillen hit) is one more reason to keep him at leadoff, where pop is a plus.
2. Carlos Guillen, SS:
Why not? Guillen had a .400 on-base percentage in 2006, which was by far tops on the team. He is a switch-hitter, which gives you obvious matchup advantages against that day's starting pitcher. He has power (manager Jim Leyland loves home-run sock at No. 2), but not so much that you're hurting the middle of the lineup by batting Guillen second.
3. Gary Sheffield, DH:
This is easy. Sheffield will show up at spring training as the most lethal hitter in Detroit's lineup. By any analysis -- power, average, his 100-walks-a-year potential -- he belongs at No. 3.
4. Magglio Ordonez, RF:
He hit .298, drove in 104 runs and led the team in total bases. Ordonez is expected to be stronger in 2007 after some meaningful offseason conditioning. He is the easy choice.
5. Sean Casey, 1B:
The Tigers don't want three right-handed batters in a row in the middle of the lineup. Casey isn't a big home-run hitter, but no one says a career .302 hitter who has gap power can't be at home at the No. 5 slot.
6. Craig Monroe, LF:
He led the team in home runs (28) but had a stunningly low .301 on-base percentage. Batting him sixth or seventh seems logical.
7. Pudge Rodriguez, C:
Leyland seriously is considering him at leadoff. Rodriguez has amazing speed for a 35-year-old catcher. "He's one of our fastest baserunners," the manager says. He is a career .304 hitter with a lifetime .342 on-base percentage.
8. Brandon Inge, 3B:
He hit 27 home runs, and batting him eighth rather than ninth is going to be worth a few more RBIs.
9. Placido Polanco, 2B:
His .693 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentages) was the lowest of any Tiger who played in 100 games or more. Polanco is being considered as one of Leyland's leadoff choices. But batting him ninth makes sense. He takes few walks but has the hitting skills to make for a dangerous end-of-the-order hitter who can sustain a big inning.
How will the Tigers line up?
One of Jim Leyland's pet offseason projects has been to make out possible batting orders for 2007.
"I must have made out 40 or 50 of them last night," the Tigers manager said earlier this month at baseball's winter meetings in Orlando.
The job has become significantly more pleasant in the weeks since Detroit acquired Gary Sheffield from the Yankees.
Leyland now can plug into a lineup Sheffield's potent bat. Sheffield's gaudy career statistics explain why the Tigers were so tickled to add him to a lineup that needed a scary hitter in the middle.
He has 2,390 hits, 455 home runs and a career batting average of .297. His career on-base percentage is .398 and his career slugging percentage is .525, which, for those who delight in baseball's truest offensive statistic, gives Sheffield a career OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .923.
When you're in the 900-1.000 range on OPS, you're the kind of hitter pitchers desperately hope will be on the disabled list their next time on the mound.
Leyland's plan -- in December, anyway -- is to bat Sheffield third or fifth. The only hang-up there is Carlos Guillen, whom the manager also is considering at No. 3.
Magglio Ordonez is Leyland's choice for No. 4, with either Sheffield or Guillen fifth.
The manager's other lineup options are open, right down to leadoff man. Leyland isn't married to the idea that Curtis Granderson will bat first. There might be days, Leyland acknowledged, when Placido Polanco or even Pudge Rodriguez would hit at the top spot.
That, in turn, could leave the back end of Detroit's lineup looking different than it did most days last season. Moving Granderson out of the leadoff spot would drop him anywhere from sixth to ninth.
It could have a potential dual benefit: reducing negative effects from Granderson's strikeouts at while placing a left-handed hitter with power deeper in the order.
Where does Monroe go?
Consider Leyland's tendencies and thought processes on where hitters belong and it's easy to understand why he can spend an evening listing dozens of different batting orders.
Leyland batted Craig Monroe -- who led the team in home runs -- anywhere from second to eighth last season. Leyland shares with Cardinals manager Tony La Russa the thought that it can be helpful to put a hitter with power at the second spot. Monroe's advantage hitting deeper in the order is that Leyland also likes pop in the eighth spot. Monroe's low on-base percentage (.301 in 2006) is another factor in batting him deeper in the lineup.
On days when Marcus Thames (if he isn't traded) makes it into the lineup, Leyland faces another consideration. Thames matches a respectable on-base mark (.333 in 2006) with the top slugging percentage (.549) on the team.
If Thames spells Monroe in left -- or Casey at first -- he is a definite middle-of-the-order hitter.
Brandon Inge makes sense at the eighth spot -- or ninth, where he often hit last season -- because of a relatively low batting average (.253), his knack for striking out (128, second to Granderson's 174) and his power. Inge's 27 home runs kept pitchers honest at a point generally considered the weakest in a batting order.
Formula vs. intuition
Inge, however, might be worth bumping up a spot as the Tigers consider an interesting possibility at No. 9: Polanco.
Polanco batted .295 last season but had a low OPS (.693 -- .329 on-base, .364 slugging). He gets the bat on the ball (17 walks, 27 strikeouts) but tends to be a singles hitter. In other words, he could offer Leyland the advantage of having a quasi-leadoff man batting aheadof the leadoff batter.
Much of the manager's disposition there is a matter of what you think about the computer-generated wisdom that it's better for a team to load the front end of its order with its best hitters.
That, of course, can collide with a manager's intuition, and even more, his experience.
"I know a guy who did that one game," Leyland said of one manager who followed the best-hitters-at-the-top formula. "And his team got shut out on two hits."
For now, the manager is tinkering -- and thinking. Expect it to continue well into 2007.
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