Line-up decisions are popular complaints on Twitter and fan forums. The team is struggling and fans disagree with Lovullo’s line-up decisions. Is that surprising? I don’t think so.
First, let me begin this section on fan complaints by addressing second-guessing in general. The team isn’t playing well and fans have their complaints. It’s so convenient they complain when the team isn’t playing well. It’s easy to feel like you’re right, and they must obviously be wrong because they have bad results with their decisions. I am not saying some don’t complain when they’re playing well. I have my complaints when they’re playing well. I have noticed areas they need to improve. But I don’t think Hazen is unaware of where they need to improve, which is why he went out and got JD and Hernandez.
That leads us to our main discussion.
There are several reasons why line-up changes are such a popular complaint and probably the most predictable. The first reason is all the variables. It takes at least nine players to fill out a line-up. Then there are pinch hitters, double-switches, and pitching changes. There are so many variables and things for fans to disagree with. There is so much room for opinion. One example of probably the easiest decision in making out the line-up is where to hit Goldy. He either bats third or fourth. He’s your best player and he gets the most plate appearances. Lovullo has his reasons for batting him fourth after the Martinez acquisition, but many fans voice their disagreement.
Fans want to say that Lovullo isn’t consistent enough when he makes out a line-up. Some fans want the same line-up every day, regardless of matchups. Others understand there is a degree of variation but they want a lot more consistency and have specific players that they want to see more.
There are many problems with this complaint. First, Lovullo is way more consistent than previous managers. It’s hard to prove to those who haven’t paid attention. You’d have to look at past game logs. However, one indicator is how current players praise Lovullo for his communication and how he helps them know the expectations so they can focus on preparation. Changes occur over the long season, especially when they acquire a player like JD Martinez. Even with natural changes, the game logs show Lovullo’s consistency of who gets most of the reps and where they usually hit.
Line-up changes are always experimental. There is no line-up in baseball that has the same pieces in the same spots all year. They move guys in and out of spots to maximize production. Teams track production per position and per spot in the batting order. It is a formula where they look to maximize the output of all positions and all spots in the line-up. For instance, the decision to bat Iannetta second is an experiment. They will continue it if he continues to produce. On the flip side, batting Pollock third versus a lefty is an experiment. The hope is that Pollock will snap out of his funk and find consistency batting in front of Goldy or Lamb, but Pollock is a top of the line-up hitter either way.
Data and an eye tests help management make decisions. When I say “eye test” I mean how a player looks because the data doesn’t always match in a smaller sample. The point is that we do not see this management making rash or quick changes. They make decisions and let it play out. Then they tweak it and let that play out. They have reasons for their decisions. We’ve never had more information (more intelligence) used to make a decision. It’s ridiculous for a fan to think they have more information (more intelligence) to have a better decision. I have not met that fan and I don’t believe they exist. I don’t believe they can exist apart from a major league organization or some lucrative role–writing books, advising organizations, etc.
That brings me to my last point and main problem with this complaint. It entirely lacks analysis! Fans who criticize line-ups usually have wild theories about Lovullo trying to please players more than he is trying to win. They rarely mention specific players that should be in the line-up, and they never give reasons why management is wrong. For instance, they don’t acknowledge that players wear down without rest. They don’t explain how best to deal with it and why Lovullo (and Hazen’s) reasoning for resting (or sitting) players is bad. They don’t realize that management’s efforts are also proactive–trying to help players turn things around quicker–and they don’t explain why they aren’t doing it as well as it should be done. The analysis lacks why management has it wrong.
I would actually appreciate a good analysis that backs up this opinion. So far Hazen (and Lovullo) have better reasoning and they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt because they use information.
They use data and other expert perception. Have we stopped to think about how many experts are watching them play? They have a hall of fame coach who they pay to watch the games and give his opinion. They have Bob Brenly riding on the busses and available to give Hazen his opinion. They have so many other experts who have been around the game in many different capacities (player, scout, front office), who are watching every pitch and using their experience to give their perspective. I will give my opinion after the season is over, but I feel too puny and humble to say they are wrong. It feels so foolish and arrogant to criticize anything valid while thinking they don’t see it. One thing is for sure, criticizing line-up changes is the easiest criticism to sound smart and make it seem like I am right and they are wrong, but it’s completely fallacious.
I’ll say it again because it deserves repeating: we have never had more intelligence going into the decisions, and it’s the player’s responsibility to perform accordingly.