The frustrating thing about the Chicago Cubs’ 2013 season was watching, former Cubs manager, Dale Sveum attempt to fill out the lineup card. One of the reasons the Cubs struggled so mightily was because of gross inconsistencies in the lineup day in and day out. The lineup card is where a ballclub draws its foundation from and every time a manager shuffles the order the chemistry of the lineup starts back at square one. Think of it this way, would you want the foundation of your house to shift and move around? Of course not, your house would fall down. It’s the same way with a lineup.
There are a million different ways to construct a productive lineup and Dale Sveum tried just about every single one of them. Something that the average fan may not understand is just how much the lineup affects hitters. When you walk into that clubhouse and you know that you’re going to be batting fifth and playing right field, no matter what happened yesterday, is such a comfort. But when you don’t know what your role is, or your role seems to change from day to day, your focus can drift. Lets face it, baseball is the most mental, in-your-own-head type of game out there, and when you’re thinking about anything besides trying to hit a 95 MPH fastball, it becomes nearly impossible.
Rick Renteria had a little bit of Sveum in him during the first month of this season, but to his credit he has decided on a combination that he likes (for the most part) and is sticking with it. Every game you can count on the one, three, four, five, six hitters being, Emilio Bonifacio Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Luis Valbuena and Nate Schierholtz. But since Bonifacio’s injury Renteria has had to reconstruct the lineup. Here’s where it gets difficult for a manager. There are two schools of thought on how to compensate for an injury to one of your starters. Option one: just slide his replacement directly into his spot in the lineup. This theory tries to slide a random player into the old one’s role, which often is like trying to fit a square through a circular hole. The best example of this is when the Red Sox had Johnny Gomes bat leadoff during Shane Victorino’s day-to-day injuries back in April. Johnny Gomes leading off… seriously? And the other school of thought involves completely reshuffling the lineup. This is the smart choice, but it is never easy. For example, in 2013 Starlin Castro hit in every single spot in the order (maybe that explains why he was so terrible), and every spot has a different role and a different mindset. In most lineups the lead off guy’s job is to get on base and the second hitter’s strength is moving the leadoff guy. Your third hitter is usually your best true hitter and your four, five and sometimes six hitters are you swing-for-the-fence guys. And your seven and eight hitters are the guys who can either work counts or get on base so the pitcher can bunt them over. Only a select number of players can legitimately fulfill all of these roles (both through their skills and their mindset) and Starlin Castro is not one of them.
Consistency in the lineup allows player to settle into their roles, accept their place on the team and do what needs to be done in order to win. That’s not to say there shouldn’t be a little bit of competition for a starting job and whatnot, but that stuff should be 99% figured out after the first couple of weeks of the season. Competition should never drag on for 162 games.
The bottom line is this: being successful in baseball is all about minimizing mistakes. The best way to minimize mistakes is to minimize the variability in what you do; create a routine. And when you find a routine that works for you, STICK TO THAT ROUTINE. Baseball players have too many thoughts going through their heads as it is and if you can allow a ballplayer know his role, that’s one less thought he has to think, which could be the difference between him failing 75% of the time and him failing 70% of the time; being average and hitting .250 and being an all-star hitting .300.
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