30 in 30: A Chiefs Countdown to Opening Day – Day 8

We’re counting down until Opening Day with a new post on our Inside the Chiefs blog every day until Syracuse’s opener on April 3rd. Here’s what’s on tap today…

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For some players, the tensest moment of a gameday might not come during the game itself. It might come at around 3:30 in the afternoon in the middle of the clubhouse hallway, when a simple piece of paper is pinned up to the bulletin board…

The lineup card.

Nats lineup

The sacred, unbreakable lineup. Nine individuals listed in order from one to nine – an order that means everything. In a game where so many outcomes and variables depend on randomness, this is as un-random as baseball gets. There are certain general outlines that a typical lineup follows: fast guy in the leadoff spot, contact hitter second, best hitter third, power hitters four through six, speedy “second-leadoff” type in the nine position. This is the way baseball has more or less worked for decades and decades and decades.

But is it the right way? Statistically, well…no.

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Yesterday, Nationals manager Matt Williams talked about his 2014 lineup, saying he likes Denard Span at the top of the card. That makes some sense: Span’s career on-base percentage of .351 is a well-above-average mark – however, his OBP over the last four seasons sits at just .332. So why not Jayson Werth, who hit leadoff toward the end of 2012? Werth sported a massive .398 OBP last year – a number that’s a combined .373 mark over the last four seasons.

The argument against Werth hitting leadoff? He’s a “run-producer” who’s expected to hit in the middle of the lineup, so he can have more opportunities to drive players in. But it sounds like Werth’s more likely to hit somewhere from the third to fifth spots. Now, consider this: per Baseball Between the Numbers, there’s a difference of about 18 plate appearances per season between each spot in the lineup. Let’s say you bat Werth fourth and Span first. Now, Span’s coming to bat about 54 times more than Werth during the season. Or, in mathematical terms, this guy:

.279/.327/.380, 28 2B, 11 3B, 4 HR in 153 games

…is batting 54 more times than this guy:

.318/.398/.532, 24 2B, 25 HR in 129 games

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What does this mean for the Chiefs this year? Well, in the past two seasons, speedy outfielder Eury Perez has largely taken a stranglehold on the leadoff spot, with Jeff Kobernus typically occupying the #2 position last year. But maybe it’s worth considering a flip? Kobernus posted a stellar .366 OBP last year, ahead of Perez’s .336 mark – and Kobernus proved to a better base-stealer. With that combination of speed and discipline, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Kobernus get the lion’s share of plate appearances at the top of the order this year – should both players return to Syracuse.

Kobernus (Gaston)

Jeff Kobernus doing what he does – getting on base.

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Have something you want to see or talk about on the blog? Hit us up on Twitter @ChiefsRadio – or shoot me a message at kbrown@syracusechiefs.com.

Kevin Brown

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