There is great excitement among some in the Astros fan base now that Singleton has been added to the 26-man roster. We discussed when he was first signed how he might help save the Astros offense. Just yesterday, we discussed what Astros fans should really expect from the 2023 Singleton experience.
The question of the day is how the Astros should construct the optimal lineup integrating Singleton and how are they most likely to do it. It is far more detailed than you may think. I added this video to help you with understanding this article.
Let me start with some bad news. There IS NOT a simple everyday lineup the Astros should deploy. The best answer is different if the SP is lefthanded or righthanded.
To amplify this, let's first look at xwOBA for the batters that could fill the Astros lineup vs. both LHP and RHP.
Why xwOBA? because as we have covered previously it gives the best indicator of predictive results based on the actual quality of the batted ball contact.
The data for Brantley is based on the average of his 2021-2022 xwOBA since he has not played this year yet.
The data for Singleton is based on a projection of his 2023 AAA statistics as shown in the Singleton article.
The standard Dusty lineup vs, LHSP is to the left. The average xwOBA of this lineup would be. 0.340. This would be the fifth best in the MLB this year. Houston currently has a 0.335 wOBA vs. LHP (10th).
The two standard Dusty lineup vs, RHSP are to the right. The average xwOBA of the first lineup would also be. 0.340. This would be the fourth best in the MLB this year.
The average xwOBA of the second lineup would also be. 0.354. This would be the BEST in the MLB this year.
Houston currently has a 0.313 wOBA vs. RHP (19th).
You can see the positive impact of Singleton and NOT playing Maldonado vs. RHP. Just by applying these BASIC stats and analysis would enable better results.
This is NOT even answering the question of what the optimal lineup is yet. This is just saying how much the additions and injury recoveries can positively impact the current Astros normal lineups.
As we showed in the Singleton article, one can take this analysis even deeper by looking at the xwOBA data down to the pitch group data. First, we ask what the dominant pitches of the starting pitcher are (see more about this below). This COULD be the pitches he throws most often, or it could be the most effective pitches he throws. Whatever pitch is the most worrisome vs. that pitcher is the one that probably answers what his dominant type is.
The reality, as reflected in these lineups is that there are no Astros starter decisions to be made at 2B, 3B, and RF. The LF/ DH Starter decisions are driven by who is starting at the other spots. Let's look at the xwOBA data per pitch group for C, 1B, SS, and CF.
The green cells show the players that should start.
The data to the right shows that Maldy has no business starting vs. a RHSP. When facing a LHSP, both Maldonado and Diaz should start vs. breaking pitch and off-speed pitch dominant pitchers. Diaz should play 1B- more on that later. When facing a fastball dominant LHSP, either can start at catcher and Diaz might be an option at DH.
The data to the left shows the pitch group data for the 1B. There is no such data yet for Singleton because his MLB sample size is too small.
Abreu is ONLY hitting fastballs well and should ONLY be starting vs. fastball dominant SP. At this point Abreu SHOULD be sitting vs. all breaking and off-speed dominant pitchers.
As just shown Diaz should start at catcher vs. RHSP. Diaz SHOULD also start at 1B vs. LHSP that are breaking and off-speed dominant pitchers.
Singleton should start at 1B vs. breaking and off-speed RHSP.
Yes, this would mean Abreu's playing time would be significantly reduced. Now that Singleton is here, it is time for this. Do I expect Dusty WILL do this? See above, no. This is what SHOULD happen.
The Shortstop data to the right shows a similar optimal lineup selection based on dominant pitch type.
Pena should start vs. fastball dominant SP and breaking pitch dominant LHSP.
Dubon should start vs. off-speed pitch dominant SP and breaking pitch dominant RHSP.
In the centerfield data to the left we see the strengths of Meyers and McCormick. Neither are good against off-speed pitches; and beware if the Astros pull Dubon to play CF, it might be an off-speed SP.
McCormick should start vs. all fastball dominant pitchers. McCormick is also the better answer vs. off-speed dominant pitchers, but Dubon is also an option too. Meyers is the best answer vs. breaking pitch dominant LHSP. Either is an option vs. breaking pitch RHSP.
The Optimal Lineups
There are more subtle items that can impact the lineup but here is how one might set the optimal lineups based on the expected stats.
Note: These have been adjusted with the Abreu injury.
If you deep dive into these lineups, you may see some of the choices the Astros actually make without understanding why. Now you do.
You can see the Astros batters in general are better vs. fastball pitchers- a LOT better. They are also significantly worse against breaking pitch dominant RH pitchers. How many times have you seen the Astros struggle against a curveball/ slider pitcher?
No, there is NOT one optimal lineup for the Astros. There is an optimal lineup which depends on the strengths of the starting pitcher that night. Whenever a know it all (including myself) complains about the batting order, consider the data in THIS article.
Notes about dominant pitchers
The concept of dominant pitcher pitch type probably sounds easier in theory than it plays out in reality. In general, MOST pitchers are probably fastball dominant pitchers.
Let me illustrate with today's Orioles pitcher Jack Flaherty.
Flaherty pitches more fastballs than anything else. His breaking pitches are more effective. Neither of these pitch groups are tremendous and I might default to calling Flaherty a fastball dominant pitcher. This is true of a LOT of pitchers. I have a database of 650+ pitchers that I can now reference. I can pull the data again when I need to refresh it. We can look on a daily basis at what the lineup SHOULD be based on the pitcher if there is enough interest in that. Normally that sort of content does NOT actual garner many views. It is too much work if there is no interest.
I know we as Astros fans can find something to complain about the lineup almost daily. In my view, most of those complaints are warranted. However, as with most things, the truth is more complicated than "Singleton should start every day now."
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