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A Deficit Of Reason
by Derek Smart
While a manager's lineup may essentially be the allotment of playing time, I challenge you to find me a guy in the Majors making out a lineup card today who a) believes that and b) allows it to inform his process. For big league skippers, what the arrangement of his hitters represents is a combination of role allocation and the result of some mystical spinal tap of a player's psyche. Aramis Ramirez might have a skillset identified as ideally suited to hit fourth given the talent surrounding him, but during his 18 at bats in the fifth spot he's seemed more "comfortable," so that's where he goes for now.
None of these factors, not a one, can justify yesterday's placement of Neifi! in the sixth spot in the batting order. Not only was he the worst hitter in the lineup not sprinkled with magical leadoff dust, he's arguably the worst hitter in the lineup any day he plays, assuming Freddie Bynum's on the bench.
Niefi! wasn't hitting that high in the order because he deserved more playing time, he wasn't there because he's a six hole "RBI man," and he wasn't there because he loves hitting in the spot (going back to 2003, he's batting .190 in 58 at bats when hitting sixth, his worst performance in any spot in the order for which he's had more than 5 at bats). He was there because Dusty Baker couldn't recognize that, no matter who else was starting for his team that day, Neifi! didn't belong there.
If I were to guess at theories of justification they would have something to do with Cedeno needing to remain in the eighth spot so that he can "get comfortable" and break out of his recent struggles without encountering too much "pressure," while John Mabry was relegated to the seventh spot because he has "sucked." Both of these concepts make sense in a world where Aramis Ramirez is in your lineup, and he, Barrett, and Jones can divide the work of the fourth, fifth, and sixth spots amongst themselves.
However, this was not the scenario yesterday, and the situation screamed for a different approach than the one taken. Instead, we were left with two late inning, two-out scoring chances where the success of the opportunity rested on Neifi!'s ability to not make an out. After a foul pop-up in the seventh, and an unsuccessful bunt attempt (!!!!!!) in the ninth, the true nature of his talent had shown through, and the club was left with men on base and a game-ending deficit.
Now, I'm not saying that another hitter would have been any more successful in those situations, or that there was any way to predict that those particular situations would arise, but if you put your worst hitter directly behind your most productive hitters, there's a better chance that you've set up a sequence of events that will end badly than if you had a more competent player in that spot.
The Cubs gave away scoring opportunities yesterday because Baker doesn't understand the talent on his squad, and if that's not a damning indictment of his managerial skills, then managerial skills simply don't exist.