FanPost

The Problem With Cleanup Billy

When Ned Yost first put Alex Gordon in the leadoff spot, not many fans had ever considered making that move - it did not compute. Gordon had been promoted as a number three hitter or somewhere around the fifth or sixth slot. But to some surprise, Gordon has shown to be an effective, if not typical, leadoff hitter.

In making the move, Yost made a comment something to the effect that after the first inning, Gordon becomes an RBI guy when the number 8/9 hitters in the lineup get on base.

An aspect of baseball that is not often analyzed is leading off an inning - technically no different than leading off the game. Every batter will at some point lead off an inning - even Billy Butler.

Does batting order and leading off an inning matter statistically?

Two obvious points: the leadoff hitter will have a higher inning leadoff percent than any other spot in the batting order, and the number two and three batter will have a lower inning leadoff percent since they can't leadoff an inning the first time thru the lineup.

The two tables below compare stats for when Billy and Alex bat in different slots in the batting order and how often they leadoff an inning during a game for each slot in the batting order.

For example: In games with Butler batting 3rd - he led off an inning 17.8% of the time, hitting .282 for those plate appearances. In all games regardless of batting order, he led off 20.5% of innings, hitting .256 compared to an average of .305 when not leading off an inning.

Table 1: Billy Butler Batting Order, 2007-2011

Butler

Percent Innings

PA

AB

H

Avg

All leadoff
20.5%
615
565
145
.256
All other
79.5%
2386
2025
619
.305
3rd leadoff
17.8%
243
230
65
.282
3rd other
82.4%
1121
944
305
.323
4th leadoff
23.8%
233
205
42
.204
4th other
76.2%
747
624
181
.290
5th leadoff
24.5%
96
87
26
.298
5th other
75.5%
296
258
84
.325

Over the past five years, the Royals' hitters have a high percentage of going 1-2-3 in the first inning. This leads to the cleanup hitter leading off an inning at a high rate. In this situation, Butler has a .204 batting average - his worst split in this analysis.

The data suggests that Billy should hit third due to the lower 17.8% leadoff percent and .323 batting average when not leading off as the third place hitter.

Table 2: Alex Gordon Batting Order, 2007-2011

Gordon

Percent

Innings

PA

AB

H

Avg

All leadoff
22.8%
552
499
149
.298
All other
77.2%
1865
1563
388
.248
1st leadoff
37.8%
170
153
46
.300
1st other
62.2%
280
223
68
.304
3rd leadoff
16.1%
91
82
24
.292
3rd other
83.9%
473
392
95
.242
5th leadoff
23.4%
71
66
23
.348
5th other
76.6%
232
195
46
.235
6th leadoff
18.9%
106
97
28
.288
6th other
81.1%
454
393
93
.236

Give credit to Ned Yost, the data suggests that Gordon should hit first due to the 37.8% leadoff percent and his significantly better batting average when leading off an inning. The three other slots where Gordon has typically hit, all have a noticeably lower batting average when not leading off an inning. This occurs about 80% of the time - suggesting that Gordon doesn't produce when hitting 3/5/6.

This analysis isn't sufficient on its own merit to put Billy in the three hole, but it is, considering Eric Hosmer has been given the three hole long-term, sufficient enough for Billy and the hitting coach to figure out an adjustment to make in his approach when leading off an inning.

Judging from Billy's public image and reputation as a professional hitter, just mentioning the .204 batting average would result in an adjustment improving that number. Because that's what Billy do...

This FanPost was written by a member of the Royals Review community. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the editors and writers of this site.

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