That’s what trying to construct a lineup is like these days for manager Eric Wedge.
Now generally you have one of two opinions on the cause of the Indians’ offensive malaise:
(a) It’s Wedge’s fault because he’s the one who’s putting the lineup together
(b) The players are the cause, because they aren’t hitting.
I’m of the opinion that managers generally have less to do with the outcome of games than generally thought. Because baseball is at its heart a one-on-one matchup, there is little a coach or manager can do except to fix a player’s mechanics, whether they are swinging or throwing. Finding a lineup, especially with the addition of several new players, is usually a gradual process, and by the end of the first month, you pretty much know where everyone’s going to hit. But what happens if virtually everyone in the lineup can’t hit? Well, you do what Wedge has been doing for the first two months and tinker. In many respects the lineup difficulties parallel what happened with the bullpen last year; there’s only so much you can do when pretty much everyone sucks. The order matters less when you don’t have the players to work with.
This year’s lineup has very few obvious fits. Travis Hafner has the team’s highest OBP, but you obviously don’t want him leading off. Grady Sizemore, who is the team’s stolen base leader, hasn’t been drawing walks. And Coco Crisp has been injured. In the second hole, Casey Blake is one of the most patient hitters on the team, a good attribute for your second hitter to have, but Blake hasn’t been, you know, getting hits. Add in regressions from Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez, the complete absence of Juan Gonzalez, and the absolute suck of Aaron Boone, and you have a group of offensive players that wouldn’t score no matter how you placed them.
Now of course one argument for the importance of lineup construction states that because players are creatures of habit, sticking with one lineup for an appreciable amount of time, would result in the offense scoring more runs. I really don’t buy that argument; although some players get pitched differently based on who the next hitter is, you first have to have someone worth pitching around. Other than Travis Hafner at times, who would you tread carefully against on this team? Jody Gerut has the team’s highest OPS (.894), and that’s based on 43 at-bats. There are exactly two players slugging above .500. There are two players with an OBP above .350. Grady Sizemore is miscast right now as the team’s leadoff hitter, but who else is there? At some point you have to leave the abstract realm of form and get into the dirty world of function; it is there you will see that order is not the reason for the lack of runs; it’s the lack of production by the component parts.
It’s not all bad news for the team, though; they have started to hit better, today’s performance notwithstanding (They posted a .749 OPS in May, good for 7th in the league). Exorcising Casey Blake and eventually (please?) Aaron Boone from the everyday lineup should have some positive effect on the overall offense. Juan Gonzalez was supposed to have helped, but that isn’t happening. I still think Shapiro has to go out and get some help, because I don’t see much in the way of internal options. He grossly miscalculated the dropoff on the offensive side, and now that the two month barrier has been passed, his task to is to strengthen the, because it’s pretty difficult winning games when the offense scores four runs a game.