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The Blue Jays Weigh In: Do Lineup Shuffles Work?

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Photo credit:© Tommy Gilligan - USA Today
Mitch Bannon
21 days ago
The Blue Jays have been trying to spark the offense all season.
The latest attempt was a significant lineup shuffle: Davis Schneider is your new leadoff man and Danny Jansen and Daulton Varsho have traded off in the two-spot. The result: 5.4 runs per game and a 4-3 record since the move. Problem solved, offense sparked, playoffs here we come, right?
We’ve got a microscopic seven-game sample size that says lineup shuffles work. But, do the Blue Jays agree? I spoke to several Toronto hitters about hitting in different spots in the lineup and if lineup shakeups can spark anything in a team:

Do batting order shakeups motivate?

This was the big question I went in trying to answer: is there asoft science to a lineup shakeup? A proverbial ‘kick-in-the-but’? For the most part, the consensus was players viewed lineup changes as trying to get hot batters more ABs and less about potential team motivation:
Justin Turner: “I think everyone is fully aware of how they’re performing, whether they’re taking good at bats or not taking good at bats. So, I would like to think that hopefully guys don’t need [a lineup shakeup] in order to say ‘Oh, shit, I better turn it on.’”
Varsho: “I don’t think it really [has an impact]. I think it’s more of, there are obviously guys who are hitting well, so you guys want to get those guys more at bats.”
For Kevin Kiermaier, there is maybe something to a lineup shuffle, looking to find a lineup that gains momentum and run with it:
Kiermaier: “You can certainly try to switch it up and try to get momentum rolling for you whatever way you can, and that’s the name of the game.”

Do players get pitched different in different spots?

Getting a little more into the weeds, do players feel they’re pitched differently depending on where they’re hitting? Of the five players/coaches I chatted with, all of them agreed players are pitched almost the exact same, regardless of lineup position:
Turner: “In today’s game information. I feel like guys attack you the way they’re gonna attack. With how much guys value swing and miss and strikeouts, they’re everyone’s pitching you to punch you out from the first pitch anyway.”
Turner: “I think the only time it really matters is if you have someone who’s just absolutely scorching hot hitting in front of you or behind you. It’s maybe the only time it changes. Or if you’re the guy that scorching hot and you got a guy that’s struggling behind you, you might not get pitched the same.”
Varsho is the only player in Toronto’s lineup who has hit in ALL nine batting order slots so far this season. So, he’s the perfect guy to weigh in:
Varsho: “When I was hitting two, three or four, I was kind of getting pitched pretty much the same way. You got to think about it like they’re going off of their reports of how to pitch me. It’s not like ’hey, you’re in this position, you’re gonna get these pitches.’”

Does approach change in different spots?

Pitchers’ approach may not change based off the batting order, but what about the hitters? Do they change anything hitting first or ninth? Are there added pressures on the top slots?
For Varsho, there are two minor ways his approach changes depending on where he’s hitting. The outfielder finds he gets more at-bats with runners in scoring position when he hits higher (naturally) so the approach in those moments is impacted by his batting order slot. As well, Varsho’s baserunning approach is altered depending on where he’s hitting and who he’s hitting in front of:
Varsho on RISP: “If there are runners in scoring position itchanges. Then it’s obviously having an idea of what they’re going to do and being able to combat it.”
Varsho on baserunning: “It impacts when you’re running the bases more than anything else.  If you’re hitting in front to of Vlad, he’s probably gonna get more off-speed pitches, so there’s probably more chances to run the bases.”
For Kiermaier, though, moving down in the lineup can “take the pressure off a little bit” and allow him a few more looks at a pitcher, which he finds helpful:
Kiermaier: “I love the seventh to ninth hole. I’m very biased towards that. I get a good idea of how pitchers are going to throw for the seven or eight guys before me and then I get to go up there and I shouldn’t be surprised by anything at that point. But when I when I’ve hit lead off in previous years, it’s a lot more pressure on you start the game.”

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