One of the most basic yet important jobs for a baseball manager is to set their team’s lineup. This is also known as setting the batting order. Setting the lineup is not just important for giving your team the best chance for success, it will also determine how many at-bats each player can expect to receive and in what situations those at-bats will take place. Many young players also believe that it is “better” to bat near the top of the lineup. (Side note, this problem exists in the majors as well).
Today, we will review the basics of setting a lineup, how to use these concepts towards creating your ideal batting order, and how to tailor your lineup to best suit your individual players.
Youth Baseball Coaches Know Their Players’ Skills
As the new season begins in many parts of the country, the first job for many youth coaches is to scout their own team. Is the big kid really a power hitter? Is your shortstop an automatic pick for the leadoff spot? A manager must understand the abilities of his or her players before setting an efficient lineup.
Many youth baseball leagues begin without many lead-in practices. This can create a challenge for coaches. To get a feel for players’ abilities at the plate, youth coaches may consider designating time for a team-wide batting practice session. Give each player the same amount of swings (or time, or pitches) to see what they can do.
Coaches should be evaluating hitters on their ability to make contact, their plate discipline, their power, their speed, and their overall comfort at the plate.
Top of The Traditional Baseball Lineup
If part one of setting a baseball lineup is knowing players’ skill sets, part two is understanding how to structure a baseball lineup. The following is what managers traditionally look for in every spot in the order from one (1) through four (4):
Lead-off Hitter - often the fastest player in the lineup - always a hitter who has the knack for getting on base. This player should “set the table” for the rest of the lineup. MLB examples: Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki
Contact Hitter - the second slot in the lineup can be a wildcard, but this player should be putting the ball in play to move the lead-off hitter around the bases. Power is great, speed is great, but generally, you want a solid, reliable player here. MLB examples: Joe Morgan, Manny Machado
Best All-Around Hitter - the three spot is often designated for the best hitter on the team. This player should hit for average, power, and have decent speed. This player’s role is simultaneously to hit in the hypothetical base runners from the one and two positions, while also getting on base for the clean-up hitter. MLB examples: Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Ken Griffey Jr.
Clean-up Hitter - the famous clean-up man resides in the four hole. This player should be the best power hitter on your team, unless that player is also your best hitter overall (which might move them up to the three slot). This position should be an RBI machine, knocking in the baserunners from the top of the lineup. MLB examples: Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Giancarlo Stanton
Setting the Bottom of Your Little League Lineup
The “bottom half” of the lineup is equally important, and sometimes more difficult to manage. Instead of selecting from your faster player or biggest power hitter, coaches must consider how these players will flow in order. Here are some considerations for the bottom of a little league lineup:
Cleaning up for clean-up - the five slot can be viewed two different ways: either as a secondary clean up hitter, or as a second lead-off hitter. Often, the five slot is occupied by the second-best power hitter in the lineup.
Ready for round two - Around the sixth position in the lineup, strategy starts to get muddy. Little league managers may view the 6-9 spots in the lineup as interchangeable - and that would be fair. At this point, coaches may elect to put their “better” hitters a bit higher in the lineup for the sole reason that they will get more at-bats throughout the season.
The seven and eight spots in little league lineups will generally be designated for players who are better with the glove than the bat. That being said, it could be helpful to think of these positions as the three and four hitters, with the better overall hitter batting seventh and the better power hitter hitting eighth.
Most high level managers view the ninth batter as an extension of the lead off man. Of the players who did not make the top four spots in the lineup, the nine hole is most likely to be your fastest player or the one with the highest on base percentage.
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Pittsburgh-based Hustle Training is a growing startup created for the sports-driven players and coaches out there looking to up their game and maximize performance potential. Their website coupled with the mobile app makes it easy for players to improve their fundamentals and move on to master advanced techniques by providing crafted workouts and drills created by college coaches, professional players, and expert trainers.