What makes a good lineup?
What’s the best way to optimize your hitters through the nine spots in the batting order?
These days, it’s often more complicated than many think.
Many years ago, the standard practice was nearly a paint-by-numbers approach. Put your speed guys up top, your pure hitters up next, followed by your power, and then whatever random assortment of defensive specialists, bench warmers, and pitchers that are left over.
The approach is far more calculated now. Managers are faced with a daily puzzle of on-base percentages, wRC+, slugging, contact skills, sprint speed, and everything in between. Each player brings unique tools to the plate and getting the most out of those tools is the real game within the game.
Some play that game better than others.
But who does it best? Which lineups excel? For argument and organization, I narrowed my list down to the top five, but I’ve still ranked all 30 teams. No doubt you will disagree and that’s OK.
Let’s break it down.
- Jose Altuve
- Michael Brantley
- Alex Bregman
- Yordan Alvarez
- José Abreu
- Kyle Tucker
- Jeremy Peña
- Chas McCormick
- Martín Maldonado
2022 Runs Scored: 737 (8th)
After leading the majors in runs in 2021, Houston finished eighth last year before going on to win the World Series. Since 2018, the Astros have scored the fourth most runs. With resurgent seasons in 2022 from Altuve and Bregman and continued growth from its young studs Alvarez and Tucker, I don’t expect Houston to slow down any time soon.
In fact, the Astros improved their lineup in the offseason.
Abreu was signed to a three-year, $58.5 million contract to replace free agent Yuli Gurriel, who was solid, but inconsistent in his seven years in Houston. Gurriel offered little power, especially for a first baseman, and his numbers cratered in 2022 to .242/.288/.360 with eight home runs and an 85 wRC+.
Abreu offers a significant upgrade in both stability and power. Yes, he hit a career-worst 15 home runs last year, but little changed under the hood. His average exit velocity and max EV were every bit the Abreu of old. His launch angle dropped to a career-worst, but that’s a much simpler fix.
Despite that, he still batted .304/.378/.446 with a 137 wRC+. He’s one year removed from a 30-home run season and two years removed from an elite 164 wRC+.
In Houston, Abreu will discover a bounty of baserunners ahead of him in the lineup, allowing him to challenge his career-high 123 RBI from 2017. He also provides excellent lineup protection for burgeoning superstar Alvarez, who had a ridiculous 185 wRC+ last season (third in the league).
Even the bottom of Houston’s order offers some upside as Peña and McCormick were positive contributors last season. Maldonado is the only negative, but his job description is different as a catcher.
I expect the defending champs to again easily finish among the league leaders in runs scored.
- Ronald Acuña Jr.
- Matt Olson
- Austin Riley
- Sean Murphy
- Michael Harris II
- Ozzie Albies
- Marcell Ozuna
- Eddie Rosario
- Vaughn Grissom
2022 Runs Scored: 789 (3rd)
There is every indication that Atlanta should be a better offense this season than they were in 2022 when they finished third in the majors in runs scored.
To start, Acuña had a late start to the season after undergoing knee surgery the previous summer. The recovery from an ACL tear is a long one and many athletes need even more time to feel normal even after getting back on the field.
So, it’s no surprise Acuña’s metrics in home runs, batting average, OBP, SLG, sprint speed, and many others trended in a negative direction. Expect that trend to reverse almost two years removed from his surgery.
He’s not the only player ready to rebound.
Olson was good, but not great in his first season with Atlanta. Despite hitting the ball as hard as ever, Olson’s walks fell and his strikeouts rose as he adjusted to a new team and new league. He went from hitting .271/.371/.540 in 2021 to .240/.325/.477 in 2022.
Also of note, Olson faced the infield shift more than almost any other player in the league.
Even if he doesn’t match his career-best numbers from 2021, a positive regression and the new shift ban should positively impact both Olson and Atlanta.
Add in a fully healthy season from Albies, a follow-up on Harris’s NL Rookie of the Year season, and a potential power rebound from Ozuna, and Atlanta could easily lead the majors in runs scored.
Toronto Blue Jays
- George Springer
- Bo Bichette
- Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
- Alejandro Kirk
- Daulton Varsho
- Matt Chapman
- Brandon Belt
- Whit Merrifield
- Kevin Kiermaier
2022 Runs Scored: 775 (4th)
Any conversation about the Blue Jays lineup starts with Guerrero.
The stud first baseman turns just 24 years old on March 16 and already flirted with the triple crown in his young career. In 2021, he led the American League in home runs (48) and RBI (123) while finishing tied for second with a .311 average.
So what changed last season when he fell to .274/.339/.480 with “just” 32 home runs and 97 RBI?
The answer is just about everything as he saw dips in contact, average exit velocity, and launch angle (9.4 to 4.3!) while also striking out more and walking less. In turn, Toronto went from scoring 846 runs in 2021 to 775 last year.
That mark, however, was still good for fourth overall in the majors and proves that Toronto does not need Guerrero to be elite to rank among the league’s best lineups.
Springer (132 wRC+ in 2022), Bichette (129 wRC+), Kirk (129 wRC+), and Chapman (117 wRC+) all were excellent run producers of their own. And the Blue Jays bolstered their lineup by bringing in Belt, Varsho, and Kiermaier.
Belt is the most interesting. He turns 35 early in April, but two of his best seasons have come in the past three years with a 171 wRC+ in 2020 and 157 in 2021. He has not played over 100 games since 2019 and his counting stats have fluctuated wildly during his career, but the Blue Jays aren’t looking for a savior.
Belt instead leads a boring but underrated group of veterans through the bottom third of the lineup where many other teams flash weakness.
We already know how good the Blue Jays can be in a so-called “down year” for their stars. So how good can they be when everything comes together?
San Diego Padres
- Fernando Tatis Jr.
- Juan Soto
- Xander Bogaerts
- Manny Machado
- Jake Cronenworth
- Matt Carpenter
- Nelson Cruz
- Ha-Seong Kim
- Austin Nola
2022 Runs Scored: 705 (13th)
It’s finally time for the Padres to pop.
To say that San Diego underwhelmed last year would be an understatement. Despite the fourth-highest payroll in the league, the Padres finished 22 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West and were just 13th in the league with 705 runs scored.
Tatis was an irreplaceable loss for the season after the young shortstop suffered multiple injuries and was given a PED suspension just when his return was imminent. An electric player since he first entered the league at 20 years old, Tatis had three straight seasons with a wRC+ over 150.
He’s eligible to return April 20.
Without Tatis, the Padres traded for Soto at midseason to fill that hole and push into the playoff picture. Soto has been one of the game’s best hitters since he was 19 years old. Since his debut in 2018, Soto is fourth overall in ISO and fifth in wRC+. And by his standards, he struggled in 2022. If you remove that troublesome season, Soto is second in both ISO and wRC+.
There is no reason to think 2022 was anything but a blip for Soto. He finished with a .242 batting average, but he still posted an .853 OPS fueled by an excellent .401 OBP and finished with a 145 wRC+.
And I haven’t even mentioned Machado, who hit .298/.366/.531 with 32 home runs and 202 combined runs and RBI. Or the addition of Bogaerts with a career slash line of .292/.356/.458. Or Carpenter with his insane .422 ISO in 2022 that would have led the league by a wide margin if he had qualified.
Simply put, the Padres lineup is as good a bet as any to set the pace in the majors this season.
New York Yankees
- Gleyber Torres
- Aaron Judge
- Anthony Rizzo
- Giancarlo Stanton
- Josh Donaldson
- Harrison Bader
- Aaron Hicks
- Oswald Peraza
- Jose Trevino
2022 Runs Scored: 807 (2nd)
That Judge kid is pretty good at baseball.
The league leader in ISO, wRC+, OBP, SLG, WAR, and of course home runs, Judge was completely in a tier of his own. This season, ZiPS projects Judge to hit .280/.386/.578 with a 171 wRC+, which frankly seems like a conservative estimate.
He’s followed in the order by a pair of premier power hitters in Rizzo (32 home runs, .256 ISO in 2022) and Stanton (31 home runs, .251 ISO).
Torres has pop at the top of the lineup as well with 70th-percentile rates in hard-hit, average EV, max EV, and slugging. He will need to improve on last season’s .310 OBP, but his career .331 mark suggests better days are ahead.
And don’t forget about Bader. He was on the injured list when he was acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals last August and played just 14 games in the regular season for his new team. But in the postseason, Bader hit .333/.429/.833 with five home runs and a 252 wRC+ in just nine games.
The Yankees also boast of the league’s best benches with DJ LeMahieu, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Oswaldo Cabrera, and Kyle Higashioka. Top prospect Anthony Volpe also could make the team out of Spring Training.
The Yankees were second in the league last season with 807 runs scored and there’s no reason to think that will change in 2023.
Los Angeles Dodgers
New York Mets
St. Louis Cardinals
Boston Red Sox
Chicago White Sox
Los Angeles Angels
Tampa Bay Rays
San Francisco Giants
Kansas City Royals
Photos by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire, All-Pro Reels (https://www.flickr.com/photos/joeglo/), and Wikicommons | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)