Ohio State head coach Greg Beals spoke to his players about needing to take on a mentality of forgetting and let go of the season to date. Heading into the Big Ten Tournament with a 30-26 record and offense hitting .270, many feel the Buckeyes as a whole have underperformed. But you are what your record is, and 56 games into the season, a player is what is statistics like to say is no small sample size.
Using the regular season's body of work, there is enough data to determine how Ohio State's lineup should look. Whatever mindset the players take to TD Ameritrade Park with, Beals can help his team's chances of winning by maximizing the odds.
Here's how the lineup spots rank in the importance of avoiding outs:
#1, #4, #2, #5, #3, #6, #7, #8, #9.
How do you know which players are best in avoiding outs? Well, what's the opposite of getting an out? Getting on base.
Ranking Ohio State's batters by on-base percentage, here's how Ohio State's lineup should look if strictly inserting the player with the nth best on-base percentage at the spot in the lineup relative.
Freshman CF Ronnie Dawson - .400 OBP
Junior catcher Connor Sabanosh - .375 OBP
Sophomore third baseman Troy Kuhn - .382 OBP
Junior first baseman Josh Dezse - .374 OBP
Junior catcher Aaron Gretz - .377 OBP
Sophomore second baseman Nick Sergakis - .370 OBP
Sophomore DH/1B/3B Ryan Leffel - .369 OBP
Sophomore 3B/LF Jacob Bosiokovic -.355 OBP
Sophomore SS Craig Nennig - .341 OBP
Fine and dandy, but there is a problem of only one primary outfielder, a slew of players on the left side of the infield and a pair of catchers.
But we're able to have a foundation with knowledge of who gets on.
Dawson, Kuhn, Dezse, Sergakis should and are going to be in a lineup regardless. That leaves five spots to account for. It works to Ohio State's benefit that Gretz and Sabanosh are opposite handed batters and they both have high on-base tendencies. With the core four and a catcher,Ohio State needs to fill out an order with two more outfielders, an left-side infielder and DH.
In the run down based strictly on on-base percentage, Ohio State has enough left-side infielders to not worry about them. Where Ohio State runs into an issue is in the outfield. Like Dawson, Ohio State's three other primary outfielders are left-handed hitters. Unlike Dawson, they haven't done well to get on base this year. Senior Tim Wetzel has an on-base percentage of .314. Junior Pat Porter is slightly better at .320 while freshman Troy Montgomery is at .297.
One can speak to a desire to have speed in the outfield, play up TD Ameritrade's Grand Canyon-sized outfield, but relative to his outfield counterparts, Montgomery's speed and range does not provide that much more value on defense to make up for a sub-.300 on-base percentage; he needs best used as a late defensive replacement and/or pinch-runner.
So we have the three outfield spots accounted for.
Or do we?
In Ohio State's next to last game, Bosiokovic appeared in left field for the first time this season. In 2013, Beals placed Bosiokovic in left field four times. Beals will probably be reluctant to use Bosiokovic in an unfamiliar outfield with with gaping power alleys, but it should at least be considered.
Without Bosiokovic in left field, he deserves a spot back in Ohio State's infield. Since Nennig returned to the lineup, Kuhn has moved to third, second has been filled by Sergakis as Nennig stepped back into shortstop. Between Bosiokovic's end of season surge, 8-for-13 with four doubles, and Nennig's lack of output in the same span, 3-for-14, Beals has the ability to play the hot hand. Of course, one can counter with the four-game period as a small sample size, but then you fall back on Bosiokovic's season and his .718 OPS trumping Nennig's .595 output.
The outfield and left side of the infield resolved, and with Leffel manning the designated hitter role, here's how Ohio State should be around the diamond.
C - Gretz/Sabanosh
1B - Dezse
2B - Kuhn
SS - Sergakis
3B - Bosiokovic
LF - Wetzel
CF - Dawson
RF - Porter
That's pretty similar to what Ohio State has fielded throughout the year. In fact, there isn't a player listed in a position where he has less than 20 starts. But that specific a lineup is one the Buckeyes fielded only on two occasions. Beals' fielding team was the above only for April 4 and 6 games against Nebraska. Before the lineup could be consistently used, Wetzel suffered an ankle injury in the April 11 game against Penn State. When Wetzel returned, Ohio State had Nennig back at shortstop.
With Beals having twice fielded the above team, in Nebraska against the Huskers no less, there shouldn't be an apprehension in using the same nine against Big Red in the tournament opener. Where Beals needs to take on a new approach is how the above are penciled in throughout the batting order.
Here are the batting orders of the two games against Nebraska, April 4 listed first, April 6, second.
Did Beals optimize his lineup? In short, no.
To Tango, your leadoff batter needs to be your best player in getting on base. That's Dawson. Dawson makes this fairly easy as he has speed and the ability to steal a base which is something those from yesteryear love in their leadoff batter.
Kuhn should follow Dawson. Kuhn probably bats third because the traditional thought is your three-hole batter is a pretty big deal. Your leadoff batter gets on, steals a base or moved over by your two hole hitter. And with Kuhn having a high average leading Ohio State in doubles, home runs and RBI, that'd fit the bill. Except your two-hole hitter steps to the plate in just almost as many important situations as the three-hole hitter with the caveat he gets more at-bats.
The three-hole has been Kuhn's home. We've hit on why Beals pencils him here, the thought is you need your three-hole batter to drive the runner your two-hole batter moved into scoring position. Eh, not so fast. A three-hole batter is likely to step to the plate less often with runners on than the next two batters. He also will have more at-bats with nobody on and two outs, the life of a guaranteed first inning at-bat. Doesn't sound so important now. The best player to bat here is Ohio State's catcher because better batters need to take advantage of the positions offered in the next to spots.
The cleanup batter steps to the plate in the most important situations. Before continuing on with situations and importance, think of runners of second and third and two outs, or a second with one out, first and second with nobody out. Situations where there is a higher change in run expectancy based on the at-bats outcome. Josh Dezse is your man. Dezse's numbers on the season may not be overly impressive, a .249 average, .374 on-base percentage and .391 slugging. But Dezse's numbers in the Big Ten paint a different picture. The junior's triple-slash in Big Ten play is .308/.590/.429. Seven of Dezse's nine doubles have occurred in Big Ten play with all five of his home runs. Following back surgery that forced a redshirt on him in 2013, it's isn't a surprise Dezse is getting better the further he is from a major injury, one that would impact offensive production.
Your fifth batter doesn't possess the hitting ability of those in front of him, the power is already accounted for. Yet he still be a better better than your three-hole batter due to more opportunities stepping to the plate with fewer outs, ideal to get on base a bit more. This is why there is the third-greatest importance in avoiding outs. If he gets out, the rest of the lineup is much less likely to pick up the slack. This fits the bill for Sergakis.
Spots six through nine are describe as better your best batters in descending order, just as their importance of avoiding outs decreases. For outside that's Leffel, Bosiokovic, Porter, Wetzel.
Putting it all together he's how I would fill out Ohio State's lineup with Tango's suggestions and discussion on importance of avoiding outs, what situations a batter typically finds himself in.
How likely is Beals to fill out a lineup in that manner? Here's how many games each player has batted in suggested lineup spot.
Dawson - 3
Kuhn - 1
Catcher - 0
Dezse - 22
Sergakis - 0
Leffel - 3
Bosiokovic - 3
Porter - 0
Wetzel - 38
Outside of Dezse representing the big bat many expect in their cleanup hitter and Wetzel batting ninth, this type of lineup wouldn't cross Beals' mind, but it's not too foreign as Dezse, Bosiokovic and Wetzel did bat in the suggested spots.
For Buckeyes fans wanting to see their team advance through the tournament, hopefully Beals progresses forward.
Porter may have the tools but his production does not warrant the at-bats he receives as Ohio State's primary cleanup batter. The ability for the catchers to get on base is complete under appreciated, a catcher has yet to bat above sixth this year. Sergakis fits the bill of what you want in 1995 from a top of the order guy, but there is too much information to sacrifice at-bats with anyone but your best guy at getting on base and you need your best batter to bat second.
Some may say a book can't tell you how to win baseball games, the hypothetical order is too right-handed heavy in the middle of the lineup. Filling out a lineup in such order can't guarantee a win, but it allows you to maximize your lineup. And after Ohio State scored six runs in their last trip to Nebraska to face the Huskers, what does this club have to lose in attempt to get more runs on and across home?
For a deeper dive into Tango's thoughts, in October 2012 SB Nation's Sky Kalkman wrote for Beyond the Box Score on the same subject of maximizing order.