Most youth baseball coaches don't think twice about optimizing their batting order—until something like the following happens.
It's the bottom of the seventh and final inning for your youth baseball team, which is trailing by one run. The last four hitters on your team are due up to hit. The leadoff hitter pops up; one out. The next hitter reaches on a walk. The next hitter strikes out swinging; two away. A wild pitch sends the runner to second base. A glimmer of hope. All this hitter needs to do is get on base and the top of the order will be up. Alas, the final batter takes a called third strike to seal your team's loss.
This type of scenario really happened—and it happens more than you'd think. And even when this situation occurs, most youth baseball coaches simply resign themselves to this fate rather than question whether there is any way to avoid this.
What youth baseball coaches usually do
In almost every lineup, the speedy contact hitter is made the leadoff hitter. A fairly speedy hitter with decent bat control is deemed the No. 2 hitter. The best overall hitter is slotted No. 3. The slugger becomes the cleanup hitter. The remaining hitters are generally placed in the batting order in descending order of hitting ability.
Most youth baseball coaches arrange their lineups this way because the pros arrange their lineups this way. So we emulate the pros and don't give it a second thought.
But is this kind of batting order optimal for youth baseball?
Based on the scenario I described at the top of this post, I would propose that it is not.
Why the pro-style batting order doesn't work in youth baseball
The pros can get away with this kind of batting order because even the worst hitters (batting 6th, 7th and 8th) are capable of getting hits, even if they are not as good as the best hitters (batting No. 1, 2 and 3). Remember, the difference between a .300 hitter and a .250 hitter is only five additional hits in 100 at-bats.
But in youth baseball–especially in house leagues but also in travel–there is a much bigger difference between the worst hitters and the best hitters. The best hitters may hit .550 while the worst hitters might hit .000.Diff in hitting ability much bigger in youth ball than MLB so lineups s/b different too Click To Tweet
Stacking your lineup with a string of bad hitters at the bottom of the order dooms your offense when they come up to hit. Even if one bad hitter got lucky and drew a walk, it wouldn't matter with the other bad hitters around him. You would need to pray hard that they won't be due up when the game is on the line.
Furthermore, if your top of the order is having an off day, now your entire offense is now doomed.
How to write a better lineup for youth baseball
I like to think of a lineup as "groups of three." Something like this:
1. Leadoff hitter #1
2. No. 2 hitter #1
3. Cleanup hitter #1
4. Leadoff hitter #2
5. Fourth-worst hitter
6. Cleanup hitter #2
7. Leadoff hitter #3
8. Third-worst hitter
9. Cleanup hitter #3
10. Leadoff hitter #4
11. Second-worst hitter
12. Cleanup hitter #4
13. Worst hitter
So batters No. 1-3 are Group One, batters No. 4-6 are Group Two, batters No. 7-9 are Group Three, batters No. 10-12 are Group Four, and your worst hitter(s) remaining are slotted at the end. (You should not have more than two such hitters at the end.) Think of it like having four lines in hockey.
This kind of batting order accomplishes three important things:
- spreads out your top hitters so that your team can score in any given inning
- spreads out your worst hitters so that your team doesn't go two or more consecutive innings without scoring
- spreads out your faster players so that they can cause more havoc on the base paths, putting pressure on the pitcher & defense
The general idea is that you are attacking your opponent in waves.
- In this kind of batting order, you don't have both "No. 3" hitters and cleanup hitters. That's because most teams (especially house teams) do not have multiple kids who are true "No. 3" hitters (balance of solid contact, power and foot speed) AND multiple kids who are true cleanup hitters (slow but pure power hitters). Therefore, I am calling your "No. 3" hitter your cleanup hitter. Basically, your best hitters will be your "cleanup hitters."
- Avoid putting a really slow "cleanup hitter" in front of a really fast "leadoff hitter." You don't want your fast kid being held back on the bases because of the really slow guy clogging up the base paths in front of him.
- The "No. 2 hitters" in each group are generally your worst hitters. You are sandwiching those poorer hitters between two competent teammates (the leadoff hitter in his group and the cleanup hitter in his group) so that in the event he gets a walk or is hit by a pitch, you now have a competent hitter up who can try to bring him in. The worse the hitter, the lower the group he should be batting with, since the groups higher in the order obviously get more plate appearances than the groups that are lower in the order.
Need help figuring this all out?
To help give you more of an EDGE, I've got an exclusive resource for you. I've created a spreadsheet that will suggest two optimized lineups for you. All you have to do is capture one piece of data for your team, enter that data in the spreadsheet and the spreadsheet will do all the work of figuring out the optimal batting order for you. It's super easy to use and you can test it against your usual lineup to see if it helps or not. And did I mention it's free?
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