GLENDALE, Ariz. — There is far too much attention paid to lineups. The idea should be simple: have nine good hitters that can all do damage at any time. Obviously, that's easier said than done. But the point is that who the hitters are is of far more important than where they hit.
Still, there are few things that cause more fan consternation than how a manager sorts his hitters on a daily basis.
Rick Renteria is often resistant to discuss how he's planning to line guys up, especially this far out from Opening Day. But Thursday at Camelback Ranch, the skipper provided plenty of insight into certain elements of his lineup construction, perhaps as good a sign as any that things have entered a different mode for the White Sox.
Nothing was concrete, of course, but Renteria made it clear that Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada will occupy the first and second spots in the order.
"I still consider Timmy Anderson or Moncada a possibility at the top of the order, one or the other in vice-versa positions," Renteria said. "I want to see them and I want to be able to see beyond that with some of the youngsters that we have in camp."
That makes perfect sense after the huge seasons Anderson and Moncada each had in 2019. Anderson won a big league batting title by lifting his average nearly .100 points from where it was a season prior. Moncada emerged as the best all-around hitter on the team a year after striking out 217 times. Having them in front of big boppers like Jose Abreu, Edwin Encarnacion and Eloy Jimenez shouldn't be a controversial topic.
But it is, at least in certain corners of White Sox Twitter. The historically high BABIPs posted by Anderson and Moncada — in other words, they hit into a statistically significant amount of good fortune — have triggered questions of how they'll be able to repeat their production. The pair’s successes in 2019 came from their aggressive approaches at the plate. That also meant few walks. And there's an argument to be made that if you're not walking, you shouldn't be batting at the top of a lineup.
Renteria, on the other hand, doesn't care how players get on base, as long as they get on.
"I think it would be safe to say if you're getting on base, whether by walk or by hit, at a pretty high rate, it's probably kind of a wash," Renteria said. "The difference would be simply that maybe some individuals take a pitcher deeper into a count in a particular at-bat. But even those guys that are high average guys that may not prototypically fit your on-base percentage profile. They end up probably fouling off a lot of pitches, as well, so they end up still driving that pitch count up."
I don’t know if that will soothe the concerns of worriers, but it doesn’t sound like protests will prevent Renteria from putting Anderson and Moncada first when he makes his lineup for the opener on March 26.
One player who won't be there: Luis Robert.
"I wouldn't consider Robert right now, as we're standing here today, to be the leadoff hitter," Renteria said. "I think we have enough guys that allow him to transition in the lower part of the order right now.
"See where he starts to develop and if he starts to evolve into somebody that shows us he's also, at the major league level now — and I expect and I anticipate that somewhere in the near future we will see that, that he is another guy that develops into being anyone that can hit between one and five.
"I think his skill set lends itself to being able to be potentially a leadoff-type guy, but with the power he has, the on-base and slugging he has, he can filter into the middle, as well."
That makes sense, even if Robert seems like someone whose endless tools would make him a prime top-of-the-order candidate. Robert will get his first taste of the major leagues when the 2020 season begins and dialing down the pressure by keeping him out of that leadoff glare would certainly have its benefits.
One more thing from Renteria that ought to be of interest: consistency. The skipper said he's planning to go with a set lineup (for the most part) throughout the season, something that stems from the White Sox new-look group of position players. With Encarnacion, Robert, Yasmani Grandal, Nomar Mazara and eventually Nick Madrigal joining Anderson, Moncada, Abreu and Jimenez, the puzzle pieces just seem to fit together a little easier.
That means far fewer lineup changes from one day to the next during the season. Good news for those who grew tired of the 143 different combinations the White Sox trotted out in 2019.
"I’ll be honest, I’d like to say that I feel more comfortable this year in telling you that there’s probably going to be a more consistent set of guys, one through nine," Renteria said. "Will there be a tweak here or there? Yeah, absolutely. I’m not going to hold myself to not making adjustments as the season is going on and what the guys are doing in a particular moment in time. It would be foolish for me to lock myself into doing something that’s not conducive to helping us put together a lineup on a particular day.
"But I think we’re getting to a point where it’s some consistency and hopefully, that’ll give us the ability to allow you guys to see the same guys in maybe the same slots throughout the course of a season.
"It stems from the fact that now the cast members have changed. And so it extends the lineup a little bit more and gives you more depth. ... It gives you the luxury of being able to slot them in a particular place on a consistent basis. That, coupled with the fact that our young players have grown and developed and have started to flourish, it gives me comfort in knowing and believing that they can slot into certain areas consistently over the course of a season."
And there's the big takeaway. Not that Renteria was happy to be rouletting his way through lineups last season but that a collection of more talented, more entrenched players gives him the luxury of being consistent. The players are better and more established, and the White Sox are more likely to win because of it. That will also manifest itself in a more consistent lineup.
A lot can and will happen over the course of 2020 to shake up Renteria's February plans. But right now, he's eyeing consistency at the top of and throughout his batting order. You'll have to wait until March 26 to see the whole thing. Until then, you can start filling in the blanks.