It’s unfair to open up a discussion of “ideal lineup construction” on the White Sox because their great struggle is a lack of appropriate pieces to fill all of their necessary offensive roles. Also, “ideal”, might lead someone to think that arranging this group of hitters in the right order is going to fix their problems. It will not.
Yet, when Robin Ventura announced his intentions to put Adam Dunn in the cleanup spot between Alex Rios and Paul Konerko, it triggered all the alarm bells that come if you’ve ever browsed a sabermetric article on lineup construction based on The Book and clung to it as unalienable truth.
The chief issue is Adam Dunn has had all of two months in two years in a White Sox uniform where he’s been deserving of a middle-of-the-order position, so putting him in a role where The Book claims he “comes to bat in the most important situations out of all nine spots,” is problematic.
In his article, Sky Kalkman identifies the ideal No. 4 hitter as “the best hitter on the team with power.” That’s “best hitter with power”, not “best power hitter.” It’s obscured by the way he finished the year, but last season that was Paul Konerko, and it was Konerko for the last two years before that as well.
The No. 5 hole isn’t much better for Dunn, since Kalkman sums up The Book’s demands of the slot as such: “The #5 guy can provide more value than the #3 guy with singles, doubles, triples, and walks, and avoiding outs.”
Even if we only consider last season, Dunn can’t be considered much more reliable at getting on base than Alex Rios, and he’s had all of 35 doubles in two years in Chicago. He’s an all-or-nothing home run hitter at this point. There’s a spot for that, since he still hits a lot of home runs, but it isn’t at No. 5.
The Book says the #3 hitter comes to the plate with, on average, fewer runners on base than the #4 or #5 hitters. So why focus on putting a guy who can knock in runs in the #3 spot, when the two spots after him can benefit from it more? Surprisingly, because he comes to bat so often with two outs and no runners on base, the #3 hitter isn’t nearly as important as we think. This is a spot to fill after more important spots are taken care of.
Not much is useful with two outs and no one on base, but a home run has a sort of universal applicability. Dunn can’t be trusted to keep rallies going as much as he used to be, but he also can never be wasted, making him ideal for No. 3 hole. If…
Robin Ventura obviously has his reasons for what he’s doing and the most obvious one is that he has two left-handers in his entire lineup, and isn’t going to squish Dunn and Alejandro De Aza close enough together that opposing managers can besiege the top of his batting order with LOOGYs.
Also, The White Sox are still committed to Dunn, and have to continue to show faith in him until they reach the point where they have a credible replacement. This brings us again to the heart of what needs to happen this season for the White Sox offense–Dayan Viciedo needs to produce enough to earn the No. 3 slot. Viciedo will also never be a master at getting on base, but has the power to put himself in scoring position or just score all by himself when he squares balls up.
It would take an extreme case for Dayan to shoot up the order mid-season, but he needs to take a step forward in his production to counteract Dunn developing into a misfit toy–a one-tool masher that’s a nice item to have in the No. 6 slot, but miscast as the anchor to the offense, which is exactly what he’s about to be asked to be.