Breaking down the White Sox's Opening Day lineup

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

It's our first chance to analyze strategy that can't be dismissed as spring training exercises

Gametime temperature is expected to hold at 55 degrees (dew point of 30), but that's not the only blast of spring around U.S. Cellular Field today. Take a look at the Opening Day lineup card:

Spring training lineups have plenty of quirks due to the rotation of regulars, but it turns out that "Conor Gillaspie batting third" is part of a complete order. He's not the prototypical No. 3 hitter, but it makes more sense when weighing handedness heavily, and any matchup advantages that result.

In his Royals Opening Day preview, Rany Jazayerli addressed the former in order to throw a rare compliment Ned Yost's way (emphasis mine):

And while a lot of people dislike Yost’s lineup because Hosmer or Gordon would make for a much better #2 hitter, I have to do the unthinkable here and defend Yost. I like this lineup a lot. In modern baseball, NOTHING is more important in lineup construction than left-right balance. Nothing. You can not, can not, CAN NOT bat three lefties in a row, or four righties in a row, because you will be eaten alive by second-tier specialist relievers in the middle innings. The Royals’ current lineup goes L-R-L-R-L-R-L-R-R, and they literally can’t do better than that. Maintaining left-right balance doesn’t justify batting Escobar 2nd, especially since you could get the same thing by moving Lorenzo Cain into that spot. But it does justify batting Infante there.

After getting stuck with clumps of righties all season long, Robin Ventura is exploring the studio space immediately. That means things like batting Gillaspie third, and that doesn't seem nearly as crazy when accounting for the Twins' starter (right-handed Ricky Nolasco) and looking at the hitters with their split du jour:

Bats 2013 line vs. RHP
Adam Eaton L .240/.302/.362
Marcus Semien R .260/.385/.441*
Conor Gillaspie L .261/.324/.414
Jose Abreu R n/a
Adam Dunn L .226/.327/.459
Avisail Garcia R .310/.331/.439
Alejandro De Aza L .252/.313/.389
Alexei Ramirez R .284/.313/.379
Tyler Flowers R .213/.268/.393

(*MiLB splits)

Of the lefties, only Adam Dunn had more success against opposite-handed pitching than Gillaspie. But once you get past the name-recognition disparity in a spot that has been traditionally reserved for one of a team's best two hitters, there are two glass-half-full advantages by this decision:

Sabermetrics: Going by "The Book," Gillaspie and Dunn are in the correct order. For third hitters:

The old-school book says to put your best high-average hitter here. The lead-off hitter should already be in scoring position and a hit drives him in. Wham, bam, thank you ma'am.

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.

One of those "more important spots" is the fifth spot, so there you go.

Aesthetics: Watching Dunn come to the plate after Eaton, Semien and Abreu, the phrase "party's over" came to mind. It should be less difficult to watch him hit if gets almost all of his significant playing time against righties, but if you think Dunn is sliding downhill and Gillaspie's got some room for growth, you'll benefit by seeing the younger guy more often.

I'd be fine with De Aza batting third, too, because his 2012 form would be well-suited there (.291/.354/.425). But if the White Sox thought his turn-and-burn approach from last season was detrimental to his overall offensive effectiveness, it's possible they want to avoid planting the "power hitter" idea in his head.

Some other thoughts

*The reverse splits by Eaton and Garcia are worth monitoring. Eaton's minor-league history suggests his will correct themselves. Garcia showed no significant splits before joining the Sox, and his early tendency to use right field may suggest he's more comfortable with pitches running away from him.

*Semien's placement is either a vote of confidence in the rookie, or a temporary placeholder for Gordon Beckham. If it's ultimately Beckham's role, then he's going to have to get over both his own reverse splits and his history of faceplants higher in the order.

*The early run of probable starters has the Sox facing their first lefty in Kansas City on Saturday in the form of old nemesis Bruce Chen. I'm guessing Ventura will want to exercise Paul Konerko and Dayan Viciedo before then, so it'll probably will take a couple weeks for set orders to normalize. This isn't a bad start.

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