Home MLB'Weekly' Hit Ground Ball Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Lineup cards

Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Lineup cards

by Matt Smith

Of all the many responsibilities an MLB manager has to deal with each day, filling out the lineup card is one of the easiest.  It’s simple enough: put the right names down in the right order. Just in case an error creeps in, various members of the coaching staff should check the copies of the cards before they are handed over to the Umpire Crew Chief and the opposing manager.

This process is completed without incident every day in the Majors and few fans give it much thought.  However, it only takes one slip-up to make us realise just how important it is for the managers to get the official lineup card right. 

When we get two such slip-ups in the same week, you can’t help but delve into the rules to learn a bit more about the topic. 

Cecil Copper and the Astros decided to switch their top two hitters for Wednesday’s game against the Brewers, moving Kaz Matsui into the lead-off spot with Michael Bourn batting behind him.  This is the order they noted down on the official lineup card, but unfortunately it wasn’t the order they had up in their dugout. 

Bourn incorrectly stepped up to the plate to lead off the game; the Brewers’ manager Ken Macha checked his lineup card and waited until the outcome of the at-bat was known. 

Why did he wait?  Well, the most curious part of the rules is that it is up to the teams to spot any batting order errors.  The umpires and the Official Scorer might (and indeed should) notice someone is batting out of order, but they are not allowed to draw attention to it(*).  It therefore stands to reason that whether the error gets picked up, and when, depends on how the situation develops.  More specifically, it only gets picked up by the opposing manager if he gains an advantage by doing so.

When Bourn hit a single, Macha was straight out of the dugout knowing that the hit would be scratched off, Matsui would be called out (as the person who should have been batting) and Bourn (the batter following Matsui in the lineup) would have batted again.  

However, Macha wouldn’t have appealed the play if Bourn had grounded out and Matsui then strolled up to the plate.  The Brewers would have recorded one out and still been left holding the joker, ready and waiting to wipe Matsui off the bases had he got on board.  A Matsui single would have resulted in Macha appealing to the umpires, a bemused Lance Berkman being called out without seeing a pitch and a confused Carlos Lee stepping up to the plate.

As Leonard Koppett states in ‘The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Baseball’, the key to a batting lineup is not the numbers of the lineup spots, but the sequence of the batters.  The Astros’ top four were as follows:


In the above example, Bourn’s at-bat becomes official once the Brewers make a pitch to Matsui, but Matsui is then batting out of order as well.  Berkman has to follow Bourn once his at-bat is official, even if Bourn was hitting out of order to begin with.  If Macha had appealed once Matsui reached base, the umpires would have to call Berkman out (as the batter who should have followed Bourn) and then Lee would have to bat.

The point Koppett makes is that the rules of baseball have developed to follow a basic concept of fairness (the relevant chapter, ‘The Evolution of the Playing Rules’, is a fantastic overview of how and why the rules evolved over the years).  You might initially think it is unfair that Macha gets to appeal the play, but the opposing team has made a mistake and therefore the result should not lead to the Brewers being disadvantaged.  If they get an out, they should be allowed to let the error pass rather than the umpire or Official Scorer pulling the play back.

Koppett also passes comment on the issue of fielding positions and lineup cards.  If a shortstop and second baseman want to swap over during an inning, they can do so without a formal substitution being made (of course, it would have to be noted by the Official Scorer) so long as they maintain their places in the batting order.  The exception to this comes in the American League, where one batter in the lineup must be listed as the Designated Hitter.  If not, the pitcher has to hit.

Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon is known for being one of the smartest guys in baseball, so his lineup card gaffe against the Cleveland Indians last Sunday was all the more surprising.  Both Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria were listed with a ‘5′ next to their name: the fielding number for a third baseman.  When Zobrist manned the hot corner in the top of the first inning, the Indians’ manager Eric Wedge questioned the lineup card with the umpires.  After thirteen minutes, they finally came to the conclusion that the DH spot had been nullified, Longoria wasn’t in the game and pitcher Andy Sonnanstine had to bat third in the order. 

Sonnanstine, like most pitchers, fancies himself as a decent hitter and he subsequently hit an RBI double in his second at-bat.  There would have been plenty of banter between Sonnanstine, Longoria and the rest of the Rays in the dugout after that, I’m sure.

Despite these errors, both the Astros and the Rays went on to win their games. I don’t think it’s a tactic any other manager will be trying though.  In fact, it’s probably made them even more conscious of the importance of writing out and checking their lineup cards thoroughly.

(*) A similar situation was covered in our Friday lunchtime feature, ‘You Are the Scorer’, back in November.

You may also like


Joe Cooter May 24, 2009 - 12:04 pm

Here is the thing about the DH that nobody seems to understand. It’s completely optional and a manager doesn’t have to use a DH if he does not want too use one. Having said that once the game starts and you haven’t used a DH you can’t use it in the game. In additon, if you use your DH as a defensive replacement, the pitch then has to bat in the spot abandon by the fielder whom your DH is replacing. So it’s not really a manaditory thing in the American League.

Ron May 27, 2009 - 10:37 am

Not to be contrary, but are you sure that Matsui would be called out if he singled after Bourne?

I don’t have the rule book handy, and can’t look it up right now, but my understanding from my umpiring days is that once a pitch has been thrown to the next batter, it is now official and no appeal is allowed. Just like an appeal for a runner missing a base. Once a pitch is thrown, everything has to remain as is.

While Berkman should bat behind Bourne, if Bourne is out, and then Matsui hits a single (a pitch is thrown) then nothing can be done and that lineup remains for the game.

Could you clarify please?

Tim May 27, 2009 - 5:34 pm

Ron –

I’m by no means a rules expert but Rule 6.07 (albeit this rule book is from 2003) says that if the “improper” batter (in this case, Bourn) becomes a runner or is put out and then a pitch is made to the next batter (which would have been Matsui) before an appeal is made, the improper batter (Bourn) becomes the proper batter and his time at bat is “legal”. The rules also say that if Bourn becomes “legal” the batting order should follow with the batter who is down on the card after him (Berkman), i.e. Matsui would miss his at-bat.

I think Matsui’s fate is down to when Macha makes his appeal.

If Macha had appealed about Bourn after a pitch was thrown to Matsui, it would have been too late to cancel out Bourn’s hit. I would also assume that at the point of the appeal, the Astros would realise that they now need to replace Matsui with Berkman in the batter’s box and the game would have carried on. If the batting team realises its mistake while the improper batter is at bat they can swap over batters without penalty. Matsui would have missed an at-bat but not been recorded as an out.

Where I’m unclear is whether, in the case of the above, if Macha’s appeal over Bourn was denied while Matsui was mid-at-bat could he immediately make a SECOND one over Matsui (while the Astros are swapping him and Berkman) stating that Matsui’s is now an improper batter too and that the only reason the Astros were about to replace him with Berkman is because Macha had drawn everyone’s attention to it?! In which case Berkman would be called out for missing his turn (as Matt suggests) and I guess Matsui would continue his at-bat?

Matt Smith May 27, 2009 - 7:02 pm

I’m not an expert either(!), but Tim has answered the main point.

Throwing to Matsui would take away any possible appeal on Bourne batting out of order, but Matsui would now be batting out of order as well. It’s a new, separate call. So long as they appeal before throwing to Berkman, Matsui can be ruled to have batted out of order and it would be Berkman who would be called out.

As for your extra point Tim, I’m not 100% sure either, I’m afraid!

Tim May 29, 2009 - 12:10 pm

I was also casually wondering how long, in theory, Macha could have kept his ‘joker card’ on hand. If, as a result of Bourn’s original batting out of order, subsequent players across subsequent innings were all out of order – without the Astros realising – but none got on base, I guess he could keep quiet but still appeal that first time someone gets on base and record an instant out, even if it’s several players down the line from Bourn.

I suppose if no appeal was made by the time the Astros got back to the No 1 spot in the lineup, the Astros would then realise and have Matsui correctly in the spot. As Matt said at the very start, lineups are generally second nature to managers and coaches so someone on the Astros would be bound to realise the mistake much earlier anyway.

One of the quirky things I like about baseball is that because a game is built up from lots of self-contained mini ‘episodes’ you can deconstruct it in this way. I think this is particularly true when it comes to assigning earned and unearned runs.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.