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Joe Maddon laughs at 'conventional' lineups

By Matt Snyder | Baseball Writer
The Rays lineup Wednesday is classic Joe Maddon.

For the second straight game, Carlos Pena is batting leadoff for the Rays. In the same lineup, Drew Sutton is hitting cleanup (via Marc Topkin on Twitter).

Pena is a first baseman with a .215 batting aveage, 55 strikeouts in 44 games, only 26 career stolen bases (in 1,270 games) and good power. Conventional wisdom would say that leadoff is the absolute last place to bat Pena.

But he walks a lot. His 29 walks and five hit-by-pitches this season give him a .354 on-base percentage, basically right in line with his career .352 mark.

Sutton, on the other hand, is a journeyman utility infielder. He has just three career homers in 163 big-league at-bats. He has hit 76 home runs in 799 career minor-league games. Conventional wisdom would dictate that cleanup is the absolute last place in the batting order to slot Sutton.

But there they both are. This is hardly anything new for Maddon. He's started Jeff Keppinger cleanup seven times this season, a spot Keppinger had never before started in his entire career. The most frequent hitter in the two-hole has been Pena. The most common batting order has been used just three times.

Last season, Maddon used catcher John Jaso in the leadoff spot six times. Justin Ruggiano batted third three times. And the most frequent lineup posted by Maddon was used just six times in 162 games.

We could go through this exercise every year with Maddon. This is what he does. He just doesn't care what the old-school "book" says to do -- which seems to be something roughly like this:

1. fast outfielder/shortstop
2. second baseman
3. first baseman
4. best power hitter aside from 1B
5. second-best power hitter aside from 3-4 hitters
6. best hitter left on board
7. catcher
8. shortstop, if not yet listed
9. pitcher/worst hitter

Maddon has taken the former laughingstock of baseball to the playoffs three of the past four years and currently sits with the third-best record in the American League. And he utterly refuses to follow some boilerplate lineup card, instead choosing to actually use his head in filling out a lineup card.

The lineup worked Tuesday night, too. Pena came through with the big blow -- a three-run homer -- in an 8-5 Rays victory.

Laugh if you must when seeing a power-hitting, high-strikeout, non-speedy first baseman batting leadoff while a light-hitting utility infielder bats cleanup. If so, as far as Joe Maddon is concerned, the joke is on you.

Lineup data courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com

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