CLEARWATER, Fla. - The lineup card posted Friday morning on a corkboard inside the Phillies clubhouse marked one month until the first meaningful baseball game of 2017. Pete Mackanin spent hours and hours last summer contemplating his batting order. But, for the eighth Grapefruit League game of this spring, he scribbled the first five names without much debate.
Cesar Hernandez, Howie Kendrick, Odubel Herrera, Maikel Franco, Michael Saunders.
The rest of the lineup - Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp, and Freddy Galvis - is secure, too. Barring injury, Mackanin knows who his regulars are, at least until the July trade deadline approaches or prospects push their way to the majors.
"Believe me, it's more fun when you just put eight guys in there every day," Mackanin said. "It's a lot nicer."
That is something of a luxury for Mackanin, who used a whopping 144 different batting orders (not including the pitchers) last season. That was the most in Phillies history, according to Baseball-Reference.
"I'd say that's pretty impressive," Joseph said. "Hopefully we can do a little better job of making it easier this year."
The Phillies expect improvement from an offense that ranked 14th in the league in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. The proof is in a more consistent lineup.
There were two batting orders last season that Mackanin used three times apiece. One featured Peter Bourjos as the No. 2 hitter with Cody Asche behind him. The other had Darin Ruf batting sixth and the pitcher's spot eighth.
And that was it. They were the only batting orders Mackanin repeated more than twice.
Eleven players batted second last season. Eleven players batted fifth. Seventeen players batted sixth, and 18 batted seventh.
"We had so many 'ifs' last year, especially in the outfield," Mackanin said. "For a number of reasons, I felt it had to be done. I tried to get the most out of the lineup in a given day. But, this year, it's kind of a nice feeling knowing that we've got pretty close to a set lineup. My only question is where to hit a couple of guys, not who's going to play."
The Phillies had averaged 94 different batting orders per season since 1962, when the National League adopted a 162-game schedule. The good teams - such as 1980 (67 lineups), 1993 (73 lineups), and 2009 (68 lineups) - were the most efficient.
But, in the modern game, even the best teams churn through lineup combinations. More managers are inclined to rest their regulars when possible; the rigors of 162 games in 182 days, along with the rising conservatism among team athletic training staffs, have led to a heavier reliance on bench players.
Some teams have employed sleep scientists to optimize a player's schedule. The players union was so concerned with travel schedules that it became a priority during the latest collective bargaining talks.
Every team in baseball used at least 100 different batting orders (not including the pitcher) last season. Cleveland, the American League champion, had 101 lineups. The world champion Chicago Cubs had 130. The Phillies, at 144, weren't even the league leaders. Only St. Louis topped the Phillies, with 146 lineups.
Joseph said it is less important to know where one hits in the lineup than if he is in it. That is the kind of steadiness Mackanin envisions for 2017.
"It also helps you after the game," Joseph said. "You get to already start preparing for the next game."
Mackanin, all season, struggled to strike a balance. There were weeks where he searched for any semblance of an offense through experimentation. He moved players higher and lower. He platooned others. He batted the pitcher eighth, and the Phillies started hitting. Then, they slumped, and the pitcher returned to ninth in the order.
"Every team is different," Mackanin said. "When you have a team where guys are competing for jobs, like last year, that's just the way it is. This year, you're still auditioning. It's just nice to look at eight names that will be in there on a daily basis. You'll see a difference. It will keep guys sharp."