National attention is required anytime the best hitter in baseball moves down in the lineup. Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday’s lineup swap is getting more play, though, because St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Bernie Miklasz originally suggested it in his column. Merely hours later, the flip showed up on the lineup card. Miklasz’ argument is simple and to the point. Holliday is going through a bad stretch hitting with runners on, and while there’s every reason to believe Holliday will snap out of the funk, why not swap them in the meanwhile and allow Pujols to bat with someone on base.
In The Book, the most important slots in the lineup are found to be the leadoff position, second, and fourth. This combats conventional wisdom a bit, since the number two hitter is generally thought of as someone who can ‘handle the bat’ – i.e. bunt, move the runner over, etc. – and the three hitter is your best or second best hitter. The reason that the fourth slot is more important than the three slot is because more often than not, the three hitter comes up with nobody on and two out, whereas the four hitter begins innings. Plus, the difference is about 18 plate appearances over a given season, not enough to dismiss the idea because it would mean less Pujols.
Tony LaRussa is a fascinating manager for numerous reasons — his bullpen management, batting a pitcher eighth, and having pitchers field and fielders pitch being the most obvious. He’s not always correct, but he usually is entertaining. What he’s doing here isn’t radical and it shouldn’t be brow-raising. It’s smart and defensible. Other teams across the league are implementing similar strategies, too. Tampa Bay’s Joe Maddon pencils Evan Longoria in as his clean-up hitter most days, Alex Rodriguez mans the position for the Yankees, and even Kansas City has begun batting Billy Butler fourth.
LaRussa can proclaim innocence if accused of starting the fire. As to whether this was inspired by Bernie Miklasz or not, well, who knows. Both men should be commended for evaluating the lineup as rational agents rather than slaves to conformity and tradition.
Now watch LaRussa do something really crazy. Like bat Pujols leadoff.
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