Tinkering with lineups has long been a fan pleasure. We all have opinions on players, and with that comes an opinion where they should hit in the batting order. In the past half decade, however, we’ve learned that lineup construction doesn’t have an enormous effect on run scoring. In 2002 Keith Woolner of Baseball Prospectus tackled the topic. Three years later his colleague James Click followed it up. A year later Dave Studeman of The Hardball Times compiled perhaps the most straightforward demonstration of lineup construction. The results are pretty much the same: a team’s best hitters should bat first, second, and fourth, with third and fifth coming next and sixth through ninth going in descending order.
If the No. 2 spot is one of the top three most important parts of the lineup, why do we routinely see managers place poor hitters there? Is it, as Click describes in his article, the conventional knowledge that the No. 2 guy should be a contact hitter? That really needn’t be the case. The No. 2 hitter’s primary job is to set the table for the power hitters. An ability to move a leadoff hitter from first to third is a bonus, but not the primary goal. Why, then, do managers slot hitters with poor OBPs into the No. 2 spot?
This year in the AL I’ve noticed six such arrangements, three of which continue today. The other three have been removed from the No. 2 spot, one in an ironically hilarious manner.
In the Blue Jays’ 55 games manager Cito Gaston has made a few lineup tweaks. He inserted Fred Lewis into the leadoff spot when Toronto acquired him in April. With Aaron Hill on the DL he slid the hot Alex Gonzalez into the two hole. In the past week he has moved the Jose Bautista into the fifth spot, supplanting the disappointing Lyle Overbay. Yet some things haven’t changed. Despite his power outburst, John Buck remains in the eighth spot, two spots the now normal Gonzalez. The Nos. 2 and 3 spots remain unchanged as well, despite poor results.
It’s understandable why Gaston would stick with Aaron Hill in the No. 2 spot. He is, after all, just one year removed from a breakout season. But even then his .330 OBP doesn’t fit the ideal mold of a No. 2 hitter. That seems more like a No. 5 hitter, though that’s just an anecdotal observation. Right now Hill sports a .188 BA and .286 OBP, so he’s not helping the team much at all. Going with the best hitters at Nos. 1, 2, and 4, it would seem right now that Fred Lewis, Vernon Wells, and Bautista should be hitting in those spots.
Through the first 36 games of the season Bobby Abreu was the regular No. 2 hitter for the Angels. He was OK, not great in that role, hitting .254/.329/.420 in 155 PA. Hideki Matsui was hitting a bit worse, though, and manager Mike Scioscia wanted to move him out of the cleanup spot. For a few games he accomplished this by flipping Matsui and Kendry Morales, but after the 12th he showed a new-look order. Abreu moved to the No. 3 spot, Torii Hunter became the cleanup guy, Morales went back to his regular No. 5 spot, and Matsui hit sixth. Taking over the No. 2 spot was Howie Kendrick.
At the end of April it looked as though Kendrick would build on his second half of 2009. He was hitting .293/.341/.390, and probably would have been a nice fit in the No. 2 spot. By May 12, however, he was already slumping. His numbers had fallen to .288/.323/.400, but that might have been just a slump. Scioscia apparently thought so. But since the move Kendrick has hit .233/.358/.356. It looked as though, for a few games, that Maicer Izturis would take over, but for the last two Scioscia has gone back to Kendrick. It’s not the spot for him right now.
As with Gaston and Hill, it’s understandable why Don Wakamatsu has stuck with Chone Figgins in the No. 2 spot. Figgins has, in fact, started every one of the Mariners’ 53 games, and in every game he has hit second. The original idea was close to perfect. With Ichiro and Figgins hitting in the top two spots, the middle of the Mariners order would have plenty of chances. With the improving Franklin Gutierrez in the second spot and Milton Bradley hitting cleanup, it looked like the Mariners could make most of their mostly weak offense.
Two parts of that plan have worked out. Ichiro has been Ichiro, slapping hits all over the field. His .342 BA and .392 OBP make him an ideal top of the order hitter. Gutierrez, too, has shown improvement from last year. His .371 wOBA makes him a good fit at No. 3 — at least in terms of the Mariners’ roster. Yet Figgins and Bradley have sorely disappointed. In his first 135 PA of 2010 Bradley has hit for very little power, a .116 ISO, and otherwise has posted horrible numbers. He hasn’t been much better since returning from his short layoff, .235/.273/.294. In the No. 2 hole Figgins has below average OBP, .325, and a horrendous BA, .215. Unfortunately, unless they want to ride Josh Wilson‘s hot hand, Figgins still profiles best in that spot.
And now I’ll finish up quickly, as I must run and escape the wrath of Dave Cameron…
Relieved of duty
Earlier in the season a few other AL teams featured poor No. 2 hitters. In fact, all three were in the AL Central. Since then they’ve been removed from the spot, either because of ineffectiveness or injury.
Gordon Beckham: Apparently, Ozzie Guillen does not like having men on base for the heart of his order. He has hit Juan Pierre (.313 OBP) leadoff in 42 of the team’s 53 games. For 29 of his team’s first 32 games he also hit Gordon Beckham second. From the start of the season through May 9, his last day in the No. 2 spot, he hit .193/.305/.257. He’s now hitting ninth and also hitting much worse, .213/.250/.213 since the demotion. Since then A.J. Pierzynski has taken the most reps at No. 2, and he’s been horrible too, .250/.260/.389 since the move and .224/.264/.339 overall.
Scott Podsednik: This actually worked out well. For 29 of the team’s first 33 games Podsednik hit in the No. 2 spot. In that time he hit .314/.368/.413. Yet starting in May he slipped a bit, hitting .244/.262/.488 from May 1 through May 11, when he moved out of the No. 2 spot in favor of Mike Aviles, who is hitting .305/.336/.410. But these are the Royals, so there has to be a catch, right? No way they’d just happen to notice Podsednik slowing down and move him quickly out of the No. 2 spot, right? You got it. Starting on May 12 they moved him to the leadoff spot, where he’s hitting .265/.319/.289. Sounds more like No. 9 hitter to me.
Grady Sizemore: Back in March, when Manny Acta announced that Grady Sizemore would hit second, I liked the move. It would give Asdrubal Cabrera a chance to test his mettle in the leadoff spot and would let the Indians take more advantage of Sizemore’s power. The move just didn’t work out. Sizemore hit .211/.271/.289 in 33 games before hitting the DL. He’s set to undergo knee surgery today and will miss at least the next six weeks. If he needs another procedure to correct a microfracture he could be out quite a while longer.
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