The Evolution of the 2-Hole

If you’re here on FanGraphs, you’re probably familiar with the concept of lineup optimization. If you’re familiar with the concept of lineup optimization, you probably know that the No. 2 hole has been criminally misused, according to the numbers, by managers throughout baseball history.

Throughout time, the No. 2 hole typically has been occupied either by a.) light-hitting up-the-middle players because they’re fast, or b.) light-hitting up-the-middle players, because they can bunt.

The Book says that’s a flawed way of thinking:

The Books says the #2 hitter comes to bat in situations about as important as the #3 hitter, but more often. That means the #2 hitter should be better than the #3 guy, and one of the best three hitters overall. And since he bats with the bases empty more often than the hitters behind him, he should be a high-OBP player. Doesn’t sound like someone who should be sacrificing, does it?

It seems like managers have been getting better with this in recent years. The Reds finally gave in and (correctly) started batting Joey Votto second last season. Same with Joe Mauer. You saw Evan Longoria there sometimes, and even Jose Bautista made a few appearances in the 2-hole. Progress was being made.

And if this year’s Opening Day lineups are any indication, we’re witnessing a breakthrough. Here’s the names of some guys who hit second for their ballclubs on Opening Day:

Sure, there’s still some Odubel Herrera’s, and… uh… hey, Mike Moustakas, but there’s three catchers in that list, zero middle infielders, and it’s a group of guys who likely wouldn’t even have been considered to hit second just a handful of years ago.

I wanted to see if this might be an actual league-wide trend worth noting, so I did some number-crunching. I used the excellent BaseballPress to find all 30 of last year’s Opening Day lineups, and I plugged in the 2014 projected OBP — according to ZiPS and Steamer — all the players to find league averages for each spot in the lineup. Then, I did the same thing with this year’s Opening Day lineups and projections, and then I compared the two. Of course, there’s more to optimizing a lineup than just on-base percentage — power and speed play a lesser role, too — but nothing trumps OBP, and this took longer to do than I thought it would, so OBP will serve us just fine.

The results are encouraging:

OBP, by batting order
1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th
2014 0.329 0.326 0.356 0.337 0.326 0.317 0.312 0.308 0.298
2015 0.323 0.334 0.349 0.334 0.318 0.314 0.305 0.305 0.301
Difference -0.006 0.008 -0.007 -0.003 -0.008 -0.003 -0.007 -0.003 0.003

Offense is down across baseball and so, naturally, we find lower OBPs across the board. That is, except for in the 2-hole. I didn’t include pitchers, so the 9-hole only has half the sample size and could be subject to some noisy fluctuation. But there’s no mistaking that the No. 2 spot in the order, at least for Game 1 of 162, is finally being better utilized by managers across baseball.

We hoped you liked reading The Evolution of the 2-Hole by August Fagerstrom!

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August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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That Guy
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That Guy

Moustakas has already laid down a successful bunt, so joke’s on you.