Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Bat Control, Guts and Baseball Know-How

Despite studies that have shown batting orders are largely inconsequential to how many runs a team scores, I believe that how a manager uses the #2 spot in the lineup says a lot about said manager, and his retardation or lack thereof.

Even if batting order is indeed irrelevent, perfunctory logic dictates that you want a good hitter batting second, as that hitter will see dozens more at-bats per season than the #8 or #9 hitter. There seem to be two schools of thought among managers as to who to bat second.

One school is comprised of your traditional old-timey baseball lifers, wrinkled old men who know what's best because they've lived the game, damn it, and you can take your nerdy fancy statistics and throw them in the fucking moat, you hear me? These dinosaurs typically want a #2 hitter who can "handle the bat," meaning someone adept at bunting, hitting-and-running and otherwise wasting outs in ways that please Ozzie Guillen, Twins beat writers and other denizens of Small Ball Nation. Mind you, though, these crusty old fools aren't afraid to "think outside the box" on occasion. Sometimes, they pick a #2 hitter with no apparent offensive skills whatsoever, since they don't want to "waste" a better hitter that high in the order. Prototypical #2 hitter for this school of thought: David Eckstein.

The other school is more open-minded, more prone to recognizing the benefits of statistical analysis, saner and wiser in all regards. While generally still constructing lineups in accordance with the traditional model, speed at the top, power in the middle, incompetence at the bottom, these brave souls seem to understand that a good hitter should bat second, regardless of his ability to suicide squeeze. Prototypical #2 hitter for these fine gentlemen: 2006 Bobby Abreu.

Let's swing around the league and see where managers fall on the Psycho Fan #2 Hitter Managerial Scale of Retardation:

A.L. East

Boston Red Sox
Most Common #2 Hitter: Kevin Youkilis
Retardation Level: 0 out of 5 Bilos
Better Option: Nope
As much as I hate the guy, Kevin Franchise is a rock-solid #2 hitter. His greatest skill is on-base percentage, which not coincidentally, is the most critical skill for a #2 hitter to possess. Youkilis has a career OBP of .386, and he's Greek-God-of-walking all the way to a .428 so far this year. Terry "Curt Schilling's Little Bitch" Francona takes his orders from King Gorilla Suit, so he doesn't deserve too much credit here. He has begun batting Coco Crisp second occasionally, which is a worse idea, but still not awful.

New York Yankees
Most Common #2 Hitter: Derek Jeter
Retardation Level: 1 out of 5 Bilos
Better Option: Johnny Damon
Derek Jeter should be batting leadoff for the Yankees. He has a better career OBP than Johnny Damon, and he thrives in the leadoff spot. However, we all know that will never happen, and Damon is entrenched in the 1 spot just as that peach pit is entrenched in Joe Torre's gullet. Jeter makes a great 2 hitter, but he's also making a great 3 hitter now that Bobby Abreu's power disappeared and he's batting second. Assuming Abreu rediscovers the ability to walk, Damon/Abreu/Jeter is a pretty great combination.

Baltimore Orioles
Most Common #2 Hitter: Melvin Mora
Retardation Level: 3 out of 5 Bilos
Better Option: Miguel Tejada
Mora was clearly a bad choice at #2, and has since been replaced by Nick Markakis. Getting better, but still not there, Sam Perlozzo. Miguel Tejada still gets on base a lot, but the power he used to wield has been Abreu'd away into the filthy harbors of Bal'more. Batting the un-hustling one second would put more guys on base for the middling middle of the order, and allow the Moras, Huffs and Hernandezes of the world a few more opportunities to hit with men on base. Mos def.

Toronto Blue Jays
Most Common #2 Hitter: Adam Lind
Retardation Level: 2 out of 5 Bilos
Better Option: Lyle Overbay
Lind is a good prospect, but he's struggling in his initial tour of the league, not getting on base. Lyle Overbay started the year as the #2 hitter, but was removed after slumping early. Overbay has a proven track record, and can provide some lefty pop near the top of the order. You don't have many good things going for you, John Gibbons, don't ruin the ones you've got.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Most Common #2 Hitter: Ben Zobrist/Elijah Dukes (tie)
Retardation Level: 5 out of 5 Bilos
Better Option: B.J. Upton
Joe Maddon has wasted an amazing 24 games batting Zobrist or Dukes second, neither of whom even come close to sniffing a league-average OBP. Zobrist is futile, and Dukes appears nowhere near ready. B.J. Upton, while not an ideal #2 hitter, is red-hot, has power and speed, and is hitting for a higher average than most players on the team are OBPing. When he returns from injury, Akinori Iwamura might be the best choice.

A.L. Central

Detroit Tigers
Most Common #2 Hitter: Placido Polanco
Retardation Level: 0 out of 5 Bilos
Better Option: Nope
For an idiot, Jim Leyland is kind of smart. Put another way, Leyland can't make out a lineup card to save his life, but has stumbled into the good idea of hitting Polanco second. This is a man who has batted Pudge Rodriguez (the 2007 version!!) leadoff, and who can't figure out that his best hitter should bat higher than fifth. The Tigers are a low OBP team, without a lot of solid top-of-the-order options. Polanco doesn't walk a ton, but given what Le Tigres have to work with, he's the best fit.

Cleveland Indians
Most Common #2 Hitter: Casey Blake
Retardation Level: 2 out of 5 Bilos
Better Option: Trot Nixon/Ryan Garko
The Tribe has utilized a hodgepodge of hitters after Grady Sizemore, with Casey Blaky leading the way. Blake is a yawn-worthy option, average at best. A batting order platoon of Trot Nixon and Ryan Garko would be more effective and show more imagination.

Chicago White Sox
Most Common #2 Hitter: Tadahito Iguchi
Retardation Level: 2 out of 5 Bilos
Better Option: Nope
Iguchi is clearly the best option the Sox have, but they still receive two Bilos for not batting Iguchi second every damn day. Punter Erstad hit second for a while, before being moved inexplicably to leadoff. Out of the gritty frying pan, into the gritty fire. More recently, Ozzie Guillen has taken to batting Pablo Ozuna second and DHing him, with Iguchi lower in the order. The mind reels.

Minnesota Twins
Most Common #2 Hitter: Nick Punto
Retardation Level: 4 out of 5 Bilos
Better Option: Joe Mauer
Little Nickie Punto had a nice little year in 2006, but he is not good at the game of baseball. He is a #9 hitter in a #9 hitter's body. Joe "No Power for" Mauer should move up from #3 to #2, allowing the power hitters, Cuddyer, Morneau and Hunter, to all move up a slot and get some more at-bats. Hitting Punto second wastes outs, and wastes at-bats for superior hitters. Dumb.

Kansas City Royals
Most Common #2 Hitter: Mark Grudzielanek
Retardation Level: 1 out of 5 Bilos
Better Option: The ghost of George Brett
Grudzy sucks, but who else can do the job? Maybe a move up the lineup would shake Alex Gordon or Billy Butler out of their rookie slumps. Maybe not.

A.L. West

L.A. Angels
Most Common #2 Hitter: Orlando Cabrera
Retardation Level: 4 out of 5 Bilos
Better Option: Howie Kendrick
Another Small Ball Hero batting second when he should be hitting ninth or first bench, Cabrera chews up outs in front of the Angels' only truly good hitter, Vlad Guerrero. Just because he's mildly fast and plays middle infield doesn't mean he can get on base, Mike Scioscia. The injured Howie Kendrick and the forever struggling Casey Kotchman are both more natural choices for the two-hole.

Seattle Mariners
Most Common #2 Hitter: Adrian Beltre
Retardation Level: 2 out of 5 Bilos
Better Option: Jose Vidro
Adrian Beltre has never gotten on base at a decent clip in his life, excluding his fluke contract year of 2004. Vidro's over-the-hill and not much better, but like the Royals, not much to work with here. Credit to Mike Hargrove for making the switch, I guess.

Oakland A's
Most Common #2 Hitter: Nick Swisher
Retardation Level: 1 out of 5 Bilos
Better Option: Dan Johnson
Despite being wrecked with injuries, Bob Geren's A's have been able to remain fairly consistent with Nick Swisher in the two-spot. Swisher's a fine choice, but his bat might better serve the team a couple spots down in the lineup, if Dan Johnson could keep up his fine start while batting second.

Texas Rangers
Most Common #2 Hitter: Michael Young
Retardation Level: 0 out of 5 Bilos
Better Option: Nope
In a lineup considerably less fearsome than in years past, Michael Young's early-season slump earned him a "demotion" to the #2 spot, which is probably where he belonged all along. Overrated even at his best, Young is still head and shoulders above most of the other Texas hitters, with the possible exception of Ian Kinsler, who's been jerked around the lineup so much he thinks he's back in Triple A.

N.L. East

N.Y. Mets
Most Common #2 Hitter: Paul Lo Duca!
Retardation Level: 5 out of 5 Bilos
Better Option: David Wright
Otherwise competent, Willie Randolph allows the #2 spot in the batting order to be his strategic Achilles Heel. With all the hitters in the Mets lineup, squatty Paul Lo Duca spent most of 2006 and 2007 batting second, while wunderkind D-Dubs languished in the bottom half of the order. Just when it looked like Randolph might correct his ongoing mistake, weirdos like Damian Easley and Endy Chavez have laid claim to the two-hole. Willie, come on, you're better than this.

Atlanta Braves
Most Common #2 Hitter: Edgar Renteria
Retardation Level: 1 out of 5 Bilos
Better Option: Brian McCann
Renteria's offensive resurgence since returning to the National League makes this a justifiable decision, but McCann's a better hitter in every way that matters. Bobby Cox gets some leeway here for taking a chance on Kelly Johnson leading off. Then, he loses said leeway because he's a wife-beater.

Philadelphia Phillies
Most Common #2 Hitter: Shane Victorino
Retardation Level: 1 out of 5 Bilos
Better Option: Chase Utley
Victorino's not a bad choice, but he's a not a good one either. Imagine an airtight Phillies first inning of Rollins/Utley/Howard, with Burrell next. The lineup weakens considerably after that, but Fightin' Charlie Manuel would score a bunch of runs early in games.

Florida Marlins
Most Common #2 Hitter: Dan Uggla
Retardation Level: 2 out of 5 Bilos
Better Option: Jeremy Hermida
The Dan Uggla Experiment hasn't gone off the rails as badly as his .240 batting average suggests: his OBP is only .016 lower than his 2006 total. Which unfortunately means that he wasn't that good to begin with. The Marlins have nothing to replace him with, though, so we'll go ahead and pencil Jeremy Hermida in there and hope he remembers how to hit. How did Joe Girardi win 78 games with this team last year?

Washington Nationals
Most Common #2 Hitter: Ronnie Belliard
Retardation Level: 3 out of 5 Bilos
Better Option: Chris Snelling
The Marlins, Royals and Mariners have a plethora of great options to choose from when compared to our sorry friends in D.C. Ronnie Belliard has bravely held down the fort, while absolutely nobody has beaten down his door to take his job. Recently traded Chris Snelling seems like the best bet. Congratulations, MLB and Jim Bowden: you've built a winner!

N.L. Central

Milwaukee Brewers
Most Common #2 Hitter: J.J. Hardy
Retardation Level: 3 out of 5 Bilos
Better Option: Corey Hart
Hard to argue with the selection of J.J. "Joe" Hardy and his eleventy million spring home runs, but even now, Hardy is not a great on-base guy. And the devil knows he ain't gonna keep this up. Still, it would take five straight years of Hardy slumping to erase the notion that he's a great player from Ned Yost's brain.

Houston Astros
Most Common #2 Hitter: Morgan Ensberg
Retardation Level: 3 out of 5 Bilos
Better Option: Some outfielder
Ensberg leads a motley crue of bad choices in the two-spot, none of whom is coming close to pulling their weight. No one even notices though, because Craig Biggio is too busy being legendarily bad leading off in his selfish quest for 3,000 hits. What a gamer. Some combination of Luke Scott, Jason Lane and Hunter Pence might work a little better in front of Lance Berkman. Or not. Whatevs. This team must be distracted by the bad clubhouse morale created by Roger Clemens golfing somewhere.

Chicago Cubs
Most Common #2 Hitter: Ryan Theriot
Retardation Level: 3 out of 5 Bilos
Better Option: Matt Murton
Matt Murton continues to plug away in obscurity, the forgotten man, whether for idiot Dusty Baker or Lou Pinella. Theriot is a classic old-timers' two-hitter: speedy, fast, quick, rapid, swift. Oh, and a bad hitter. Soriano leading off is a mistake, and Theriot second (or even playing at all) only exacerbates that mistake. The end result is that, in spite of Baker's departure, the Cubbies still can't get on base.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Most Common #2 Hitter: Jack Wilson
Retardation Level: 4 out of 5 Bilos
Better Option: Ryan Doumit
Jim Tracy and his Bucs only avoid the dreaded 5-Bilo rating because the rest of the lineup is so weak, one hitter doesn't make all that much difference. But Jack Wilson has a career .306 OBP. Which, in case, you're wondering, is fucking awful. Give some kid a chance to do better. In baseball, at least the devil you don't know gives you an opportunity to be better than you expect.

St. Louis Cardinals
Most Common #2 Hitter: Chris Duncan
Retardation Level: 0 out of 5 Bilos
Better Option: Nope
It helps Duncan's case that on most nights, he's the Cardinals only ambulatory hitter. He's also the only one with a bedtime past 10 p.m., so he's really the only feasible choice for West Coast games. A surprisingly good strategy by LaRussa, considering his Ecksteinian leanings.

Cincinnati Reds
Most Common #2 Hitter: Brandon Phillips
Retardation Level: 3 out of 5 Bilos
Better Option: Adam Dunn
Jerry Narron chickened out of using Dunn in the #2 spot, where he's so clearly a perfect fit. Strikeouts are just another out, Jerry. Dunn has never been a particularly great RBI guy, so you don't lose much bumping him up in the order. And his amazing walking ability would clearly outclass whatever Brandon Phillips or Scott Hatteberg could bring to the role.

N.L. West

L.A. Dodgers
Most Common #2 Hitter: Juan Pierre
Retardation Level: 4 out of 5 Bilos
Better Option: Russell Martin
Attention, Paul Lo Duca fans. This is what a catcher who should hit second looks like. Juan Pierre shouldn't see the top third of a lineup at any level where parents aren't pitching.

San Diego Padres
Most Common #2 Hitter: Brian Giles
Retardation Level: 0 out of 5 Bilos
Better Option: Brian Giles
No argument here.

Arizona Diamondbacks
Most Common #2 Hitter: Alberto Callaspo
Retardation Level: 4 out of 5 Bilos
Better Option: Conor Jackson
Leaving aside for a moment the fact that the O-Dog is hitting third in a pretty good lineup, Alberto Callaspo needs to go. Conor Jackson is a pretty perfect #2 hitter disguised as a first baseman. If only Bob Brenly were still managing, he'd right this wrong! Oh, wait...

San Francisco Giants
Most Common #2 Hitter: Omar Vizquel
Retardation Level: 3 out of 5 Bilos
Better Option: Ray Durham
Despite his old world appeal, and the insane yet apparently real notion that his golden glove makes him a better hitter, Omar Vizquel can't hold a candle to Ray Durham in any facet of the offensive game. And I don't buy the "Durham needs to protect Bonds" argument for a Rice-a-Roni minute.

Colorado Rockies
Most Common #2 Hitter: Troy Tulowitzki
Retardation Level: 3 out of 5 Bilos
Better Option: Garret Atkins
Tulowitzki might turn out to be a fine hitter, but he's only batting second for Colorado because he's a shortstop. Atkins, Hawpe or Jeff Baker should take his place.