If you are like me, and you are in a custom, home-run-only fantasy baseball league, you might lie in bed around midnight and look through box scores on your phone. You also might look through box scores for a number of other reasons. Looking through them, I’ve noticed what I believe to be trend. Managers are shifting their lineups to put much more productive players second in the order. That is what this post is about. Another in a long line of posts about something that at the end of the day doesn’t really matter. As long as a manager puts the right names on the card, he is unlikely to screw this up too much.
As a longtime baseball fan, I had a feeling this was a trend that has happened during the course of this year. It was widely publicized that the Reds were going to hit Joey Votto second in the order. 2014 Votto is not exactly a controversial choice for that spot in the lineup. While his power has had a bit of a resurgence, the Reds have still left him in the two hole. So, in what is definitely a very unscientific study, I looked at who each team batted second on July 7th (I started writing this on July 8th. I have a job, so it has taken me a few days. I promise this was random) and I compared that to opening day (and opening night the day before in the case of the Cardinals and Cubs). What follows is a list of the same (two players listed denote a double-header on July 7):
Team Opening Day July
Anaheim Mike Trout Kole Calhoun
Atlanta Jace Peterson Cameron Maybin
Arizona Ender Inciarte David Peralta
Baltimore Manny Machado Jimmy Paredes
Boston Dustin Pedroia Brock Holt
Chicago (AL) Melky Cabrera Jose Abreu
Chicago (NL) Jorge Soler Anthony Rizzo, Rizzo
Cincinnati Joey Votto Joey Votto
Cleveland Jason Kipnis Francisco Lindor
Colorado Carlos Gonzalez DJ LeMahieu
Detroit Ian Kinsler Yoenis Cespedes
Houston George Springer Preston Tucker
Kansas City Mike Moustakas Alex Gordon, Gordon
Los Angeles Yasiel Puig Howie Kendrick
Miami Christian Yelich Christian Yelich
Milwaukee Jonathan Lucroy Jonathan Lucroy
Minnesota Brian Dozier Joe Mauer
New York (AL) Brett Gardner Chase Headley
New York (NL) David Wright Ruben Tejada
Oakland Sam Fuld Stephen Vogt
Philadelphia Obudel Herrera Ben Revere
Pittsburgh Gregory Polanco Neil Walker
San Diego Derek Norris Yonder Alonso
San Francisco Joe Panik Joe Panik
Seattle Seth Smith Franklin Gutierrez
St. Louis Jason Heyward Kolten Wong, Matt Carpenter
Tampa Steven Souza Joey Butler, Grady Sizemore
Texas Elvis Andrus Rougned Odor
Toronto Russell Martin Josh Donaldson
Washington Yunel Escobar Danny Espinosa
What follows is a categorization of the difference between then and now. I’ve categorized each as either the same; functionally the same (old-school); functionally the same (new-school); shifting old-school; shifting new-school; and wildcard. It’s tough to define exactly what is old-school versus new-school. Some attributes of old-school second-hole hitters are: bad hitters, no power, middle infielder, speed, and younger players. While only the first two of these are actually bad attributes, a new-school thought would be to put a good power hitter second even though he is slow and plays a corner. Anyway, when looking at the choices, sometimes it is harder than you might think, and you may disagree with a few of these. You can read my brief analysis for the 26 teams that had different players, or skip to the bottom for the anticlimactic conclusion.
Same – Miami, San Francisco, Milwaukee, Cincinnati
My article is about the shift in attitude from the beginning of the season to now, but I will note that this seems to be a group that is not behind the times, with the exception of San Francisco. Despite the fact that Joe Panik has wildly exceeded expectations, it’s hard to argue that this isn’t the classic no-bat middle infielder that should not be hitting second. Process, bad. Results, good!
Functionally the same (old-school) – Washington, Arizona, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Texas
Perhaps Peralta has shown himself to be just a little too good of a hitter to waste in the two-hole, so Inciarte took his place. You could argue this is shifting backwards, but Peralta is a young guy who was not considered one of Arizona’s best hitters. Cleveland had previously lucked into the fact that the low-power middle infielder they hit second was actually not bad offensively. But now there is a new middle infielder who is a rookie and can’t hit, so he should hit second! It is possible that Washington simply bats whoever is playing third base second in the order. You can’t prove they don’t. Well, you could, but please don’t. Philadelphia is a team that has slotted FanGraphs whipping boy Jeff Francoeur either 4th or 5th in about one third of its games, so why be surprised that both then and now a below average hitter, even for this team, is hitting second? You might think that Texas could do better than hitting Andrus second. They could. But instead they have inserted another below average middle infielder, who I assume gets this honor because he’s the less experienced player.
Functionally the same (new-school) – Boston
Boston is a tough one as could see Brock hitting here because he does so much to help the team win and Pedroia, while a great hitter, is also a tiny middle infielder. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt as Pedroia is also a star player and Holt is their only All-star and has been perhaps the best hitter on the team in 2015.
Shifting towards old-school – Houston, Anaheim, Los Angeles, New York (NL), Baltimore, Tampa, Colorado, New York (AL)
Houston went from one of its best hitters, who is also a high OBP/speed guy, to the rookie, because I guess it’s embarrassing to hit in the same spot in the order as Matt Rizzo or Jose Abreu. This might be bad luck as Trout has batted second in the vast majority of Angels games, but this is a huge drop off in production (though, to be fair, almost anyone alive is a huge drop off in production from Trout). On the plus side, Calhoun is actually one of the better offensive players for the top-heavy Angels. Yes, Puig is young and fast, but he is also big, strong, and a great hitter. Kendrick is your grandpa’s choice to bat here. Wright is hurt. With the Mets batting Tejada second, it’s hard to know if good lineup construction is just a matter of luck for this team.
Baltimore went from one of its best hitters (and one of the best players in baseball) to a guy, Jimmy Paredes, that I definitely had to look up to know who he was. Souza may be striking out at an incredible rate lately, but that is no excuse to bat the walking corpse of a once great player second. Tampa played two games, and batting Butler second in one of them is excusable. If Sizemore plays at all, he should be hitting on the other side of lead off. Perhaps the biggest shift of all is in Colorado (which I guess shouldn’t surprise anyone as this is the team that might be the hardest to understand). They went from a star player who does not fit the traditional mold to a below average middle infielder who screams 1980s bunting-the-runner-over. For New York, Gardner was a guy that both fit the old-school model and the new-school model. On the other hand, the current version of Headley is a baffling choice to hit second.
Shifting towards new-school – Toronto, Atlanta, Chicago (NL), Seattle, San Diego, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Detroit, Minnesota, Chicago (AL), Oakland
While the Blue Jays were already ahead of the curve with Martin, they now have their MVP candidate and a guy that would be the best hitter on many teams hitting second. It may be luck that Atlanta is here as Maybin has not hit second frequently for this team. Sadly (for the Braves), Maybin is arguably the best healthy bat in the Braves lineup, a huge improvement over sticking Peterson in the two-hole, a move that could have looked a lot worse if not for a surprising start to his season. Chicago was one of my inspirations for this piece and it’s easy to see why. Rizzo is clearly one of the two best hitters on this team, and he’s a power hitting first baseman to boot. These guys never, ever, ever hit second even 10 years ago. Soler wasn’t a terrible choice, but this is clearly a shift.
Seager fits some of the old-school bill, but compared to trotting out Gutierrez, this is clearly higher-level thinking. I’m giving San Diego credit because Alonso is a pretty good choice for this team, especially considering he’s having a good year, and also because he’s a first baseman. While he’s not a first baseman like Rizzo, it was still rare to see lineup with a “3” next to the two spot a decade ago. Perhaps Pittsburgh thought the previously highly touted Polanco would be better, but there is no doubt that Walker is one of the best hitters on this team. Unlike some other teams, such as Boston and Cleveland, Pittsburgh has not allowed him to “graduate” out of hitting in one of the most important spots in the lineup.
Kansas City was not going with the prototypical guy beforehand, but by inserting Gordon, who hit second in both of Kansas City’s games on Tuesday, they have gone with the best hitter and best player on their team. Detroit is another team that has gone from a mediocre offensive middle infielder to a power hitting outfielder. You could easily argue that Victor Martinez would be a much better choice, but I guess hitting perhaps the slowest player in baseball second is a bit too far for now. Dozier is a nice little player for Minnesota. Their place on this list is more about who took his place, face-of-the-franchise Joe Mauer. He also happens to be easily the best OBP guy on this team. There must be something in the water in Chicago, because the two best examples come from the south- and north-side. Chicago flipped Cabrera, a fairly classic two-hole guy, and Abreu, clearly not in that category. This is the last one I’m doing, so I’ll just say this. Fuld is not good. Vogt is good.
Wildcard –St. Louis
The Cardinals are two as they played a double-header with two different players batting second. You could argue that Heyward is a new-school choice. Carpenter definitely is as a guy with a .377 OBP and no speed. However, they also used Wong, who is definitely in the old-school camp.
Final Tally: Same – 4; Stayed Old-School – 5; Stayed New-School – 1; Shifted Old-School – 8; Shifted New-School – 11; Wildcard – 1
I wanted to find something. I didn’t. That makes me comfortable with my conclusion. A few teams are definitely bucking the old-school ways, at least for now. But just as many teams seem to have gone backwards since opening day. But overall you do see a much more productive player, on average, hitting second. Both the Chicago teams are the clearest examples, as they have put large first basemen/DH with elite power who happen to be their best hitters second in their lineups. You might think that Kansas City or Toronto have permanently turned over a new leaf. But when you see Colorado go from Carlos Gonzalez on opening day to DJ LeMahieu in July, it makes it hard not to discount the possibility that any shift by any team is merely temporary. And now I’ve written 2,000 words on nothing, except perhaps a warning that if your favorite team does something you like because it seems forward thinking and helpful, don’t get too excited because there is a good chance it a blip and Howie Kendrick will be hitting second before you know it.