Reds fans can be excused … sign Chris Nelson one day, bam! … sign Hernan Iribarren the next, pow! … for not being able to focus on the issue of where Joey Votto should bat in the lineup this year. Our heads are spinning with signings like Max Ramirez, bop! But let’s put aside the busy off-season for the Reds … club signs Ramon Santiago, zowee! … and take a look at a few of the batting order considerations.
Obvious caveat: Line-up construction doesn’t matter much. Equally obvious retort: Small increments can add up over a season to important margins. And they’re perfectly suited to discuss on a team-specific sports blog like this one.
Ideally, what qualities should the Reds be looking for in a two-hole hitter? According to old-school thinking, a player who can “handle the bat” and “move the lead-off runner to second base” and “who can lay down a bunt.” Notice how those considerations assume the lead-off hitter gets on base?
They don’t make sense. Why choose your #2 hitter based on what he can do for your #1 hitter when even the best lead-off guys get on base way less than half the time. Instead, the #2 hitter should be … Reds sign Jeff Francis, whoa! … one of the best hitters on your team, one that balances on-base skills with having enough gap power to drive in the lead-off hitter. What does The Book say, you rightly ask?
The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball, published in 2007 by statistical analysts Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman and Andrew Dolphin, is recognized as groundbreaking in just about everything in baseball numbers. It succinctly summarizes the research on optimal batting orders. The Book says the No. 2 hitter comes to bat in situations about as important as the No. 3 hitter, but more often. Thus, the No. 2 hitter should be better than the No. 3 and, because he bats with the bases empty more often than the hitters behind him, he should have a high on-base percentage. [emphasis mine]
Batting the team’s best hitter second would hardly be unprecedented. Robinson Cano, who hit at least 25 home runs in each of the last five seasons, batted second for the Yankees. So does Joe Mauer for the Twins. Jose Bautista, who hit 28 home runs, had more plate appearances hitting second … Reds ink Ruben Gotay, blamo! … last year than any other spot in the lineup. Mike Trout of the Angels, one of the best players in baseball, hit mostly second. Other two-hole hitters include Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, Jean Segura (who just got on base against the Reds again), Carlos Beltran and Yasiel Puig.
“The two-hole hitter is not being perceived as he was 20, 30, 40 years ago,” says Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon, who routinely shuffles his batting orders looking for any and every edge. “You’re looking for somebody to drive the baseball.”
The main argument for batting Joey Votto second is to maximize the benefit of his on-base skills. In 2013, Votto once again led the National League in OBP, which he has now done … Reds sign Argenis Diaz, really! … four years in a row. The Richard from Springboro crowd notwithstanding, Votto’s OBP is a superstar attribute. And even more pivotal for the likely 2014 Reds roster.
It now seems inevitable, in a hands-covering-your-eyes sort of way, that Billy Hamilton – who managed just an OBP of .308 against AAA pitchers last year – is destined to begin the season batting lead-off for the Reds. Why not? He’s fast (check old-school box #1) and he plays centerfield (check old-school box #2). Never mind that he’s got a great chance to have the worst OBP on the team. He’s going to create havoc (check old-school box #3) on the base paths.
With such a severe on-base liability already batting first and taking on the most plate appearances, and with no other on-base stand-out available to bat second, manager Bryan Price should write Votto after Hamilton on the line-up card. Otherwise we’ll likely witness a return to the achingly painful days of yesteryear when Joey Votto bats time after time after time with no one on base, often with two outs.
Taveras/Hairston/Votto. Stubbs/Renteria/Votto. Cozart/Valdez/Votto. Now Hamilton/Phillips/Votto?
Same as the old boss.
Instead, how about Hamilton/Votto/Bruce? Batting second would bring Votto to the plate about eighteen times more than batting him third. Batting Bruce third instead of fourth means eighteen more plate appearances for the Affable Jay.
It’s important that Votto bat second because of the 70 percent of the time that Billy Hamilton doesn’t get on base. The case is even stronger for the 30 percent of his AB when the Man of Steal does make it to first. Votto has the plate discipline to work the count, allowing Hamilton the opportunity to swipe a bag. Joey Votto hits late in the count like Peyton calls Omaha.
Hamilton scores from first like clockwork on Votto’s doubles. And, if you’re worried about the opponent simply walking Votto after Hamilton steals second, understand they’d be less likely to do that with #19 batting second and no outs then if he’s batting third with one down. And if Votto does walk you’ve got runners at first and second with no outs instead of one. Either way, it’s better to have Votto’s AB occur right after Hamilton gets on.
Finally, if it’s true that Hamilton being on base creates more center-cut pitches to the batters behind him, it should keep you warm at night imagining what JoeyMVP will do with more fastballs right down Broadway. More of this, please.
One way that Bryan Price would demonstrate that he’s got a more modern philosophy of the game than Dusty Baker – who seemed to exhibit a casual indifference toward the #2 spot – is by taking into account the actual hitting ability of who bats behind Billy Hamilton.
Now, back to the Polar Vortex Stove. The Reds signed Bobby Keppel. Who-hoo.