The #2 hitter in a baseball lineup receives the second-most at bats of anyone on the team. For example, over the course of a season, the #2 hitter will have about 60 more plate appearances than the #6 hitter. Studies have determined that the first two positions in the lineup create the most runs. The #2 hitter bats in situations about as important as the #3 hitter, except more often.
Not only is the #2 hitter vitally important, big league managers recognize it.
“I don’t think it’s as it used to be, when the No. 2 guy was primarily a bunt guy or a hit-and-run guy,” says Rays manager Joe Maddon. “It has changed,” said Manny Acta. “You don’t need a guy who can just bunt and move the guy over. You need to get him on base a lot because you have the No. 3 and 4 hitters coming up behind him. It’s a very key part of the lineup.”
Among the players batting second in the major leagues this year are Joe Mauer of the Twins, Robinson Cano of the Yankees, Carlos Beltran of the Cardinals, Mike Trout of the Angels, and Jose Bautista for the Blue Jays. Joe Maddon has given most of the Rays’ two-hole AB to Matt Joyce and Ben Zobrist who are hitting an astonishing .338/.433/.532 in that spot. Somewhere, Jean Segura of the Brewers is getting on base against the Reds right now, and he bats second, too. In 1973, the year the other Frazier famously went down, the Reds’ 2-hole hitter was a guy named Joe Morgan (.287/.402/.484).
Meanwhile, Dusty Baker’s concept of the #2 hitter remains stubbornly mired in the past. His ideal second hitter is a good bunter and someone who can hit the other way to advance the leadoff runner. Zack Cozart leads all major league position players in sacrificing his out with a bunt. Keep in mind that most of the time the leadoff hitter isn’t on base when the #2 hitter bats, so that entire premise for a “good” #2 hitter is completely irrelevant more than half the time. Or Baker uses the #2 spot like a charity, to help struggling hitters “get goin’.”
As a player, Dusty Baker had over 8,000 major league plate appearances. Only 37 were batting second and he hit .171/.194/.286. Batting second never got him goin’.
This has resulted in hundreds of extremely sub-optimal at bats over Baker’s tenure with the Reds. Cesar Izturis has 33 PA in the #2 spot (.094/.121/.125). When Baker rightly pulls Shin-Soo Choo out of the leadoff spot against tough left-handed pitchers, he just drops the centerfielder to #2 (38 PA, .152/.237/.182). Wilson Valdez had more than a hundred plate appearances batting second last season. Paul Janish, who I loved watching play, hit over 300 times as a #2 hitter for Baker (and, not surprisingly, not once for the Braves). Willie Harris hit second last year.
This year, the 2-hole hitter for the Reds bats between Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Votto, two of the most productive players in baseball. A running joke in the Nation is that with Dusty Baker’s lineup, the #2 hitter could be referred to as The Cooler. Considering the overall performance (.231/.276/.342) of the Reds 2-hole hitters this year, that’s one of those jokes that really isn’t funny when you think about it. Gallows humor, maybe.
On Wednesday, Todd Frazier was installed as the Reds’ #2 hitter against the Oakland A’s. He also hit there on Friday. It took over 1,000 plate appearances for Todd Frazier to bat second in the Reds’ lineup, a move that has been obvious for over a year.
But only in Dusty Baker’s Bizarro world of lineup construction would the move be precipitated by how poorly Todd Frazier was hitting. After all, Frazier had been hitless for nine games, spanning 28 at bats prior to Wednesday. Baker treats The Cooler spot with reckless abandon.
But even if for the wrong reason, Baker made the right move. If the Reds #2 hitter has to be right-handed, it should be Todd Frazier.
Not because Todd Frazier can’t hit, but because he can.
He’ll also take a walk.
The reason Shin-Soo Choo has been valuable leading off for the Reds isn’t his batting average (.280). He ranks #52 out of #149 qualified hitters in batting average. Choo’s elite worth lies in his on base percentage (.414), which is fourth in MLB. He blends OBP skills with power.
The reason Zack Cozart failed in the #2 spot wasn’t primarily because he couldn’t hit enough, although that was part of it, it’s that he didn’t walk enough. After a slow start, Cozart’s batting average has hovered at .240-.245 (.241 today). But he only walks 4% of the time, so his OBP is around .275, the sixth worst in baseball among qualified players.
Todd Frazier walks. His walk-rate of 9.9 percent this year contributes more than 90 points to his OBP. So even after his terrible
slump funk, his OBP remained a respectable .329. In his first two games batting second, he’s walked twice.
Frazier credits a conversation with Pete Rose for breaking out Friday. Like giving a rooster credit for the sunrise, local broadcasters and beat reporters will surely laud Baker’s move for jump-starting Frazier’s bat.