Earlier this week, I suggested that the Yankees flip Johnny Damon and Derek Jeter in the batting order. My suggestion was based on the idea that you want your batter who makes more contact and hits fewer grounders batting second rather than first, if the two players are similarly skilled at reaching base. Dave Cameron of Fangraphs has an article up now that challenges the traditional notion of the #2 hitter as a high contact hitter:
So, since leadoff hitters are going to be stealing far more than any other line-up spot, we can infer that the #2 hitter will be at the plate most often when SB attempts occur. What’s the common wisdom on how pitchers defend against stolen bases? Throw fastballs. So which line-up spot should see the most fastballs? The #2 hitter.
Given that assumption, it would then follow that teams could setup a dilemma for pitchers by having a #2 hitter who pitchers do not want to throw fastballs too. If you had a high power #2 hitter, who pitchers only wanted to throw fastballs too 55% of the time, then you’d be forcing the pitcher to base his pitch selection on either the hitter or the runner. If you have a low power #2 hitter, then his desire to throw fastballs would align with both runner and hitter strategies, and there would be no conflict.
Despite this, #2 hitters had the second lowest ISO of any line-up spot in baseball last year, ahead of only #9 hitters. Indeed, the classic #2 hitter is a high contact hitter who is valued for his ability to give the manager confidence to call a hit and run or hit the ball to the right side if the leadoff hitter is able to steal second on his own. The current archtype #2 hitter is exactly the opposite of the kind of hitter that would force a pitcher to choose between pitching to the batter or the runner.
I think this is fascinating stuff, as it really gets you thinking about what the optimal Yankees lineup would be. As I mentioned in another article last week, Damon already sees plenty of fastballs, which suggests that he may be wasted in the two hole. Then again, if he is batting behind Jeter, the stolen base factor does not really come into play. I think a lot depends on Brett Gardner and Joe Girardi’s willingness to ruffle some feathers. If Gardner could get his OBP to around .380, he could make sense at the top of the order. Then you might bat someone who could really benefit from seeing more fastballs, such as Cano, Swisher, or Nady. I am not really sure where you would go from there, but there are various permutations that can be formed using this concept as the baseline. Maybe Gardner, Cano, Teixeira, Rodriguez, Posada, Damon, Jeter, Matsui, and Nady/Swisher?
Do you have any ideas for a lineup that would serve the purpose Cameron speaks about in his article?
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