I’m kind of geeky about batting orders. This puts me at odds with statheads, who tend to think that as long as you put your highest on-base percentage player at the top of the order you really can’t impact your teams offense by tweaking your batting order. That may turn out to be true, but it sure is fun to sit here and wonder who will end up as the Indians’ No. 2 hitter this year, much more so than it would be if such things were meaningless to the fortunes of the team.
I have always had certain theories about batting orders, which have probably come from the teams I have watched. None of these theories would stand up to deep analysis, but they seem to have worked, and there were reasons behind them that make sense.
One theory is that putting a weaker hitter in the No. 2 hole gives that player a better chance to succeed. The logic behind this is that he sees more fastballs because the leadoff hitter is on base and threatening to steal, and with the meat of the order due up the pitcher will not be inclined to nibble and risk a walk. Teams who play small ball tended to do this because they didn’t want to have a good hitter bunting the leadoff man over or taking a pitch so he could steal. I followed the Pirates as a kid, and they did this with Tim Foli, a pedestrian hitter who had his best years hitting in front of Dave Parker and Willie Stargell. A case could be made that this worked for the Indians in the 90’s with Omar Vizquel, who never matched the numbers he put up hitting behind Kenny Lofton and in front of a succession of great hitters.
In recent years, the trend has been to put a stud hitter in the No. 2 hole. All of the advantages that a weaker hitter gets from batting second still apply, and this strategy falls in line with the impulse to go for the big inning, which teams are more likely to do these days. It also fits in with the philosophy of getting the most at bats for your best hitters, which is the most impact a batting order can have.
In the Indians’ case, my inclination would be to bat Jason Kipnis second, for reasons that are tied to both of the theories I have mentioned. While I believe Kipnis will have a good year, the way he struggled down the stretch last year would make me hesitant to bat him in the heart of the order at this point in his career. With Michael Bourn a threat to steal and strong hitters behind him in the order, Kipnis will see a lot of fastballs. This will give him the best opportunity to succeed, and by the end of the year I believe he will put up numbers that justify having him in this position.
I believe Carlos Santana will be the Indians’ best hitter this year, and normally I would bat him third. But Terry Francona said something early in camp about keeping Santana low in the order so his focus would be on catching. This makes sense to me. I have always wondered about catchers who make the last out of an inning and have to rush back to the dugout to put their equipment on, and if they are sufficiently focused on their catching duties the following inning. If Santana bats sixth or seventh he will spend the top of the first on the bench with the starting pitcher and be totally focused on what to throw to the first few hitters in the opposing lineup. In the long run, I think this will benefit the Indians more than having him bat in the first inning.
The other spot in the lineup that always intrigues me is the No. 5 hole. In the old days, Mark Reynolds would have been considered the perfect five hitter, a big bopper who wasn’t necessarily a great all-around hitter. In the 80’s Whitey Herzog used to bat Willie McGee, one of his best contact hitters, in the five hole. His justification was that the most likely scenarios for the first at-bat of the No. 5 hitter were to come up in the first inning with multiple base runners or to lead off the second inning; in either case making contact was more valuable than raw power. Again, this makes sense, even if it doesn’t coincide with putting your most productive hitters at the top of the lineup. In the Indians’ case, this means Michael Brantley makes more sense as the number five hitter than one of the power hitters who tend to strike out a lot like Reynolds.
My last consideration, which Francona has also mentioned, would be to alternate left and right handed batters. Batting Kipnis second would go against this philosophy, but otherwise I would stick with it. Here goes:
- 1. Michael Bourn
- 2. Jason Kipnis
- 3. Asdrubal Cabrera
- 4. Nick Swisher
- 5. Michael Brantley
- 6. Carlos Santana
- 7. Mark Reynolds
- 8. Lonnie Chisenhall
- 9. Drew Stubbs
The bottom of the order is a bit worrisome, as Chisenhall may have a tough time seeing good pitches to hit if Reynolds or Stubbs has one of their epic strikeout binges at the same time, which could hinder his development in what I believe is a crucial year for him. But that’s a much nicer problem than choosing between Aaron Cunningham and Jose Lopez.