Friday, February 5, 2010

Who should bat second?

The incomparable Brian Oliver of Nats Farm Authority and the incorrigible Steven Biel of Fire Jim Bowden have been combining forces on a regular podcast for a little while now, and they were kind enough to invite me to join them earlier today for their latest installment. If you're interested to hear three guys talking Adam Kennedy, bullpen changes and other stuff Nats, here's the link...

OK, we've had all day to debate the merits of Adam Kennedy, the disappointment of losing out on Orlando Hudson and the potential stunting of Ian Desmond's development. But what's done is done, Kennedy is a National, Hudson is a Twin and Desmond is likely a Syracuse Chief. It's time to move on.

So with that in mind, I figure it's time to start looking at a more-pressing baseball matter: Jim Riggleman's potential lineup combinations.

Barring some surprising development between now and April, it would appear the Nats' eight starting position players are set: Adam Dunn, Adam Kennedy, Cristian Guzman and Ryan Zimmerman around the infield; Josh Willingham, Nyjer Morgan and Elijah Dukes around the outfield; Ivan Rodriguez behind the plate.

Now, Riggleman needs to figure out how to line up those eight guys to elicit its maximum offensive production. There are undoubtedly dozens of combinations the manager could come up with, but here are the three I imagine are the most likely to be given serious consideration...

CF Morgan
SS Guzman
3B Zimmerman
1B Dunn
LF Willingham
RF Dukes
C Rodriguez
2B Kennedy

CF Morgan
2B Kennedy
3B Zimmerman
1B Dunn
LF Willingham
RF Dukes
C Rodriguez
SS Guzman

CF Morgan
RF Dukes
3B Zimmerman
1B Dunn
LF Willingham
C Rodriguez
SS Guzman
2B Kennedy

It seems clear to me that Riggleman's biggest decision will be selecting a No. 2 hitter. We all know Morgan is the leadoff man, and we know Zimmerman, Dunn and Willingham are the 3-4-5. So who bats between them, serves as the guy who can move Morgan up and set up Zim & Co. to drive in runs?

There's a case to be made for any one of the three No. 2 candidates I included. Let's examine...

GUZMAN -- Say what you will about the guy (and there's plenty to gripe about) but he's had a good amount of success as a top-of-the-order hitter in the big leagues over his career. That was particularly evident last season. When batting first or second, Guzman hit .296 with a .317 on-base percentage and a .408 slugging percentage. When batting anywhere else in the lineup, Guzman hit .185 with a .211 on-base percentage and a .222 slugging percentage. He may not draw walks, but he's a good contact hitter and has historically been his most productive when batting near the top of the lineup, not near the bottom.

KENNEDY -- Kennedy also has been an effective No. 2 hitter in his career, posting a .280 average, .330 on-base percentage and .401 slugging percentage. He provides a bit more pop at the plate than Guzman, having connected for 11 homers and 29 doubles last season. And he draws more walks than Guzman (though who doesn't?) which would potentially give Zimmerman more two-on-nobody-out opportunities.

DUKES -- At first glance, Dukes doesn't come across as a prototypical No. 2 hitter. He's a run producer, not a table-setter. But look closer and you can make a case for him. Dukes draws far more walks than either Guzman or Kennedy (despite a career .242 batting average, he owns a career .349 on-base percentage). Thus, he's a patient hitter and isn't afraid to take pitches, which gives Morgan more opportunities to steal bases. The only drawback, to me, is the void it would create in the 6-hole, with Riggleman left to choose between an aging Pudge, Guzman or Kennedy for that spot.

In the end, I think I'd go with lineup No. 1. If Guzman is going to be in your lineup, he's best-suited to bat second. Yes, either Kennedy or Dukes could do the job, but then you're placing one of your other guys in a spot where he's almost destined to fail. Plus, Dukes' potential run production from the 6-hole is appealing.

What do you think? I've got a new poll up in the upper right-hand corner of the page. Make your choice, then give us your rationale in the comments section.


Mike said...

I can't believe Morgan's going to reprise that .396 OBP he logged last year in a Nats uniform. But if you're going to bat him first, Dukes (who would bat leadoff in my lineup) should be #2.

Sean said...

repost....guzie is great 2 hole guy. he has great bat control, switch hitter, makes a lot of contact for hit and run (which i want to see much more). i am expecting many crooked numbers on the board with tplush guzie zim dunn hammer...goooooosebumps

natbiscuit said...

I think you need to have different lineups against lefties and right-handers. I like Kennedy behind Morgan against right-handers and Dukes after Morgan against lefties. I don't think Guzman is patient enough to maximize Morgan's talent.

Mac said...

Gotta be guzie.

Dave Nichols said...

did the Nats sign Shawn Estes??? ugh.

Anonymous said...

please tell me the Nats didn't just sign Shawn Estes.

Sean said...

shawn estes? i think jim bowden has executed a coup! hes back in charge!

Let Teddy Win said...

You've got me dreaming about a day when it's Dukes 2, Desmond 5, Guzman gone.

An Briosca Mor said...

Dukes needs to learn how to hit a curve ball before he's a good #2 hitter. And if he does, he'll probably end up hitting too many HRs to be a #2 hitter.

periculum said...

Line up 3 makes the most sense. It's what I would expect.

Positively Half St. said...

I went for Dukes in the 2-hole, but perhaps would change that to Kennedy. I think that OBP really matters at the top of the line-up, and you just don't get that with Guzman.

As for Estes, I am scratching my head. The money Rizzo saved with Kennedy over Hudson must have burnt a hole in his pocket. Why would it be necessary to give him up to $1M? I can't imagine anyone else was competing too hard for him. They must have seen a great workout.

Tell me, Constituency- who is going off the roster to make room for Kennedy? Might we lose another marginal player to a waiver claim?

JayB said...

I would be great to get some information on the time line and details leading up to the Estes deal....Really sounds like a waste to me and Rizzo is not Jimbo so there must be more to the story than this.......To me Dukes has not earned a roster spot let alone RF or 2nd in the order. He is just such an easy out when bother to scout his prior ABs and pitch to his weaknesses. If the Nats are more competitive and teams to some advance scouting he will have hit 8th in the order and what is the point of that?

Steven said...

Two observations.

1. batting order is not nearly as important as people tend to think. As long as you don't bat the pitcher lead-off, there's not more than 1 win or so of value in optimizing batting order.

2. to the extent you do care about optimizing batting order, the most important thing is getting more PAs over the course of the season for your best hitters by hitting them up top. every team in baseball would be better off just making a list of their best to worst hitters and making that their batting order. Speed barely matters at all, and getting some L-R alternation doesn't hurt (though the Phillies have proven that even that's not all that important). Putting contact hitters at #2 is the dumbest idea Earl Weaver ever had--it's just a good way to create double-plays.

So for the Nationals that would be something like this:


Steven said...

Here's a post I did on this last season at this time, if you're interested:

An Briosca Mor said...

Putting contact hitters at #2 is the dumbest idea Earl Weaver ever had

Perhaps that's why he's in the Hall of Fame. And you're not.

Mark Zuckerman said...

Steven, I get what you're saying. And yes, if you want to maximize run production over the course of 162-game season, your way would work. But MLB doesn't award the team that scored the most runs over the whole season a spot in the playoffs. You have to win the individual battle each day, and in order to do that, I think it's important to put certain guys in positions where they can produce the most runs on that given day. Zim has the best chance on this team of driving in runs. If he's leading off (or essentially hitting behind your two worst batters) he's going to wind up batting with the bases empty far more often than he would batting third behind Morgan and Guzman/Kennedy/Dukes/Whoever.

Wally said...

I would go with Guzzy to start in the #2 slot, and play it by ear with Kennedy. Dukes needs to produce over the course of an entire season, and I think a lower profile spot in the order would help take some attention off him.

By the way, does anyone else think that we could be seeing two different teams this year. A Pudge, Guzzy, Olsen, et al vet team for the first half (which hopefully avoids the immense nose dives of the recent past), but then by the all-star break, Strasburg, Desmond, Flores, Storen, maybe others are playing significant roles? Might be kind of cool, especially if they can pick up some prospects for some of the vets.

Anonymous said...

Normally, I'd say "it's only once a game that the leadoff hitter hits leadoff", but it's more than that, especially with the easy out at #9.

However, I'd have to say I'd prefer to get Dukes an extra 50 or so ABs over the course of the season than Guzman or Kennedy.

Will said...

Guzman?! Really?
In general, you want to put a guy on who gets on base a lot, so your two best batters, Zimmerman and Dunn, have a better chance to drive in this guy with a double, HR or whatever. For the same reason that you don't want to put a power hitter in lead off (their power is relatively useless when no one is on base), you don't want to put guys in the #1 and 2 spots who are unsuccesful at getting on base and setting the table for the middle of the order.

Who was one of the least successful batters at getting on base? Cristian Guzman. There were 13 other Nationals who were better at getting on base than Guzman last year, that means there's 5 back ups who were better than Guzman.

I think it's probably more useful to name who would be a worse #2 batter than Guzman, than who would be better. So here goes... Ivan Rodriguez (but not Flores or Nieves) and the pitcher. I'd be happy with anyone else.

rfk428 said...

From what we saw at the end of last year, I think Desmond can beat out Guzman, both offensively and defensively, and start at SS. The Nats paid Kearns 8mil to sit the bench last year, so there is precedent for this. It also seems that Guz's arm is not 100%. Guz is not ready to start the season and then gets Wally-Pip'ed by Desmond. So then I'd hit Kennedy 2nd to start because I think he'd be more consistant than Dukes or Desmond. I would hit Pudge 8th s that the younger guys have a little protection behind them and hopefully get a few more fastballs.

Wil Nieves said...

Wasn't there a time last year when they tried to move Guzman out of #2 and he sulked and was terrible? Or am I just making that up?

Sam said...

Dukes' .312 wOBA compared with Guzman's .301 wOBA pretty much sums it up. They both sucked, but Dukes was, hands down, a better hitter.

I would bat Kennedy second. He was, at least, average last year. Guzman was terrible. Some of it might have been due to injury, but it didn't seem like he was hitting the ball hard at all. He hit far fewers line drives last year than in 2008 (when he was pretty much average). You know what you're getting from Guzman - average to below average offense and average defensive play. I'm very much in favor of Desmond.

Also, power is not useless at the top of the lineup. A leadoff homerun by the home team (with two neutral teams playing each other) raises its chances of winning by something like 11%. Obviously it will even out throughout the game, but that is a large swing.

Brian Benson said...

I like Kennedy hitting from the two hole, and if Guzman can't hit from the bottom of the order, bring Desmond up and plug him in the 8 spot.

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