Dusty Baker, the manager of a contending club, insists on using banjo-hitting Zack Cozart as his No. 2 hitter. Brian Kenny started talking about this weeks ago, but somebody asked Baker about it again and he defended it again so now it's a topic again. Here's our friend Dave Cameron with the mucous-lined, Harold Reynolds-inspired innards of the thing:
I know that Dusty Baker is never going to be a big fan of FanGraphs, or our way of thinking about baseball, but hitting Todd Frazier in the #2 spot instead of Zack Cozart isn’t that radical of a suggestion. You’re still using a right-handed hitter to break up the lefties. You’re still putting a guy near the top of the line-up who isn’t a primary run producer. He’s not slow, so he’s not going "clog the bases". He draws walks, which Baker clearly sees as valuable from his leadoff hitter, since that is Shin-Soo Choo‘s primary skill.
In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t the end of the world. Batting order doesn’t make that big of a difference. The Reds can make the playoffs with Zack Cozart hitting second. But, really, for a team in the playoff race, they should be taking advantage of every opportunity they can find to improve their chances of winning, however small those improvements might be. I get that hitting Votto second is too radical of an idea for Baker, but hitting Frazier second isn’t quite as crazy sounding, and it would make them better too.
Dave's right. He's right about all of it. It probably won't matter. Unless the Reds miss the playoffs by just a game or two, or lose a postseason series -- with Zack Cozart struggling in the No. 2 slot throughout -- this just won't make a difference, and all this criticism will have been just a wisp of Internet air, not worth the finger-muscle energy we've devoted to it. But I suspect I'm not the only weak-spirited fellow who secretly hopes, deep down, that it does make a difference; that Dusty Baker is punished for his blithe disregard for our freely offered lineup advice.
Or maybe that's just me. Anyway, he's not the only one. For all the obvious reasons, you want a No. 2 hitter who actually gets on base. You also want him to run well enough, with "being able to do some things with the bat" a nice little bonus. But there are actually eight teams this season whose No. 2 hitters have combined for sub-.300 on-base percentages. Here they are, along with their primary No. 2 guys:
.297 - Marlins (Edcido Polancus)
.293 - Royals (Alcides Escobar)
.289 - Rockies (cast of thousands)
.278 - White Sox (Alexi Ramirez)
.278 - Rangers (Elvis Andrus)
.278 - Astros (1 Altuve)
.275 - Nationals (cast of hundreds)
.267 - Reds (Zacknado)
I will point out, for what it's worth, that the last two teams on that list are managed by guys who will, in all likelihood, someday be elected to the Hall of Fame because of their managerial acumen. About which few of us will complain. It takes all kinds.
Here's the thing, though ... I didn't show up to write about No. 2 hitters. All this talk about No. 2 got me to thinking about No. 1 hitters! While managers continue to bat middle infielders second because ... Well, who the hell knows anyway? ... at least they're smart enough to use on-base guys with some speed at the top of the order, right?
Sure, even Dusty Baker knows that. The Reds have the LOWEST on-base percentage in the No. 2 slot, but -- thanks to Shin-Soo Choo -- they've got the HIGHEST leadoff on-base percentage (.426). Shoot, they might even set some sort of record for the biggest difference. A dubious record, sure. But a record's a record!
There are, I'm pleased to report, only four teams with sub-.300 on-base percentages from their leadoff men:
.292 - Mariners (Endy Chavez)
.288 - Mets (Messrs. Met)
.275 - Marlins (Juan Pierre)
.263 - Twins (Brian Dozier & Jamey Carroll)
Could any of these teams be doing significantly better?
Dozier's actually got a .313 on-base percentage this season, and once you get past Joe Mauer (.397) and now-injured Josh Willingham, there's really nobody on the club who gets on base, let alone gets on base and runs well. This is a personnel problem, not a managerial problem.
Same with the Marlins, as only Giancarlo Stanton and Ed Lucas reach base at all, and Lucas doesn't run well (and he's been hitting second some of the time anyway).
The Mets have semi-solved their leadoff problem with the addition of Eric Young, who's got a .368 OBP in 21 games. Of course, he's got a .333 career mark, which is why I included the qualifier. At least he's fast.
And the Mariners ... well, they've got nobody. Nobody proven, anyway. Justin Smoak and Kyle Seager get on base, but they're not going to lead off. The good news is that rookie shortstop Brad Miller has taken over. The better news is that he's got a .375 OBP in his first 13 games in the majors. The really better news is that Miller posted a .409 OBP during his time in the minors.
Here's the difference between the No. 1 and No. 2 slots. When a manager doesn't have a good leadoff hitter, he tries to find one. But when he doesn't have a good No. 2 hitter, sometimes he doesn't even seem to know it.