Monday, March 8, 2010

The top of the order

Dating myself a bit here, but there is a line from an episode of M*A*S*H where Frank asks Hawkeye, "Why do people take such an immediate dislike to me?" Hawkeye answers, "It saves time, Frank."

That line comes to mind as I begin to think about the Reds 2010 lineup and Dusty Baker's likely mismanagement of it. Maybe I should wait to start complaining. On the other hand, maybe I should just save us all the time and get right to it.

The most important quality for the top of the lineup hitters is to avoid making outs. That is particularly true with a #3 hitter who can seemingly fire off singles and doubles at will, like Joey Votto. And if Jay Bruce develops into the hitter many expect, then the same goes for him. We have to get runners on base for Votto, Phillips and Bruce. The Reds absolutely must cut down on the number of times their best hitters come to the plate with no one on base.

2009 lineup: #1 Taveras. #2 Gonzalez. Sigh.

But what about 2010? Well, Dusty Baker seems poised to repeat the same mistaken top-of-the-lineup strategy again this year, by batting Drew Stubbs first and Orlando Cabrera second.

Drew Stubbs had a phenomenal September of 2009. He hit for power and stole bases. He did not, however, get on base with much regularity, managing only a .323 OBP. I expect him to be able to improve on that number this year, as he did have considerably higher OBP in the minor leagues. But he's still a very inexperienced player, so we certainly can't take that improvement for granted.

Chris Dickerson in 2009 accomplished an OBP of .370. If he can remain healthy, Dickerson may present a substantial upgrade over Stubbs in terms of getting on base.

Even more discouraging is Dusty Baker's apparent intention to bat Orlando Cabrera second. Cabrera's career OBP is a miserable .322 -- for comparison, Willy Taveras' career OBP is .321. And Cabrera's plate discipline seems to be declining. In 2009 he got on base at a woeful .316 clip. Steve Price at Redleg Nation makes this point awfully well this afternoon:
But, oh boy, can he make outs. (Cabrera)’s led the American League in outs made the past two seasons (512 and 509), and even finished third in outs made in his big 2007 year. Why does that matter? Because outs are a team’s currency; it’s their budget. Former Orioles manager great Earl Weaver would not use the sacrifice bunt because he didn’t want to give away an out. Despite batting .289 last year (which sounds great), Cabrera averaged making three outs per game. His OBP was .316; I don’t care that he gets the bat on the ball, if he’s batting second he’ll be wasting the team’s money (budget=outs). And before somebody tells me those are “productive outs” let me tell you he was fourth in the American League in double plays grounded into last year (22).
The clear alternative for the #2 spot is Scott Rolen. Rolen, who has seen his power decline after shoulder surgery in 2005, has maintained an OBP in the .370 range his entire career, including .368 last year. Why not take advantage of his plate discipline and his bat control and put him in the #2 spot? Moving Rolen from the #5 to the #2 slot will also gain him nearly 45 plate appearances. Shouldn't he have those extra AB instead of Cabrera?

How about this lineup?

Dickerson LF
Rolen 3B
Votto 1B
Phillips 2B
Bruce RF
Stubbs CF
Hernandez/Hanigan C
Cabrera SS

This batting order would not only move two strong OBP hitters to the top, but also moves Jay Bruce closer to the top. It would also take some pressure off of rookie/sophomore Drew Stubbs. It even maintains the LH/RH/LH/RH pattern that Baker loves so much.

I do find a tiny bit of hope in a comment from John Fay, where speaking of today's lineup featuring Stubbs at #1 and Dickerson at #7:
Depending on how spring goes, you could see Stubbs and Dickerson flopped, particularly since the Cardinals will start a right-hander on Opening Day.
Not sure where this comes from, as I haven't seen Baker quoted as saying anything like this anywhere, his stubbornness is legendary and Dickerson is already in Baker's doghouse.

But if true, it's great news. And saves us all a lot of time.

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