04 May 2018

Who's Batting Second? Jace Peterson Or Craig Gentry

In any discussion about batting order, it should be noted that it matters a little, but not enough to make a significant difference. This current Orioles team would be bad regardless of who's batting in which lineup spot. 

Still, it's easy to get annoyed at recent Orioles batting lineups when Jace Peterson and Craig Gentry have been slotted second. Let's run through things quickly. In March, Buck Showalter said this about batting order:
“The game has evolved as far as what we used to think a one-hole hitter looked like, a two-hole hitter, three-hole, four-hole. It’s just evolved,” Showalter said. “You see how many people are hitting what they consider their best hitter second. And a lot of people will tell you just take your best hitter and get him up to the plate as many times as possible.

“It’s really hard to find what we used to look for in a leadoff hitter and I think the focus on not giving up outs takes away a lot of the conventional two-hole hitter. It’s more about handling the bat, advancing runners. It’s one of our things we talked about, having more productive outs if we do make an out. It could be a 10-pitch at-bat, it could be having somebody move up 90 feet even though you make an out. [Emphasis added.]
Some of this is antiquated strategy, like simply wanting speed at the top of the lineup or preferring a slap-hitter in the second slot. That's how you end up with some interesting names in the leadoff spot. And why wouldn't you want the hitter who isn't "giving up outs" to bat higher? Showalter has had a hard time letting this go. That bolded part? Yes, that's what the Orioles should be doing: getting as many trips to the plate as possible for Trey Mancini, Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop (when healthy), etc.

Showalter deserves some credit, because he's used Machado, either the team's best hitter or among the top few for most of his seasons in Baltimore, in the second spot a good amount - more than twice as much as any other player. Here's the full list (from 2011-2018), from the Baseball-Reference Play Index:

Rk I Player Split From To G PA R BA OBP SLG OPS
1Manny MachadoBatting 2nd201320183681663218.287.335.474.808
2J.J. HardyBatting 2nd20112016193868103.240.283.389.672
3Nick MarkakisBatting 2nd2011201411551452.296.358.428.786
4Adam JonesBatting 2nd201120177835335.269.308.414.722
5Steve PearceBatting 2nd201320167330542.240.331.472.803
6Hyun Soo KimBatting 2nd201620176526127.285.352.370.723
7Jimmy ParedesBatting 2nd201420155021529.309.344.471.815
8Gerardo ParraBatting 2nd201520153917926.250.284.399.683
9Jonathan SchoopBatting 2nd201420174117423.266.287.491.778
10Alejandro De AzaBatting 2nd2014201516719.281.343.500.843
11Delmon YoungBatting 2nd2014201518698.328.348.537.885
12David LoughBatting 2nd20142015386510.306.313.403.716
13Chris DavisBatting 2nd2012201715617.218.295.400.695
14Nelson CruzBatting 2nd20142014136012.264.350.585.935
15Travis SniderBatting 2nd2015201513564.275.339.412.751
16Pedro AlvarezBatting 2nd2016201813496.233.327.442.768
17Nolan ReimoldBatting 2nd2011201619425.237.310.579.888
18Joey RickardBatting 2nd2016201713416.359.375.538.913
19Robert AndinoBatting 2nd201120129352.241.371.310.682
20Chris ParmeleeBatting 2nd201520157254.292.320.542.862
21Jace PetersonBatting 2nd201820185231.
22Trey ManciniBatting 2nd201720185171.
23Craig GentryBatting 2nd201720185173.214.353.357.710
24Xavier AveryBatting 2nd201220124141.231.286.538.824
25Michael BournBatting 2nd201620163132.300.417.9001.317
Rk I Player Split From To G PA R BA OBP SLG OPS
26Ryan FlahertyBatting 2nd2012201713110.
27Endy ChavezBatting 2nd201220125112.182.182.545.727
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/3/2018.

But then you see someone like J.J. Hardy batting second so many times when he really only had one pretty good offensive season in Baltimore. Showalter's lineups, in which he routinely puts emphasis on platoon splits, individual pitcher/batter match-ups, and player performance in certain ballparks (see: Ryan Flaherty in Boston), can be a mixed bag. Things look great when they work out, but a lot of the time, they don't.

To start the season, Showalter tried using Chris Davis as the leadoff hitter. There was some sense behind it, though it did seem like more of a motivational tactic than anything. It didn't work. But Showalter did slot Machado and Schoop after Davis. You can argue about whether Schoop should bat third or fourth, but Showalter did seem committed to putting those guys at the top and getting them to the plate more. The lineup looked better after Mancini replaced Davis at the top.

Then Schoop got hurt. Without Schoop's name in the lineup every day, Showalter went to a new strategy: keep Mancini at leadoff, drop Machado to third, and use a platoon of Pedro Alvarez (vs. RHP) and Craig Gentry (vs. LHP) in the second spot. I'm still not sure why Machado is no longer batting second, but at least using Alvarez (career wRC+ of 118 vs. RHP) in the top third of the lineup makes sense. He's also hitting extremely well right now, with a wRC+ of 141 in 75 plate appearances.

But Gentry? He is fast, but he only has a career wRC+ of 95 against southpaws. To make matters worse, the Orioles recently added utility player Jace Peterson, who has taken over for Alvarez in the second spot against right-handers. He has a career wRC+ of 85 against right-handed pitching, but again, he's fast.

The Orioles' problem, besides not having Schoop in the lineup every day, is that they simply don't have enough good hitters. With Mancini's recent slump, Machado and Alvarez are really the only two players who are mashing. Davis and Adam Jones have been bad at the plate, and Mark Trumbo only just returned (and is a wild card anyway). But even though Gentry and Peterson bring a speed element and are good baserunners, they shouldn't be batting in the top third of a major league lineup. (At the moment, Gentry has a wRC+ of 24!)

Maybe it seems unnecessary to sweat the small stuff when there are so many major issues. Maybe we didn't realize how good we had it until now.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Gentry can't hit his way out of a wet paper bag, needs to be one of the first to go on this hopefully busy off day.