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Batting by Numbers
Tom Verducci
April 04, 2005
Like big-city neighborhoods, each batting-order spot has its own flavor, and some areas are higher-rent than others. Here's a Fodor's guide to the regions of a lineup card.
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April 04, 2005

Batting By Numbers

Like big-city neighborhoods, each batting-order spot has its own flavor, and some areas are higher-rent than others. Here's a Fodor's guide to the regions of a lineup card.

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1 Rickey Henderson is the greatest leadoff hitter ever, because he augmented the spot's prime responsibility--getting on base (he had a lifetime .401 OBP)--with the power to drive in runs himself, the patience to wear down pitchers and the speed to disrupt defenses. Rare are the players, however, with that set of skills.

Therefore managers must make compromises in selecting a leadoff man, though they should never compromise on-base percentage, because the number 1 hitter gets the most plate appearances over a season and must create RBI chances for the sluggers behind him. An OBP worse than .342--the 2004 average for the leadoff spot--is unacceptable.

Managers typically compromise power in the leadoff spot, though speed is less relevant in today's game because the proliferation of runs and home runs has diminished the value of a stolen base.

2 "Bat control" is the operative phrase here, a vestige of the days when teams played for one run. Whenever the leadoff hitter reached, the number 2 hitter would often bunt him to second or punch the ball to rightfield to move him to third. In the League Championship Series last year, however, the number 2 hitters included sluggers Larry Walker of the Cardinals, Carlos Beltran of the Astros and Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees. "What I'm looking for in my number 1 and 2 hitters are guys who can get on base," Astros manager Phil Garner says. "I'm looking for guys at least in the .350 to .360 range for on-base percentage."

No team had its number 2 hitters reach base less often last year than the Twins (.291 OBP). Manager Ron Gardenhire gave the slap-hitting Cristian Guzman 193 at bats there (and 133 in the leadoff spot) because of his apparent bat-control profile, but Guzman's career OBP of .303 is downright awful for someone batting so high in the order.

3 Tradition holds that the best hitter bats third, even though last year fourth-place hitters had a higher average OPS (.853) than third-place hitters (.839).

"Many guys in the big leagues come up through the minors and even before that hitting third," Cubs manager Dusty Baker says. "But only one guy can hit there. If you want to move your way up a lineup, you have to bang your way there. When Barry [Bonds] joined [the Giants] in 1993, I already had Will Clark there, so Barry hit [fifth, behind Matt Williams]. You don't mess with a veteran who's earned that spot."

4 Other than leadoff, this is the only spot with its own nickname: cleanup. Lou Gehrig was the prototypical and most famous cleanup hitter, not only because of his uniform number, 4, but also because he cleaned the bases a record 23 times with grand slams.

"You want a guy who'll hit 25 home runs or better," Garner says. "On-base percentage is not as critical. Generally, you get on base to get into scoring position. But the 4 hitter should be in scoring position every time he comes to bat."

5 This is where lineups really begin to become malleable. The fifth hole is typically packed with power hitters, even though sabermetrician Bill James's preference for line-drive hitters makes sense if for no other reason than this: Only cleanup hitters saw more runners in scoring position last year.

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