This is all just food for thought. It would appear that some teams are placing their “best” hitter in the second spot now instead of third. Cases in point: Joey Votto now bats second behind speedster Billy Hamilton for the Reds. Anthony Rizzo batted third last year for the Cubs but this year Joe Maddon has started the slugger in the 2-hole.
In days of yore not much attention was placed on the lineup, per se. Oh yeah, the fourth batter was supposed to be the “clean-up” hitter, in the hopes of coming to bat in the first inning with the bases full. The eighth batter was the manager’s idea of the worst hitter of the lot. The leadoff hitter was a man who was generally the fastest on the squad. That was the extent of it, at least from a fan’s point of view.
Sabermetrics came onto the scene and things started to crystallize. Some began to think that OBP (on base percentage) was as, if not more, important as the batting average. The thinking there is that what difference does it make if you get a hit, draw a walk, or take one on the hip for the team. Either way you get to first base safely. That particular metric is one that I really like. I mean, would you rather have a man with a BA of .275 and an OBP of .300, or a man batting .260 with an OBP of .415 batting second in your lineup? Good food so far?
Dusty Baker use to catch a bunch of lip for having Brandon Phillips bat high in the order. His OBP was only .310 in 2014 but batted in the first four spots exclusively that year. Phillips won’t walk! The most base on balls he has accrued in any season is 46, and that is with 687 trips to the plate. That is a 6.7% clip. His career SO/W ratio is 2.5, while the average for MLB during that time is 2.15. This article isn’t about Phillips so obviously I have digressed.
Ted Williams was OBP personified, not that anyone knew what it meant at the time. They just saw him on base every other time he came up to the plate. That statement is nearly literally correct. In fact his career OBP of .482 is the best anyone who ever played has amassed. That accounts for the reason you do not see any 200 hit seasons, or seasons which he had the most hits on his resume. He took the old axiom, “a walk is as good as a hit” to heart. He did lead the league in base on balls eight times. Where did Teddy Ballgame bat in the lineup? Mostly in the three-hole.
Managers will continue to fill out the lineup card as they wish, and writers will continue to criticize them. That is the nature of the beast. Just remember the mantra, “get ‘em on, get ‘em over, and get ‘em in.” Many things play into account when figuring batting orders. There is speed, base running (some speedsters are terrible base runners), power, clutch hitting and more. So just because a player batting second has an OBP of .410, but can barely run from first to second, doesn’t mean he is the right man for the spot.