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In which I still don’t get Jim Tracy

Apr 7, 2012, 7:20 PM EDT

Jim Tracy AP

Earlier today I complimented Kirk Gibson on how he’s worked the No. 2 spot in the order in these first two games, using Chris Young against the righty Tim Lincecum on Friday and Aaron Hill versus the lefty Madison Bumgarner today.

Rockies manager Jim Tracy, on the other hand, isn’t really looking for his No. 2 hitters to hit three homers in two games. Or really hit at all. The Rockies’ plan going into the spring was to open the season with Dexter Fowler leading off and Marco Scutaro hitting second. However, Fowler was so terribly lost at the plate this spring (.149 average, 17/3 K/BBin 67 AB) that the decision was made to switch the two. Because, I guess, the leadoff spot is so very much more important than the two hole?

This isn’t just a Rockies thing either. NL No. 2 hitters hit .256/.313/.369 last year. No. 8 hitters — already typically the worst hitter in most lineups and at the added disadvantage of hitting in front of the pitcher — were barely worse at .246/.315/.359. Every other spot in the lineup, except the pitcher’s, was better. Only the Phillies, with Placido Polanco and Shane Victorino manning the spot, got a .750 OPS from their No. 2 hitters last year. The Braves got a .747 OPS from their No. 8 hitters and a .644 OPS from their No. 2 hitters. The Nationals and Diamondbacks (hopefully Gibson is figuring this out) also got much better results from the eighth spot than the two hole.

And all of this has never made sense to me. The No. 2 hitter is probably more important in the act of scoring runs than the leadoff man is, since he gets to hit with more guys on base. He may be more important than the No. 3 hitter, too, since he doesn’t come up with two outs and none on nearly as often as a No. 3 hitter does. Lineup simulations will often suggest batting a team’s best hitter second, and while that may be controversial, it’s still just common sense that you’d want one of your better hitters up there so close to the top of the lineup.

Which Fowler might be. But the Rockies have him hitting second because and only because he’s struggling right now. If they thought he was going to hit like he did last year, he’d be leading off instead. Batting him second while he’s racking up outs like this will cost the team runs and maybe a win or two down the line. It’d make a lot more sense to hit him seventh or eighth instead and maybe get Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki up with some men on base.

  1. vanmorrissey - Apr 7, 2012 at 7:31 PM

    Tracy is still lucky to have his job after two underperforming years.

  2. paperlions - Apr 7, 2012 at 8:19 PM

    One of the early signs that makes me hopeful that Matheny “gets it” is batting Beltran second. He also stated that he is open minded, will take any information he can get, and will make changes if the information suggests that he should.

    • Kevin S. - Apr 8, 2012 at 8:30 AM

      Yup, early returns look good. Cards fans should be happy with the Moz/Matheny duo.

  3. phillyphever - Apr 7, 2012 at 8:35 PM

    I got a feeling Tracy and Fowler will be looking for new jobs before June starts.

    • Gonzo - Apr 7, 2012 at 8:44 PM

      Fowler isn’t going anywhere. What’s your theory?

      • phillyphever - Apr 7, 2012 at 9:14 PM

        How much more can Colorado take having a dead bat in the top of the lineup?

      • Gonzo - Apr 8, 2012 at 11:12 PM

        Fowler has a career .260 avg and .355 OBP. Plus he averages 33 doubles and 15 triples a year. That’s not chopped liver. I think you’re wrong.

    • yahmule - Apr 8, 2012 at 1:42 AM

      Fowler generally starts hitting sometime around June, but it takes a demotion first.

  4. elliotlc - Apr 7, 2012 at 9:18 PM

    It would be a lot better to not have fowler on the team he needs to be gone and colvin needs to play every day trade the man or put him back in AAA so he can actually do something

  5. churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Apr 7, 2012 at 9:46 PM

    And all of this has never made sense to me. The No. 2 hitter is probably more important in the act of scoring runs than the leadoff man is, since he gets to hit with more guys on base. He may be more important than the No. 3 hitter, too, since he doesn’t come up with two outs and none on nearly as often as a No. 3 hitter does.

    This is exactly what Tom Tango and MGL discussed regarding batting order. Far too often the #3 hitter comes up to bat with 2 outs and no one on. So the idea place to put your best hitters is #1, #2, and #4.

    • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Apr 7, 2012 at 11:38 PM

      I have heard this logic before, and it always makes me think this: if the reason you want your best hitter going #4 instead of #3 is because #3 comes to bat with the bases empty so frequently, doesn’t that just mean you need #1 and #2 hitters who can get on base more often? This would seem to support Matthews argument on this.

      If you have a couple of guys with .360+ OBPs in the #1 and #2 spots, you would WANT your best hitter behind them. Plus, the #3 guy gets something like 10-20 extra AB’s per season. Don’t you want your best hitter hitting more often?

      • Kevin S. - Apr 8, 2012 at 8:39 AM

        Even with two. 360 OBP guys in the top two spots (something few teams have the luxury of), the three hitter comes up with bases empty, two out at least forty percent of the time in the first inning (a low-leverage spot for your best hitter). On the other hand, the fourth hitter cannot come up in that situation unless a run has already scored – he either has a man on base or leads off the second inning, both much more highly-leveraged situations. After that there’s a lot more variance in what situations lineup spots face, but it is a fact that the third spot faces the most none-on, two-out situations.

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Apr 10, 2012 at 12:52 PM

        I get the logic of that, I really do. But it seems like that is a lot of emphasis on the first of four or five ABs of the game. The situation described only applies to the first inning. In the second time through the lineup, all of the ‘likely’ scenarios above are off.

        Most lineup optimizers agree that the best and worst lineups probably mean less than a win per season for any team. If that is the case, I would still prefer to give my best hitter the few extra PA’s the #3 spot provides over the #4 spot. And let’s face it, a successful #3 guy means more PAs for the cleanup hitter anyway.

  6. Walk - Apr 8, 2012 at 4:29 AM

    I am just an armchair manager but i like no2 hitters that work the count. I like them to make the pitcher tip his hand early so guys behind him get to see what a pitcher is offering that day. While i would like the number 2 hitter to be a threat i would not like him to be such a threat i would not consider sacrificing a runner over to set up the three and four slots in the order. So for me the deuce handles the bat for hit and runs, not too important that i would not consider sacrificing, fast enough that he is not clogging up the bases. The al teams do not sacrifice much so you can remove that criteria for that league if you wish. In nl style ball though i think managers make a serious mistake when the no2 guy is someone you would not even consider letting make a sac bunt. Let them work the count, draw their walks if they can, sacrifice runners over, or get on themselves and score, thats a number 2 hitters job in the nl. If you want them to hit hrs they may be better suited to 3-6 in the order.

    • lostsok - Apr 8, 2012 at 6:30 AM

      Nice post and dead on.

    • Kevin S. - Apr 8, 2012 at 8:46 AM

      Clogging the bases… yeah, please explain how having more runners is a bad thing. If a speedster can’t steal second because a slow guy is already there, you’re in a better situation already than you would be even if he was successful (1st and 2nd, 0 out >> 2nd, 1 out). And on a batted ball, Adam Dunn with a lead off first MIGHT not score fast enough on a gapper to allow Brett Gardner to have an inside-the-park home run, but that’s about the only situation where a slow runner 90+ feet ahead of a fast runner impedes the fast runner.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Apr 8, 2012 at 9:32 AM

        Interesting experiment to think about. What combination of runners in baseball would allow a guy 90′ behind to catch up/pass the runner in front? Dunn/Gardner? Molina/Ellsbury? Posada/Reyes?

      • Walk - Apr 8, 2012 at 10:01 AM

        I will try explain clogging a bit better. Slow player on second base, say its your catcher, fast runner at first, bourne or gardner type. Single to right a normal speed runner scores and your guy on first moves to third. But with slow runner in front you move station to station, yes bases are loaded but you just lost two bases because the base paths were clogged by the slower runner.

      • Kevin S. - Apr 8, 2012 at 11:16 AM

        Except that isn’t true at all. It just means the fast guy on first gets to third base, and you still have one less guy on base and one more out. It’s never better for a batter to make an out rather than reach base simply because he’s slow.

  7. Walk - Apr 8, 2012 at 7:46 PM

    How is there one less guy on base? Are you advocating batting the pitcher second? I am not. Not everyone has what i would consider a perfect no 2 hitter. But to reiterate Take pitches, high on base, can bunt, not too good a player that would not bunt, and enough speed they might score from first on double or second on a single. The type of runner that can pressure a pitcher and cause stressful pitches early in the game is best. Think more martin prado as a number two type and not a dan uggla type. More controversially i like chipper at second spot in order better than i like jason heyward, not that i like either for that spot but if i had to choose from thoise two that is who i would go with. I have enjoyed yours posts kevin, this would be a great conversation if we ever have a get togther of the hbt commenters. I agree that the number two hitter should not be an easy out and yes i want my best hitters hitting more, i just want them hitting more often with runners either on or in scoring position.

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