We all look forward to spring training. We wait through endless NFL Sundays for the cries of pitchers and catchers. The sun, the palm trees, all that good stuff, especially if you’re fortunate enough to plan a trip south to the sunny locales.
Then, after a few weeks of “meaningless games” and low A prospects battling for wins and losses, interest wanes. Pitchers surely need this time to gear up for the season and no one should begrudge them this time, but man oh man would the season start already?
Obviously I’m not the only one feeling the drag. It is about this time of March when all the machinations over who hits where once the real games start begin in earnest. New managers tip toe around existing egos and organizational philosophies, armchair pundits (and bloggers too!) cite lineup maximization studies to suit their local nine’s lineup to their liking. For something that ultimately only makes a few runs difference over the span of a season, it sure gets a lot of ink.
The Yankees have experimented with Derek Jeter’s spot in the batting order for years. Is he a leadoff man or better suited to the 2-hole? Is he done? How did he get so dreamy? Does he really need to jump so much when he throws? I mean honestly, what’s up with that?
Much like the Yankees flip-flopped Jeter and Johnny Damon during their championship run of 2009, the Yanks figure to slot Brett Gardner into the top spot with Jeter hitting second more often than not. This is the best compromise possible as Gardner’s speed and patience make him an ideal leadoff man while Jeter’s bat control and fame make him an ideal choice to hit and run or simply stand around while Gardner swipes bags.
Meanwhile the Pirates have batting order decisions of their own to make. All-world centerfield Andrew McCutchen served as the team’s leadoff hitter for all of 2010 but the team is considering him for the number three spot with Pedro Alverez hitting cleanup. While Colin Dunlop of the Pittsburgh Gazette worries about Cutch’s running game negatively impacting Alvarez as the cleanup guy, I simply worry hitting McCutchen third is a waste of all his talents.
New-school lineup orthodoxy suggests slotting your best hitters in the 1, 2, and 4 spots. Especially on a team like the Pirates (read: a bad one) without a true on base threat, Andrew McCutchen in the number three spot just means he comes to the plate with 2 outs the vast, vast majority of his plate appearances. That isn’t a great way to score runs in my humble opinion.
If getting more run production and/or RBI out of McCutchen is the goal, perhaps hitting him second is the best alternative. Alvarez can continue hitting clean-up or perhaps recent veteran acquisition Lyle Overbay benefit from the clean-up spot. Alverez isn’t your prototypical patient slugger but did draw more than his share of walks in 2010. As the team’s only real power threat, he can either create instant offense from the three spot or keep innings alive for Lyle’s underrated pop.
Most lineup conversations are built around hypothetical situations at best and witchcraft at worst. The Pirates are an exciting young team but moving their best player from first to second or third in the order isn’t going to have a great impact on the success of their season. These fun debates sure beat counting the minutes until Opening Day, that much is for sure.