The St. Louis Cardinals were put into an unfortunate spot by the departure of Albert Pujols. They are not quite in a position to bring up a first baseman from the minors. Matt Adams is probably a year or two away. The Cards wisely signed their insurance policy, Lance Berkman, to a one-year deal knowing there was a chance that Pujols would sign elsewhere. Pujols’ departure obviously left a gap in the lineup. Cardinals’ general manager John Mozeliak promptly put the money to use by signing Carlos Beltran to a two-year deal. The signing was met with delight from many Redbirds fans, and while I have my reservations about his durability, there is no doubt that Beltran has the potential to be a good replacement for Pujols’ bat in the lineup. But, I continually see people penciling Beltran’s name into the number two spot in the lineup. I believe this is a mistake.
I’m not going to try and determine Mike Matheny‘s lineup. That’s going to be an ever changing responsibility for Matheny for a few reasons; first Allen Craig‘s injury, then Craig’s lack of a concrete position on the field when he returns and the carousel I expect at second base. The notion of Beltran batting second in the lineup is puzzling to me. This is not to say he wouldn’t be productive in the role, but he would be much more effective in the third or fifth spot in the lineup.
In my estimation, the player who holds the second spot in a batting order must have several traits. First, he must possess the ability to move runners over assuming the leadoff man is getting on. The number two hitter cannot bounce into double plays or strike out often. Next, the second hitter needs to be able to get on if the leadoff man has failed to do so. He should have above average speed and know how to use it. It is not a necessity the player can steal bases, though it is certainly beneficial if the leadoff man failed to get on base. It is important that this player be able to score from second on most balls hit to the outfield and from first on anything hit to the wall.
Beltran satisfies the first couple requirements which relate to getting on base and advancing runners. He is a more or less a patient hitter with a very good OBP (career .361), who can draw walks and handles the bat well enough to move runners over. He advanced runners from first 23% of the time in 52 chances. Beltran, despite the knee issues, only grounded into double plays 13% of the time in 144 chances in 2011. He struck out in 14.7% of his plate appearances in 2011, which is not obscene but often enough.
The knee surgeries have completely diminished Beltran’s running game and we can completely forget about stolen bases now. He had 4 stolen bases in 6 attempts in 2011. Last season, when Beltran was on 2nd base and a single was hit, he scored only 53% of the time. In his last full season, 2008, he scored second to home on a single 65% of the time. While the legs have impeded his abilities on the base paths, they have not had an affect on Beltran’s bat.
If Beltran was to be slotted in the number two hole, he’d be moderately successful. But here is the issue; in 2011, Beltran came to the plate with runners on 389 times and 67 of them scored for a 17% success rate. Yes, this has to do with the position in the lineup he hit which was predominately third or fourth. My point lies in the fact that this is an above average success rate for a batter in the middle of the lineup. The Cardinals middle of the lineup in 2011 registered the following numbers in the category; Pujols – 16%, Matt Holliday – 19% and Berkman – 18%.
Players who are still putting up slugging percentage numbers in the .500+ area do not belong in the number 2 spot in the order. They belong slotted either 3, 4 or 5. Beltran’s SLG in 2011 was .525. He is no longer a 30 homer threat (more because he won’t play in enough games to reach 30), but he still possesses gap power (39 doubles in 2011). In my mind, he would be wasted in the second spot in the order. So, where in the lineup does Beltran fit best?
Of the three options, I do not see Beltran as the clean-up hitter. He does not possess the same amount of power Holliday or Berkman do. In my opinion, Holliday is a better all-around hitter than Beltran. The biggest caveat is separating Beltran and Berkman in the lineup against right-handed pitchers as both men are switch hitters. Despite the fact that teams typically put their best hitter in the third hole, manager Mike Matheny would be wise to place Holliday in the clean-up spot against right-handed pitching. Maybe Holliday hits fourth the entire season? I don’t think that there is one set in stone way to write up the middle of this lineup card. Matheny could flip flop Beltran and Berkman in the three and five spots based on batter/pitcher splits or depending on who is producing best at the time.
The Cardinals will have plenty of time to work through the lineup variations during spring training. I won’t be shocked if they try out Beltran in the second spot in games which don’t count. What I expect them to see is a player best suited to hit third or fifth because he still wields a strong bat, built to drive in runs not advance runners. Check back tomorrow for a breakdown of players who should vie for the second spot in the order.