Yesterday, I explained why I thought it would be a mistake to hit Carlos Beltran second in the St. Louis Cardinals lineup. Today, I’ll sort through the various players who have a chance to vie for the role and explain why I would select Jon Jay.
To begin, these are the traits I feel are important for the second hitter in the lineup to have:
- High OBP
- Few strike outs
- Cannot bounce into double plays
- The ability to move runners over and make productive outs
- Ability to steal bases is a plus and beneficial if the leadoff man fails to get on base
- Takes the extra base when available
The following chart compiles statistics relevant to the above mentioned traits. Basically, we are looking for a player who gets on base at a high rate, can advance runners, and possesses above average base running skills. The information will not surprise many, though one player can be seen as a wild card in this, which will be explained later.
This is a lot of data to sort through so I’ll start by identifying some of the not so familiar stats and clarify some others. First, these are career totals. K% and BB% are based on plate appearances (PA). SAC is for successful sac bunts only and does not included sac flies. PrdOut is productive out, meaning a runner advanced on a batted out made by the player. Advances is percentage of occurrences where the batter advanced a runner at least one base. XBT is percentage of chances the player took an extra base, meaning the player advanced more than one base on a single or more than two bases on a double. PA #2 is the number of plate appearances the player has made in the number 2 spot in the lineup.
I’ll now make some inferences based on the data. I think we can throw Tyler Greene out immediately. I had him in the research for the sole purposes of his slight chances of being a starter. If he is fortunate enough to become a starter his only useful attribute as a number two hitter would be his ability to steal bases. His other numbers translate to a #8 hitter and that is where you can probably expect to see him when/if he plays.
By process of elimination, I would select Allen Craig to be the next player out of the mix. He strikes out too often and is not a great base runner. He does have a knack for advancing runners and making productive outs, but I would exclude him from the rest of the conversation for much of the same reason I suggested Beltran is better off not hitting second; his power. Craig’s isolated power (ISO) and slugging percentage is that of a middle of the lineup player. I’d rather have Craig in the 5th-7th spot in the lineup to pick up any slack from the 3rd through 6th hitters depending on his location. His abilities for turning in productive outs and advancing runners are well served in the middle of the lineup too. Advancing runners to home plate is the difference.
Next, I’ll review the players I feel should be given an extended look as the second hitter during spring training. I have to admit, I surprised by the position that Daniel Descalso is in. He is by far the best at avoiding grounding into double plays. He also leads the entire group in walk percentage and in taking an extra base when an option. Of the three viable players left, he is second in successful SAC% and tops in making productive outs.
Jay was the number two hitter for a majority of the 2011 season. Of his career plate appearances, 62.5% of them have come while hitting second in the order. He is tops of the entire group in OBP and successful sac bunt percentage. He grounds in double plays at the same rate as the MLB average for the two years he has played. He is good at advancing runners, second to Craig. He shows an ability to take the extra base when available.
Lastly, we have Skip Schumaker. Schumaker is supposedly set to be the super-utility man for the Cardinals. He has not hit in the second spot too often, but he’s been the leadoff hitter in over 61% of his total plate appearances. Most of the same attributes of the second hitter are desired from the leadoff hitter, minus the need to advance runners. So, Schumaker’s OBP of .346 is ideal and is partially generated from the lack of strikeouts and decent walk rate. He compares well with the others in advancing runners and making productive outs. However, he is not an above average base runner, suggested by his poor stolen base rate (63.3%) and his last place rank among the group in the extra bases taken category.
When the lineups are discussed, where I haven’t seen Beltran listed second, it is usually Jay’s name instead. This is with good reason based on what we just revealed. The experience of batting in the order is somewhat important too. It shouldn’t be a main factor but, it is certainly relevant. Jay is far and away the most experienced hitting in the slot.
Descalso interests me the most. If he becomes the everyday second baseman, most are placing him in the number eight spot and while this is suitable and helps the bottom of the lineup, I would keep a close eye on him. He may not be the number two hitter this season, but he could become one in the future if he progresses in other areas, namely OBP. This could come with more plate appearances.
Schumaker could be the immediate fill-in for Jay or Descalso (if Descalso nails down the job). Schumaker could just as easily win the second base job out of camp if Descalso and Greene fail to impress manager Mike Matheny.
Based on the research, I would go with Jay as the second hitter in the lineup no matter who wins the second base job. He has shown the ability to handle the spot at a young age (he’ll turn 27 in March) and I believe he will continue to improve. He may never be a base stealer, but if he can lower the K’s and churn out more productive outs he may never leave the number two spot. The fact that he would be returning to a familiar role in the lineup is a plus.
Feel free to leave comments and check out the poll on the home page to make your selection for the Cards #2 hitter in 2012.