Cardinals: Second, not leadoff, should be Dylan Carlson’s home

JUPITER, FL - FEBRUARY 25: Dylan Carlson #68 of the St Louis Cardinals bats during a Grapefruit League spring training game against the Washington Nationals at Roger Dean Stadium on February 25, 2020 in Jupiter, Florida. The Nationals defeated the Cardinals 9-6. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
JUPITER, FL - FEBRUARY 25: Dylan Carlson #68 of the St Louis Cardinals bats during a Grapefruit League spring training game against the Washington Nationals at Roger Dean Stadium on February 25, 2020 in Jupiter, Florida. The Nationals defeated the Cardinals 9-6. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

The St. Louis Cardinals have their leadoff man, and it is not and should not be Dylan Carlson, the team’s best two-hole option.

The internet is buzzing about the St. Louis Cardinals with the full squad now in spring training. One of the hottest topics of conversation surrounds the lineup. My dear colleague and friend Matt Graves wrote Sunday that Dylan Carlson should bat leadoff. That idea was also debated by Viva El Birdos.

Respectfully, however, my colleague and VEB site both have it wrong. The best place for Dylan Carlson to thrive for the St. Louis Cardinals is in the number two spot in the lineup. Yes, you read that correctly, a good old-fashioned rebuttal opinion is on the way. In this article, I will systematically justify Carlson in the two-hole.

While my colleague makes a compelling case for Carlson at leadoff, citing Carlson’s .340+ OBP across the minor leagues and his strong finish to the 2020 season, he ultimately concedes that leadoff is not the best spot for Carlson – at least not at the start of the year. Mr. Graves, leadoff should not be Carlson’s spot at the beginning, middle, or end of the year.

Related Story. Carlson belongs at leadoff. light

Indeed, Carlson belongs in the two-hole. He belongs there for three compelling reasons: first, there is a better leadoff hitter option, second, batting in the two-hole better balances the lineup, and third, he is most likely to succeed batting second.

Tommy Edman is the better option at lead-off

As to the first point, my colleague Mr. Graves concedes and agrees with me that the best leadoff option (assuming Matt Carpenter is not starting and does not return to form) is Tommy Edman. Edman has a career OBP of .337 and a high OBP of .350 in his excellent 2019.

St. Louis Cardinals
JUPITER, FL – MARCH 07: Tommy Edman #19 of the St. Louis Cardinals in action against the Houston Astros during a spring training baseball game at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium on March 7, 2020 in Jupiter, Florida. The Cardinals defeated the Astros 5-1. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

Edman also has some power production with a career .449 slugging percentage and a career .786 OPS. Combine those stats with his speed, his ability to make consistent contact (only 109 career strikeouts), and his handedness and you have yourself a new-age leadoff hitter.

The combination of speed, power, and on-base ability makes Edman the clear choice to start the season at leadoff. In fact, that will allow Carlson to see the pitcher approach another batter before he steps into the box from the second spot – further increasing his exposure to MLB pitching from various vantage points.

Carlson batting second better balances the lineup

Speaking of Edman’s handedness, his switch-hitting approach better balances the lineup and is the second reason he should hit leadoff with Carlson in the second position. With Edman batting leadoff he creates a matchup nightmare for opposing managers.

If the opposing manager wants to put lefty on lefty against Carlson (also a switch-hitter but better power from the left side) batting second, then that manager will have to face Edman from the right side and then face Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado batting third and fourth respectively.

Instead of going through that murderer’s row, an opposing manager is more likely to keep a right-handed hitter in the game, thus allowing us to continually view that sweet left-handed power stroke of the young stud, Carlson.

The St. Louis Cardinals best setup Carlson for success by batting him second

Finally, the most important reason for Carlson to hit second is that is what’s best for Carlson. There is no doubt that Carlson crushes the fastball. Carlson saw fastballs approximately 41% of the time in 2020. Batting in front of Goldy and Arenado should increase that fastball percentage. More importantly, batting second should result in Carlson seeing more fastballs in the zone. That matters because, like most hitters, Carlson does a lot of damage on fastballs in the zone.

Putting Carlson in front of Goldschmidt and Arenado makes it much more likely that we see the September 2020 Carlson rather than the August 2020 Carlson. Notably, Carlson’s surge in September 2020 was fueled by a nine percent increase in the percentage of fastballs he saw, from 38% to 47%. Seeing more fastballs helped his timing and increased his production on off-speed and breaking pitches as well.

St. Louis Cardinals
Paul Goldschmidt (46) talks with Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado (28) during the first inning of a game during an MLB Players’ Weekend game at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /

From a non-statistical perspective, however, teams would much rather face Carlson than Goldschmidt or Arenado with runners on base. Any reasonable manager would take their chances by challenging the rookie in the zone instead of giving up a two- or three-run homer to Goldy or Arenado.

Notably, you also receive the benefit of your one and two hitters having an on-base percentage of around .350 before you get to your big sluggers. Stacking that on-base percentage before your primary sluggers is a recipe for success – for both Carlson and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Nolan Arenado is fitting in well so far. dark. Next

Reasonable minds can always disagree when it comes to lineup construction and we have at least two viable viewpoints available for your consumption. I posit that Dylan Carlson batting second is best for him, and best for the St. Louis Cardinals. The pulse of Cardinal Nation is all over this lineup discussion and we are here for the lively debate!