MLB: Picking the Most Prototypical Hitters at Each Lineup Position
Anyone who has ever coached or managed a baseball team, at any level, knows the importance of a solid, well balanced lineup.
Every manager dreams of having that huge power hitter in the clean-up slot, that speedy catalyst at top of the order, and that ninth place hitter who can lay down the perfect sacrifice bunt, all in the same lineup.
A balanced lineup where every hitter knows their role in the offense is a major part of being a great team. Would it be nice to have nine guys who can hit 40 home runs? Sure it would, but that's just unrealistic.
Having a quality player in every spot in the order, who execute exactly what the team needs when asked of him, is a great way to make every out tough for the opposing team. As any manager can tell you, one of the most frustrating things an offense can do is "give away" at-bats.
So what would be the most balanced lineup made up of today's players? Who would be the most prototypical player to man each spot in the order, regardless of where they play in the field?
Remember, this is not a ranking of the best players in baseball, this is a lineup consisting of the best type of hitter at each given spot in the order.
So what would your lineup look like? Let the debate begin.
Batting Lead-Off: Jose Reyes, Miami Marlins
A typical lead-off hitter should be a hitter with a good eye, can make contact and get on base. Having some gap-to-gap power and some speed is nice, too. Perhaps no player in baseball represents the prototypical lead-off man better than Miami Marlins shortstop, Jose Reyes.
Reyes can certainly hit, as evidenced by his league leading .337 batting average last season, and his 54 extra-base hits in 2011. He has speed, as shown by his 99 career triples and 370 career stolen bases. He also scores runs, scoring 90 or more five times in his career, including 101 for a dreadful Mets offense in 2011.
Reyes doesn't walk as much as some lead-off men, but his on-base percentage, arguably the most important statistic for a lead-off hitter, has been above .350 five times in his career, including a career best .384 in 2011.
Batting Second: Derek Jeter, New York Yankees
Typically, the second hitter in the lineup should be a player who is a left-handed hitter, or a right-hander who tends to go to the opposite field, makes contact, rarely strikes out, and is a capable bunter. While he does have to be fast, and certainly not as speedy as the guy hitting in front of him, above average speed is a plus.
Maybe the best No. 2 hitter I've ever seen, is No. 2 himself, Yankees shortstop, Derek Jeter.
For much of the Yankees run from 1996-2003, when they won four championships in six tries, Jeter batted second, and for good reason.
Jeter's inside-out swing and pop to the opposite field is the perfect fit for the No. 2 slot. While he does strike out a bit more than some other No. 2 hitters, he is constantly working the count, and makes contact. He's given the Yankees seven 200 hit seasons, finished in the top 10 in batting average 10 times, and scored 100-plus runs 13 times.
Jeter is also a quality bunter, and still has some speed, even at this late stage of his career.
Batting Third: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
The third hitter in the lineup should be the best hitter on the team. He should score runs, hit for a high average, hit for power, and be able to drive in runs. It's arguably the most important spot in the batting order.
Miguel Cabrera can do all of that with a bat in his hands, and as of 2011, he is arguably the best pure hitter in baseball.
Over the last three seasons, Cabrera has been a statistical monster. In that time span he's batted at least .324, with 96 runs scored, 30 home runs, 103 RBI and a .942 OPS. He's led the league at some point in his career in each of the triple crown categories (home runs in 2008, RBI in 2010, and batting average in 2011).
Albert Pujols is by far the best player of his generation, but offensively, Cabrera is about as close as anyone. And when you factor in age, it's easy to see that Miguel Cabrera is the best all-around hitter in baseball, thus making him the prototypical No. 3 hitter.
Batting Clean-Up: Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies
Our fourth hitter is typically a big bopper who pitchers fear. He won't be the complete hitter the third batter is, but he's got power and the potential to change a game with one swing. He's a long ball threat and an RBI machine.
His injury aside, Ryan Howard is a beast. He's a big powerful hitter, with a knack for driving in runs. During a span of four seasons from 2006-2009 the Philly first baseman averaged 49 home runs and 143 RBI, and since winning the Rookie of the Year award in 2005, Howard has never hit less than 31 home runs, or driven in fewer than 108 RBI.
Sure there are other big, strong, home run hitters such as Adam Dunn, Prince Fielder and Giancarlo Stanton, but none of those guys are the run producer or clutch hitter that Howard is, not to mention that none of those guys has been an MVP or a World Champion, either.
A clean-up hitter is not built on home runs alone, and for my money, the prototypical fourth batter is Ryan Howard.
Batting Fifth: Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins
The fifth hitter, who along with the third batter and clean-up hitter, completes the "heart of the line-up." He's much like the clean-up hitter, a power threat who can drive in runs, but usually slightly less of a hitter than the clean-up man.
That role sounds like it fits the Miami Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton perfectly.
Stanton is not a great hitter—well at least not yet. He's young and inexperienced, has a relatively low batting average, and strikes out a lot (289 over his first two seasons), but he's big and powerful and can turn a pitchers mistake into a couple of runs with one swing of the bat.
He's still improving, and may even develop into the prototypical clean-up guy as soon as this year, but for now, he'd probably be the best five hitter in baseball.
Batting Sixth: BJ Upton, Tampa Bay Rays
There are varying opinions on what the perfect No 6 hitter should be. Some feel this hitter should be another big power hitter, almost an extension of the No. 5 hitter, and some feel this batter should almost be a second lead-off man, almost splitting the line-up in two.
We'll go with a combination here.
Our prototypical No. 6 hitter should be a guy with speed, who may strikeout more and not get on base as much as our lead-off man, but has some pop, albeit, nowhere near the type of power possessed by the No. 4 and 5 guys.
Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton fits that mold perfectly. He's got blazing speed (36 or more stolen bases in each of the last four years) and power (54 extra-base hits in 2011). He also strikes out way too much to bat lead-off, has hit less than .250 in each of the last three seasons, and has never hit enough home runs to bat fourth or fifth (career high is 24 home runs).
Batting sixth in the order, however, Upton is a huge threat with both his bat and his legs. He'll offer decent enough protection for the big boppers, and has the speed to be a threat leading off an inning.
Batting Seventh/Eighth: Alex Gonzalez, Milwaukee Brewers
The seventh and eighth holes in the lineup are practically interchangeable, and is usually meant for the weaker hitters who are basically starters for their glove rather than their bats.
Still they have to hit, and they are usually contact hitters who can lay down a bunt in a sacrifice situation. Position wise, this is usually the spot in the order for light hitting infielders or defensive-minded catchers.
Shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who is not a great hitter, but a valuable asset in the field, fits this mold perfectly.
Is he Albert Pujols at the plate? Absolutely not, but he's not an automatic out either. He's a contact hitter who's the perfect small ball player, while having surprising pop (he's hit more than 10 home runs in a season six times, including 15 long balls in 2011).
He's perfectly situated at either the seventh or eighth spots in the order.
Batting Ninth: Micah Owings, San Diego Padres
In American League lineups the ninth place hitter is almost identical to the seventh and eighth place hitters, so we'll go National League rules here, where a good hitting pitcher in the ninth hole can make a huge difference in a game.
Arguably the best hitting pitcher in baseball is Micah Owings, making him a great choice for a prototypical ninth place hitter.
In 203 career at-bats for the Cincinnati Reds and Arizona Diamondbacks, Owings has batted a very impressive .286, with nine home runs, 14 doubles, 35 RBI and 27 runs scored. Those are pretty solid numbers for a middle infielder, let alone a pitcher.
When Owings is on the mound and in the lineup, he makes no spot in the order—not even the pitcher's—a weak one.