Picking the MLB's Most Unorthodox Hitter at Each Spot in the Lineup
Let's try an exercise.
Find a piece of paper and something to write with—a pen, pencil, magic marker, crayon...whatever you've got.
Write the numbers one through nine down the paper.
You are going to construct a lineup using the following criteria: any player in Major League Baseball is eligible to be selected, regardless of position. If you want to pick seven catchers, go ahead. Also, this is under American League rules, so you have a DH spot to fill.
You think it will be easy to do, but it will take you a while.
So you can imagine how difficult it is for a major league manager who only has a limited number of options and needs to take position into account when filling out their lineup card for the day.
Because of their limited options, they sometimes have to slot batters into spots in the lineup that their skill set traditionally would not fill.
It makes for some odd lineup choices around the league.
Keeping the same criteria in mind, and using the projected lineups comprised by CBS Sports, here are managers' most unorthodox choices when filling out their lineup card.
1. Alex Gordon, LF, Kansas City Royals
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When I think of a leadoff hitter, names like Rickey Henderson, Vince Coleman, Tim Raines, Lou Brock and Pete Rose are the first that come to mind. Guys who possessed incredible speed and had a knack for getting on base, but aside from Henderson, they offered little in the way of power.
Their job was simple: Get on base and let the heart of the lineup bring you home.
When I think of leadoff hitters today, I think of players like Jose Reyes, Jacoby Ellsbury, Michael Bourn and Jimmy Rollins.
I do not think of Alex Gordon. Chances are, neither do you.
Entering 2011, many considered Gordon to be something of a bust, as he had hit .252 with a .328 OBP, .770 OPS and 29 stolen bases over the course of four years that saw him bounce around the Royals lineup, hitting as high as third and as low as eighth.
But Gordon had a rebirth last season atop the Royals lineup, hitting .305 with a .383 OBP, 15 HR, 56 RBI, 10 steals and .916 OPS over 370 at-bats.
Initially projected to be a force in the middle of the Royals lineup, Alex Gordon is reinventing himself as a power hitter with marginal speed who thrives as the table-setter of the Royals lineup.
2. Curtis Granderson, CF, New York Yankees
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He who finds himself batting second in the lineup, in the "two-hole," is typically a contact hitter who has one primary goal—move the leadoff hitter into scoring position, whether it be by a hit, walk, sacrifice fly or bunt.
Like the man who hit before him, this batter has some speed and perhaps more power, but all-in-all, the second batter in the lineup has many of the same characteristics that managers look for from the leadoff spot.
Curtis Granderson is no contact hitter. He has the power to hit in the middle of the order and the speed to bat leadoff, something he has spent the majority of his career doing and something that he's done fairly well, hitting .273 with a .345 OBP, 88 HR, 263 RBI, 56 SB and an OPS of .841 in over 2200 at-bats.
But since being slotted into the second spot in the lineup by New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi, Granderson has flourished. He hit second in 112 games in 2011, posting numbers of a .272 BA, .367 OBP, 31 HR, 92 RBI, 20 SB and an OPS of .927 over 438 at-bats.
Someone who should be hitting lower in the order to capitalize on his power hitting second?
Only in New York.
3. Cameron Maybin, CF, San Diego Padres
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The third spot in the lineup is traditionally reserved for a team's best all-around hitter, someone with a combination of contact and power that hits for a high average and drives in runners on base.
Cameron Maybin had his best season to date in 2011, hitting .263 with nine home runs, 40 RBI, 40 stolen bases and an OPS of .716—not exactly numbers that you'd expect from the third spot in the lineup.
Padres manager Bud Black doesn't exactly have much in the way of options—perhaps Yonder Alonso will replace Maybin in this spot as the season progresses—but until that happens or another candidate emerges, Maybin is Black's best option.
4. Neil Walker, 2B, Pittsburgh Pirates
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Prince Fielder is your prototypical cleanup hitter—an imposing physical presence who is a legitimate threat to send the ball deep into the night every time that he steps to the plate. At the very least, it is expected that he will find a way to drive in any runners on base in front of him.
Remember the numbers we looked at with Curtis Granderson in the two-hole? To refresh your memory, Granderson hit .272 with a .367 OBP, 31 HR, 92 RBI, 20 SB and an OPS of .927 in 112 games last season. Those are typical cleanup hitter numbers.
Pirates 2B Neil Walker is a solid baseball player both in the field and at the plate. But Walker is not a typical cleanup hitter, though he finds himself slotted there primarily for two reasons—the first being the continued regression of Pedro Alvarez, who has simply looked overmatched and completely lost at the plate in spring training.
The other reason that Walker finds himself hitting fourth in the Pirates lineup is that he has performed fairly well with runners in scoring position, hitting .286 with four home runs, 113 RBI and a .770 OPS over the past three seasons.
But Walker's career high in home runs is 12, a feat he's accomplished each of the past two seasons. While gaudy home run totals are not required to bat cleanup, they have become somewhat expected. At the very least, 20 home runs and 90 RBI is a reasonable expectation from this spot in the lineup.
Walker came close to that RBI total last year with 83. Whether he can reach the 20-home run plateau remains to be seen.
5. Brian Bogusevic, CF, Houston Astros
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The last spot in the heart of the order, the batter hitting fifth is expected to be a run producer much in the same way that a cleanup hitter is. Home runs and RBI rule the day in this spot. In the same vein as a cleanup hitter, 20 home runs and 80 RBI are reasonable expectations.
But not in Houston.
The Astros, who are still trying to rebuild their once-proud franchise, enter 2012 with only one real home run threat, Carlos Lee. Lee, who is slotted to hit fourth in their lineup, is followed by Brian Bogusevic.
Bogusevic, 28, has gap power and has been pretty awful with runners in scoring position, though he has admittedly not had much in the way of opportunities. He's come to the plate with runners in scoring position 45 times and hit .205 with one home run, 10 RBI and a .632 OPS—numbers that don't leave you with a warm, fuzzy feeling that he's going to get the job done.
But this shouldn't come as a surprise to the Astros. Bogusevic's game has been based on his speed throughout his minor league career, with 65 stolen bases coming over the past three seasons. In seven minor league seasons, he's never driven in more than 57 runs and only hit more than 10 home runs once, with 16 in 2010.
He may turn out to be a solid contributor for Houston, but he's certainly not a typical heart-of-the-order bat.
6. Jed Lowrie, SS, Houston Astros
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Don't take Jed Lowrie's selection as me picking on the Astros, because that's not my intent. I happen to like some of their young players—specifically J.D. Martinez and Jose Altuve—and manager Brad Mills is doing the best he can with the cards that he's been dealt.
But Jed Lowrie doesn't fit the mold of a typical sixth hitter in a lineup.
Typically, this is a hitter who, while not having the power of those who bat before him, is still a capable run producer.
Lowrie, albeit in a reserve role, has never hit more than nine home runs or had over 50 RBI in any season since making it to the majors in 2008. Now that he is in a full-time role in Houston, is Lowrie capable of hitting 10-to-15 home runs and driving in 70 runs?
We are about to find out.
7. Drew Stubbs, CF, Cincinnati Reds
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As we get towards the bottom of the lineup, typically you find players who provide more value with their glove than their bat.
In the case of Drew Stubbs, that's not really the case. He plays excellent defense, but he also has power and incredible speed on the bases—traits that we have seen in batters who hit higher up in the batting order.
But Stubbs strikes out a ton, leading the league last year with 205 en route to hitting .243 with a .321 OBP, 15 HR, 44 RBI and 40 stolen bases.
You typically don't find players with the ability to produce a 20-20 season hitting this low in the order, which makes Stubbs an unorthodox choice for the seventh spot on Reds manager Dusty Baker's lineup card.
8. Ryan Roberts, 3B, Arizona Diamondbacks
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As with the seventh spot in the lineup, the batter who hits eighth is also typically more of a defensive force than an offensive one.
As with Drew Stubbs, that's not the case with Ryan Roberts.
Last season, he hit .249 with a .341 OBP, 19 HR, 65 RBI, 18 SB and an OPS of .768.
Roberts plays solid defense for the Diamondbacks at the hot corner, but he, like Stubbs, is a 20-20 threat, not someone you typically find hitting this low in the lineup.
Hitting in front of the pitcher, Roberts' speed is an asset in that he's able to advance to second base safely on bunt attempts, assuming he's gotten a good jump on the pitch.
But hitting behind Paul Goldschmidt—who I tagged as a breakout player this season—Roberts' power and run production could find themselves down, as the bases could very well be empty when he steps to the plate.
Ryan Roberts is a better hitter than you would normally find this low in a lineup.
9. J.P. Arencibia, C, Toronto Blue Jays
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In the National League, the ninth spot in the lineup is taken by the pitcher.
In the American League, the ninth spot is typically looked at as a second leadoff spot—and the players who bat there, like Brett Gardner of the New York Yankees and Peter Bourjos of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, have big-time speed and little in the way of power.
But up in Toronto, J.P. Arencibia finds himself slotted into the last spot of the lineup, an odd place for a slugger who lacks any discernible speed. But for Arencibia, who finished the year hitting .219 with 23 HR and 78 RBI, the bottom of the lineup is where he was the most effective.
In 73 trips to the plate as the ninth batter in the lineup, he hit .308 with eight home runs, 21 RBI and a 1.153 OPS.
With phenom Brett Lawrie (another breakout candidate) hitting two spots ahead of him, Arencibia, like Ryan Roberts, may find himself coming to the plate with fewer chances to drive in runs.
In an increasingly deep Toronto lineup coupled with his performance hitting ninth, this is really the only place that Blue Jays manager John Farrell can bat the 26-year-old.