As Milwaukee Brewers manager Ken Macha fills out a lineup card that he hopes will remain consistent for six months this spring, summer, and fall, the task proves to be rather simple—not painstaking work. But upon second glance, one would realize that the two hole has been left empty by the Brewers' skipper. And the two names missing are Alcides Escobar and Carlos Gomez.
Just days before Opening Day, this is one of the few questions that remain about the Brewers' position players. Who should bat second, setting the table for the bashers Braun and Fielder and who should (rightfully or not) hit seventh or eighth?
First, let's take a look at the reasons as to why Alcides Escobar would be a logical second hitter.
In 2009, as a pre-September call up, the Venezuelan shortstop proved himself to be a legitimate MLB shortstop. Escobar found gaps with liners, flashed his speed, and played above-average defensively. For these reasons, GM Doug Melvin felt safe trading former All Star J.J. Hardy to Minnesota for (who else?) Carlos Gomez.
I accumulated Escobar's 2010 projections according to CHONE, Bill James, and ZiPS on www.fangraphs.com . They came out as: .286 BA, 16 HR, 76.3 R, 31 SB, 29 BB, 5.3 BB%, 81.6 K, 15.3 K%, .326 OBP, 2.0 WAR, .76 SB%.
Looking at these numbers, a couple of things pop out. If Escobar is to be an ideal No. 2 hitter, he will need to get on base, and doing so at a .326 OBP mark is subpar, especially for someone who can hit .290 easily. He is 23 and still has a tendency to swing away and not be patient and work counts.
However, he is projected to swipe 31 bases. This would be a gift to the Brew Crew because that would be 31 times that he would enter scoring position with Braun, Fielder, and McGehee coming up.
Escobar has a speed rating of 6.0, which is well above average, though Gomez is considered faster than Escobar. His speed could be well-utilized, but he needs to reach base at a more consistent mark. He had over 140 plate appearances last season, but walked only four times! The count only went full 14 times, about once in every 10 plate appearances, or once every three games.
Alcides's plate discipline could also improve. He swings at 30 percent of all balls thrown and struggles with sliders. While it is even more crucial for the leadoff batter to have a high OBP, the second hitter needs to come close to matching that mark.
If a No. 2 hitter is able to move runners over by any means or hit singles to right to put runners on the corners, it is a great gift to his team. Escobar is a very good opposite-field hitter, batting .368 to right field with a 123 sOPS+ (the league average is 100). No. 21 pulled 22 base hits and slapped 19 to right field.
Batting Escobar second would utilize his ability to go opposite field and drive in, and set up, runs.
Some of Gomez's projections for 2010 are very different from Escobar's, and some are nearly identical. His average, homers, and runs are lower at .259, six, and 61, respectively. His stolen base projection is 26, lower than Escobar's mainly because he is projected to fewer games than Alcides. The rest are: 28.3 BB, 6.46 BB%, 21.97 K%, 88.7 K, .316 OBP, 2.4 WAR, .74 SB%.
The center fielder is considered one of the fastest players in the MLB. Just watching him patrol center field is a enough to impress Donald Trump. But his hitting doesn't set him apart from the pack, and he commingles with the mediocre hitters. If Gomez hit around .280, he would be even more valuable.
But at the two spot, his speed is what matters. He has a speed rating of 7.8, one of the highest in the league. Once on base, he is a dangerous threat to steal and a better baserunner than Alcides Escobar.
Carlos also tops Escobar in taking the count deep. These extra looks from on deck would give Braun and Fielder better glimpses at what exactly the pitcher has, especially in the first inning before they've faced him.
Gomez does not walk very much more than Escobar, either. His projected walk percentage is just higher, and his OBP is 10 points lower. It is hard to have a .240-.250 hitter batting second, especially if he doesn't walk very much. With Gomez at the two spot, there would be a risk of production that you might lose, but it can pay off.
The decision Macha must make is whether or not Gomez's speed (which would be utilized much more at the two spot) is more important than Escobar's hitting ability.