Ranking Baseball's Most Dangerous 2-3-4 Trios in 2015

Jason Catania@@JayCat11MLB Lead WriterMay 16, 2015

Ranking Baseball's Most Dangerous 2-3-4 Trios in 2015

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    Sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion make up two-thirds of a great 2-3-4. But is the Blue Jays' heart of the order the best in baseball?
    Sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion make up two-thirds of a great 2-3-4. But is the Blue Jays' heart of the order the best in baseball?Associated Press

    Conventional wisdom might say that the heart of the order comprises the 3-4-5 spots in a lineup. Pssshhh. Recent statistical evidence has shown that teams are better off batting their best hitter—or at least better, more well-rounded hitters—in the No. 2 spot.

    Why? Simple: To maximize the number of plate appearances—both in a game and over the course of a season—that go to the top bats, as well as to better take advantage of the impact hitters immediately following the second spot.

    Gone are the days of having contact-making, move-the-runner-over types inhabiting the 2-hole. Instead of Omar Infantes, clubs are using Mike Moustakases. And that's just one real-life example, courtesy of the Kansas City Royals. Other nontraditional second hitters? Try Joey Votto, Josh Donaldson and even Mike Trout, which explains why their clubs actually rank first, second and third, respectively, in OPS from that lineup position.

    Funny, but the numbers so far are bearing this out, as the top three lineup positions in terms of OPS in 2015 just so happen to be the No. 3 (.811), No. 4 (.784) and No. 2 (.755) spots in the one-through-nine.

    By comparison, second hitters last year ranked fifth in OPS (.714), behind third (.800), cleanup (.751), fifth (.732) and even leadoff (.715).

    Want even more proof? Here are the OPSes at the second spot since 2011: .711, .714, .719, .714 and—get this—.752 this year so far. That's quite a hike.

    That in mind, let's run down the top five 2-3-4s in baseball, based on a combination of historical track record and 2015 performance so far, with a little extra emphasis on the latter. After all, there's now a new "heart of the lineup" to consider.

Honorable Mentions

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    David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia
    David Ortiz and Dustin PedroiaBrian Blanco/Getty Images

    New York Yankees (Brett Gardner, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira)

    Boston Red Sox (Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez)

    Cleveland Indians (Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana)

    Baltimore Orioles (Jimmy Paredes, Adam Jones, Chris Davis)

    Colorado Rockies (Corey Dickerson, Troy Tulowitzki, Justin Morneau)

No. 5: Kansas City Royals

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    No. 2 Hitter: Mike Moustakas (.333/.392/.496)

    No. 3 Hitter: Lorenzo Cain (.326/.378/.473)

    No. 4 Hitter: Eric Hosmer (.333/.410/.574)

    It's taken a year or two longer than expected, but the breakout campaigns for still-young Kansas City Royals hitters Moustakas, Cain and Hosmer are happening.

    Perhaps it's not a coincidence, then, that those three just happen to be a rather solid 2-3-4 in a lineup that ranks second in runs scored and OPS (.785) and leads all of baseball with a .291 batting average.

No. 4: Chicago Cubs

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    Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant
    Anthony Rizzo and Kris BryantNam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    No. 2 Hitter: Kris Bryant (.273/.407/.465)

    No. 3 Hitter: Anthony Rizzo (.341/.468/.611)

    No. 4 Hitter: Jorge Soler (.272/.344/.404)

    Manager Joe Maddon has been shaking up the sequence of this trio, but they've been dynamic in any order. Rizzo has become one of the sport's truly elite all-around hitters, as fellow B/R MLB writer Zachary D. Rymer wrote, and Bryant has shown a deadly combination of power (.192 ISO) and patience (17.9 walk percentage).

    Soler's aggressiveness (33.1 strikeout percentage) holds this group back a bit from being ranked higher, but once he starts to figure it out, this lineup could explode. There's no trio with a brighter future over the next handful of seasons.

No. 3: Detroit Tigers

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    Victor Martinez, Miguel Cabrera and Ian Kinsler
    Victor Martinez, Miguel Cabrera and Ian KinslerPaul Sancya/Associated Press

    No. 2 Hitter: Ian Kinsler (.301/.370/.392)

    No. 3 Hitter: Miguel Cabrera (.338/.442/.592)

    No. 4 Hitter: Victor Martinez (.226/.320/.283)

    After spending most of 2014 as the Detroit Tigers leadoff man, the steady-if-not-spectacular Kinsler has fit in just fine in the 2-hole while ceding the top of the lineup to Anthony Gose and Rajai Davis this year.

    If Martinez, the reigning AL MVP runner-up, wasn't having a down year so far due to his lingering knee injury, which required surgery only weeks prior to the start of the season, this bunch would have a strong case as the best 2-3-4 in the game.

    Regardless, the Hall of Fame-bound Cabrera is a great enough hitter to carry this group into the top three practically all by himself.

No. 2: Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Adrian Gonzalez and Howie Kendrick
    Adrian Gonzalez and Howie KendrickDanny Moloshok/Associated Press

    No. 2 Hitter: Yasiel Puig (.279/.380/.465)

    No. 3 Hitter: Adrian Gonzalez (.356/.427/.689)

    No. 4 Hitter: Howie Kendrick (.313/.370/.493)

    You might not immediately think of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the No. 2 spot here, but they're more than deserving of this ranking.

    Heck, their production from the second (.919 OPS), third (1.020) and fourth (.922) spots in the lineup all rank in the top four based on OPS. Gonzalez is having a career year, and the incredibly consistent Kendrick has been a fantastic addition.

    That said, the Dodgers need to get Puig healthy and back soon, if only to stop the madness that has manager Don Mattingly plugging in Jimmy Rollins and his .279 OBP into the second spot.

No. 1: Toronto Blue Jays

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    Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista
    Josh Donaldson and Jose BautistaTom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    No. 2 Hitter: Josh Donaldson (.310/.373/.531)

    No. 3 Hitter: Jose Bautista (.226/.366/.481)

    No. 4 Hitter: Edwin Encarnacion (.232/.308/.442)

    Based solely on 2015 production so far, these three might not be quite worthy of taking the top ranking, but it's hard not to be influenced by their reputations.

    The Donaldson acquisition looks like the steal many thought it was at the time the Oakland Athletics—now with the worst record in baseball—decided to give him up. He has settled in very nicely at No. 2 in the Toronto order.

    Although Bautista hasn't been himself yet, in part due to a shoulder injury that has hampered him, he's still sporting a .255 ISO that is in the top 20 in MLB and continues to walk at an extremely high rate (17.6 percent).

    As for Encarnacion, it looks like he has put a sluggish April (.610 OPS) behind him with another potentially monstrous May. In fact, he has a .990 OPS this month and has hit four homers already after smashing 16 last May.

    In terms of fear factor and damage-dealing potential, this 2-3-4 is No. 1.

    Statistics are accurate through Friday, May 15, and courtesy of MLB.comBaseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

    To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11.