Why the St. Louis Cardinals Should Consider Batting Albert Pujols Clean-Up

Jeffrey LageContributor IJanuary 7, 2010

Tony LaRussa should consider batting Albert Cleanup instead of Matt Holliday

Many baseball fans see that title and probably gawk as their initial reaction. Tradition tells us that you bat your best hitter third. I am here to tell you why that may be a false assumption to continue to make.

Albert Pujols has built a very healthy career batting in the three hole for St. Louis, in fact he has hit 299 of his home runs in that spot and has a lifetime OPS of 1.068 and a .335 average. But I fear that St. Louis may be accidentally missing a unique opportunity to capitalize on more run production from the great Albert.

St. Louis and Tony LaRussa were delivered a unique opportunity middle of 2009, an opportunity they had not had since Jim Edmonds was hot and was able to protect Albert. That opportunity came on Matt Holliday’s bat from Oakland.

Holliday has always been a strong contact hitter with some power bursts. He hits for a high average, draws his walks, takes his pitches and hits with authority. He has veteran presence and knows how to handle himself like a true professional. Tony batted Holliday cleanup behind Albert for the remainder of the 09 season, and Holliday did quite well in that role. In fact, .353 through 270 plate appearances is downright great.

But here is how the Cardinals could capitalize even better.

Throughout history, and 2009 was no different, the number 3 hitter in a lineup comes up to the plate the most throughout a season with nobody on and two out.
Here are the 2009 numbers:

All of MLB: 25,377 Plate Appearances in 2009, Two Outs and with Bases Empty

Order PA
Third 4,785
Sixth 2,978
Seventh 2,851
First 2,626
Eighth 2,622
Ninth 2,610
Fourth 2,373
Fifth 2,267
Second 2,265

Looks like a lot of wasted opportunities to me. What good does it do a team to have their greatest hitter come up so frequently with the bases empty and nobody on? It makes no difference for him to lead off the second inning as it does to close out the first inning.

What someone should prefer is to have someone like Albert batting cleanup so that if anyone does get on in the first inning, you have your best hitter available and expected to drive them in. You want to optimize Albert’s production, make sure he comes up with men on.

Matt Holliday is the perfect table setter for that. Holliday not only has consistently had a high on base average his entire career (.387) but he is also a decent base runner who will not be clogging any bases.

The argument against batting Pujols fourth is that he would likely lose some plate appearances over the course of a season. The traditional rule of thumb is that a player who plays every inning of every season loses about 12 plate appearances per spot in the order that they drop. Are losing the 12 plate appearances a year for Albert worth putting him up to the plate with more men on base?

My suggestion is that they place Albert in a spot where he can do more damage. Ryan Ludwick can still protect Albert and deter opposing pitching from wanting to walk him, and with Holliday getting on base almost 40 percent of the time, it is going to be hard to put him on, especially when thirty percent of the time Holliday only made it to first base by a single or a walk.

Holliday will be sitting pretty in hitters counts, 2-1, 3-1, 2-0, even 3-2, he knows he will be getting good pitches to hit.  I think Holliday is probably a more lethal hitter with a grooved pitch than anyone else might on the team that could be in that same situation. 

It is in my humble opinion that Holliday and Albert make more sense being switched in the order. I believe there are more opportunities for the best hitter in baseball to come to the plate with more men on, rather than having someone behind him to protect him.

I want Albert up with men on, and the numbers show that batting fourth will give him more opportunities with men on base, and forcing teams to pitch to him more often, here is how baseball looked in 2009:

All of MLB: 50,397 Plate Appearances in 2009, with RISP
Fourth 6,536
Third 6,141
Fifth 6,041
Second 5,554
Sixth 5,440
Seventh 5,327
Eighth 5,245
Ninth 5,171
First 4,942

All of MLB: 84,246 Plate Appearances in 2009, with Any Baserunners
Fourth 10,778
Third 10,353
Second 9,794
Fifth 9,720
Sixth 9,203
Seventh 9,157
Eighth 8,739
Ninth 8,625
First 7,877

Many of these appearances in the first inning obviously, but if you think the Cardinals get their equal share like the rest of baseball, do the math, Albert will get more opportunities to drive in more runs and possibly provide the Cardinals with more runs over the course of a season, enough to outweigh those 12 missed plate appearances.

I want more runs over the course of a season, isn’t that the point of offense? Score runs and don’t make outs? I see a greater value Holliday batting third, Pujols cleanup.

In summation, if Albert comes up in the first inning, it will be with someone on base at the very least, and isn't that what we want?  The best hitter hitting with men on base?


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