February 26, 2013 at 12:35 pm by Franklin Rabon under Atlanta Braves
With Martin “prototypical #2 hole hitter” Prado gone, a lot of debate has gone into who should hit 2nd, and relatedly, where to best leverage Jason Heyward’s talents. As of now, the plan has seemingly been Heyward in the #2 spot in the lineup, which we at Capitol Avenue Club have lauded, regardless of whether or not we have Heyward on our fantasy team. Here I’ll outline a couple of the reasons why we like this so much, and also address the primary criticism of it, that Heyward strikes out too much to hit second.
When it comes to lineup optimization, the most exhaustive research into the topic ever compiled in one place is Tom Tango’s The Book. What Tango found is that your two most important hitters are in fact your 2nd and 4th hitters, not your 3rd place hitter, as conventional wisdom goes. The reason being is that the 3rd hitter comes to bat with two men out more frequently, and with two men out the only consistent way to create runs is with homeruns. In fact, #2 actually tends to be the most impactful spot in the entire lineup. If you have a dynamic offensive player on your team, you want him here.
There are also other concerns, because a lot of the #2 hitter’s value comes in the form of being on base in front of other good hitters, you also want him to be a great baserunner. And while stealing bases is okay from that spot, you especially want him to be successful when he does steal bases. Essentially, you want most likely your overall best hitter, who gets on base and is a good baserunner. ie you want Jason Heyward.
However, there has often been one criticism of Heyward in that spot, namely that he strikes out too much. The line of thinking goes that the #2 hitter should be a contact guy, adept at moving runners over. Under this theory, you want a guy who doesn’t strike out much, and slaps the ball behind runners. Under this mode of thinking you want Martin Prado.
Two very good hitters don’t get much different than Martin Prado and Jason Heyward. Prado is a high contact guy who doesn’t strike out much but doesn’t walk much either. Heyward is a high power guy who does strike out a lot, but also walks at a decent rate as well. How can they both be the prototypical #2 hitter? Well, they can’t; Jason fits better.
One of the more overlooked findings in Tango’s book is that out of the #2 spot, of the ways to make an out, strikeouts are actually the LEAST harmful. Huh, wha? Essentially this is because the #2 hitter comes to bat with a runner on first and less than two outs the most of any hitter. The double play is a huge threat from the #2 spot. Think about how a strikeout happens, by definition you had two strikes, you swung at a pitch (or took a tough pitch to hit) and missed. Now imagine making contact on that pitch instead. It will most likely be weak contact, ie contact that is particularly prone to a double play. Contact hitters can be particularly harmful in the #2 spot, as the popular twitter meme “GIDPrado” indicated.
Now, this effect isn’t huge, it is likely only worth a couple of runs over an entire full season. However, the point isn’t that it’s a huge deal, it’s more that striking out (v. grounding out) isn’t a negative out of the #2 hole. If you happen to have a great hitter who does strike out a lot, it’s actually the best place to put him. So, not only is the idea that Heyward strikes out too much for the #2 spot and this will kill our offensive production flawed, if anything it gets it backwards.