For most baseball enthusiasts, myself included, batting lineup construction is easily one of the top ten topics about which we obsess. That’s why my innards churn every single night that I read a Reds box score that lists Cozart and Stubbs at the top of the order. Unless Joey Votto figures out how to hit grand slams without anyone on base (and if any player in baseball can figure this out, it’s Votto), he can’t drive in runs without men on in front of him. League average (average, I say) on-base percentage is .330 and yet neither Cozart nor Stubbs is even above .300 halfway into the season. The solution might be unconventional, but it should be obvious. Left-handed Jay Bruce with his moderate speed and .330 OBP should lead off with Ryan Hanigan’s gaudy .348 OBP and right-handed contact skills to follow in front of Votto and Phillips. Then bump Frazier and Ludwick up to five and six and let Zack and Drew inhabit the low-rent bottom third of the order with the pitcher for a while.
Then again, even that inspired lineup might not make much of a difference. One of the chief crimes of Sabermetrics as leveled by baseball luddites is that it has taken the “fun” out of the game, an accusation filled mostly with fear and nonsense. In the case of the batting order, however, it rings just a bit more true. In their 2006 tome “The Book,” authors Tango, Lichtman, and Dolphin convincingly demonstrate that over the course of a season, the difference between a team’s best and worst lineups is just one measly win. So basically, if Sparky had slotted Concepcion and Geronimo at the top of the Big Red Machine instead of Rose and Griffey, we could reasonably expect them to have won only 107 in 1975, rather than 108. And as the Braves and Red Sox demonstrated last year, if a team’s season comes up just one game short, the blame will be assigned to a million factors, fried chicken potentially among them.
Another factor: Wherever he has managed, Baker has repeatedly received praise for his ability to handle his players as people. It’s a fair bet that his lineup takes this into account.
So maybe the exact batting order isn’t as important as fans tend to make it. Even so, the bottom line for the 2012 Redlegs is that Cozart and Stubbs need to produce more regardless of where they hit in the lineup and their struggles of late only amplify the team’s need for another dependable bat on the 25-man roster. Work that phone, Walt.
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