Wind: 1.01 m/h
Dave Martinez has reached a crossroad.
Most people – myself included – will normally cite his mismanagement of the bullpen when it comes to criticism of the Nats' manager. But his construction of the batting order this season has also seemed rather archaic at times.
Davey doesn’t like to experiment with his lineup unless he has to. The Nationals are 12thin the majors in OPS, but they’re 28th in runs scored per game. If that doesn’t suggest a lineup change is necessary, nothing will.
The old school of thought in baseball was to hit your quickest player leadoff, a good hitter with speed second, your best overall hitter third, the hitter with the most pure power fourth, your next best “RBI guy” fifth, and the rest of your batters in order of ability after that.
Times have changed. There’s data suggesting that the No. 2 hitter across the MLB typically steps up to the plate in the most high-pressure situations, and that the importance of including speed at the top of the lineup is of diminishing importance. That doesn’t even factor in separating same-sided hitters, or who’s most comfortable hitting in each given spot in the lineup.
Davey deserves credit for trying Juan Soto in the No. 2 hole recently. Using Adam Eaton there in the past was often crippling. But there’s still more work to be done.
I’d start at the heart of the lineup. Since Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber’s regular-season debuts – and even during Spring Training – they’ve been hitting directly behind Soto. In some ways, that makes sense, but it’s also not quite ideal. Soto and Schwarber are both left-handed hitters, and Bell is a switch hitter, meaning he’ll normally hit from the left side – since most pitchers are right-handed. Particularly late in games, that gives opposing managers a strategic advantage. If they bring in a left-handed reliever to face them, the production of the trio will become much more limited than they’re otherwise capable of.
The bottom line is that, if it’s feasible, Davey should look to split them up. There are a few candidates for that role, but one of them takes the cake.
Using old school thinking, Trea Turner would be the perfect leadoff hitter. And it’s certainly not as if he hasn’t handled that role extremely well. But he’s developed more power-hitting ability than the national audience gives him credit for. As nice as it seems to keep him at the top of the lineup, he could probably do more damage batting third.
You’re probably asking yourself who could replace Turner at the top? The original plan was Victor Robles, but he's in the midst of a rather apparent struggle at the plate. Instead, Josh Harrison seems like the best option. He spent a healthy chunk of his time in Pittsburgh leading off, and he had success doing so. He’s a career .283 hitter in that role, and in 2014 (primarily batting leadoff), he hit for a .315 average, stole 18 bases, scored a career-high 77 runs, and was named an All Star. His speed may not still be where it once was, but he can clearly still hit. And since he currently deserves more plate appearances and is proven to be comfortable in that role, now seems like a great time to try it out.
As for the rest of the lineup, players like Bell, Schwarber and Starlin Castro would fall into place in the middle third of the lineup. Yan Gomes should probably also stay batting seventh, with Robles behind him – and I do mean immediately behind him.
The thought of hitting Robles ninth and effectively making him a second leadoff made plenty of sense on paper, but it’s been unsuccessful. In two starts at the bottom of the lineup this season, he went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts, and he has a career batting average of .200 and OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .576 when batting ninth – both of which are his worst at any spot in the lineup (except for third, where he’s never hit) by a wide margin. In fact, his .288 batting average when batting eighth is one of his best marks – don’t ask why that one spot has made such a difference; it just has.
I don’t claim to have the answers on the perfect lineup. There’s a reason why Davey is a big-league manager and I’m just a blogger. However, the lineups Davey has been using so far this season haven’t worked out in his favor.
It’s time to try something new.