With the loss of Torii Hunter, much has been made of who should bat second for the Detroit Tigers.
In a special column to the Detroit Free Press, Jamie Samuelsen, co-host of the “Jamie and Wojo” show on WXYT-FM (97.1), argued star first baseman Miguel Cabrera should bat second in the Tigers lineup this season. He made valid points and gave a compelling argument, and then concluded asking why not bat Cabrera second?
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Not that Mr. Samuelsen is a frequent visitor of the Motor City Bengals site, but here is why not:
The crux of Samuelsen’s argument was that the Tigers have no obvious two-hole hitter. Ian Kinsler, Rajai Davis and Anthony Gose are the candidates to hit at the top of the lineup with Davis and Gose platooning in centerfield based on matchups.
Although he does support a .344 on-base percentage in his career, Kinsler was a different type of hitter in his first season with Detroit. He recorded a career-high 92 RBI but posted a career-low .307 on-base percentage.
Davis and Gose have fared no better at getting on base. Davis has a career on-base percentage of .320, and Gose is at .301 in his three-year career. Based on the idea that traditional baseball thinking wants a hitter who reaches base a lot to bat second, none of these three guys measure up to be quality candidates, at least according to the career numbers and Kinsler’s approach at the plate last season.
Cabrera, however, supports a .396 career on-base percentage and has been above .400 in the category in five of his 12 major league seasons.
Mar 8, 2015; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera (24) works out before a spring training baseball game against the Houston Astros at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Samuelsen also argued Cabrera will receive 2.5 percent more at-bats if the Tigers bat him second compared to third. That will also force opposing pitchers to face both Cabrera and Victor Martinez in the first inning of every game, assuming Martinez moves up to bat third.
As mentioned above, it’s a compelling argument. It would be nice for Cabrera and Martinez to both be guaranteed to bat in the first inning, but more at-bats for those guys might not necessarily be better.
Let’s see if I can explain my logic with another baseball scenario.
In it’s most basic form, hitting is about bat speed, having a quick and compact swing to the ball generates the most power. Maybe a batter gets the idea to start his swing with the bat already in the strike zone rather than behind his head; the logic being this will get the bat head to the ball faster.
Slap hitters do this in softball, and it works for them, but they hit for little to no power.
Now, obviously Cabrera isn’t changing his swing if he hits second, however, his role is different. He becomes the table-setter for other guys like Martinez, Yoenis Cespedes, J.D. Martinez and perhaps Kinsler. But that’s not Cabrera’s role. Sure, he could adapt, but he is the power, RBI guy. He wouldn’t be in the two-hole.
The take away point in the softball slap-hitter story is, it’s more about the quality of the at-bat (or swing) versus ensuring Cabrera (or bat) gets to the desired point (the plate) quicker.
Detroit wants Cabrera to hit with runners on base, that’s the most desired scenario. Hitting Cabrera third still guarantees he bats in the first inning and gives him more opportunities to hit with base runners than hitting second would.
If the objective was to get the best hitters the most at-bats, then they would bat leadoff. That, though, is not the goal. The objective is putting the team’s best hitter in the most RBI scenarios.
Not to mention Cabrera would clog-up the bases batting second, and Detroit would return to Jim Leyland’s station-to-station type offense. Brad Ausmus has embraced the stolen base, to Leyland’s credit, he couldn’t because he didn’t have natural base steals.
Kinsler, Davis and Gose may not have outstanding on-base percentages, but they can steal lots of bases, setting up Cabrera with runners in scoring position or scoring on Cabrera’s hits in the gap.
In the best case scenario, Cabrera would hit second, Detroit would be allowed to use a ghost-runner and then Cabrera would hit third too. But for now, the Tigers should just settle for him batting third.