It’s been a question that’s been sort of gnawing at me since I posted last month about the seeming irrelevance of OBP to the Dodger front office in constructing the 2011 squad: how might the batting order come together? At the time, I put Juan Uribe in the #2 spot as I quickly ran the proposed lineup through the lineup generator, and that led to a few well-deserved questions about why I’d put a low-OBP guy like Uribe there. My answer at the time was that I wouldn’t, but based on past history it certainly wouldn’t surprise me to see the Dodgers play a low-OBP second baseman there. There was also another reason, though: there’s no obvious alternative.
Think about it: as long as he’s healthy, Rafael Furcal is batting first. Barring a surprise acquisition, the left field combo of Jay Gibbons/Tony Gwynn and catcher duo of Rod Barajas/Dioner Navarro (or A.J. Ellis) almost certainly will be bringing up the rear in the 7th and 8th slots. Beyond that? It’s sort of a toss-up. Sure, it’s never easy to predict a batting order, but the 2011 Dodgers present an even more complicated challenge. You have a rookie manager, Don Mattingly, whose tendencies we know little about. You have the possibility of four positions without a set starter (C, 2B, 3B, LF), you have an oddly-constructed lineup full of low-OBP hitters, many coming off of 2010 disappointments, and you have a team that somehow used James Loney in the cleanup spot more than anyone else last year. It’s a recipe for constantly-changing lineups, and honestly that’s probably what we’ll get – the 2010 club used 127 different orders, and I bet 2011 sees as many or more.
Now, it should be noted here that batting orders are almost never as important as we make them out to be. Barring outright absurdity like letting Barajas lead off (or stashing 2009 Matt Kemp in the 8th spot, Joe), it’s been well-proven that the day-to-day batting order has far less impact on a team’s offensive output than we, the fans, would like to believe. Still, it’s a fun thought excercise in the midst of a quiet January, and as the team looks to be done with it’s offseason shopping it’s as good a topic to tackle as any.
Going back to the #2 spot, that’s where the first big question comes up. The three hitters who batted second most often for the Dodgers last year were Kemp, Ryan Theriot, and Russell Martin. The latter two have each moved on, and I just cannot imagine that Kemp, coming off a .310 OBP and 170 strikeouts, gets placed back there. Blake, also coming off of a poor season, doesn’t make sense here, and it’s about this time I start to remember that Blake DeWitt‘s .352 OBP was traded away for Theriot and my eyes start to bleed.
The best answer here is probably Jamey Carroll, who was one of the few Dodgers who actually got on base last year (.379). But Carroll’s going to be 37 this year and barring injuries, won’t play as much as he did last year. For now, we’ll make the case that he plays 2B against LHP, with Uribe sliding to 3B and Blake to LF, but that’s far from certain, and would be even less likely against RHP. So that means, believe it or not, that you’re really stuck with either Loney or Uribe against righties here, and holy hell is that depressing. Neither one is really an acceptable option here, but my gut tells me that the second baseman who’s somehow conned teams into 734 #2 PA ranks above the the first baseman with 7 PA.
At #3, Andre Ethier started 116 games last year. He should be platooned against LHP, but he won’t be, so we’ll assume he stays there. For #4, you’re basically looking at either Kemp or Blake. Like #2, neither is a great option. That said, Kemp did end last season on a tear, and if he doesn’t turn it around then this team is in enough trouble that it’s not going to matter if your cleanup hitter is Casey Blake or Blake Lively. You’d have to go Kemp over Blake here.
That means that #5 and #6 slide into place pretty easily as being Blake and Loney, ahead of (LF) and (C) at #7 and #8. And that makes your batting order something like…
VS RHP: 1 Furcal-S, 2 Uribe-R, 3 Ethier-L, 4 Kemp-R, 5 Blake-R, 6 Loney-L,
7 Gibbons/Gwynn-L, 8 Barajas/Navarro-R/S, 9 P
VS LHP: 1 Furcal-S, 2 Carroll-R, 3 Ethier-L, 4 Kemp-R, 5 Blake-R, 6 Uribe-R, 7 Loney-L,
8 Barajas/Navarro-R/S, 9 P
Which just seems to make the glaring OBP issues shine all the more brightly – and man, is that bottom third of the lineup going to be brutal no matter how you slice it. If you squint real hard, you can see Furcal staying healthy, Kemp playing to his potential, Ethier not being a total mess against lefties, Uribe hitting for enough power to outweigh his on-base issues, and Blake bouncing back at least a little against righties. A good pitching staff can do much to wash over some questionable offense of course; just seems like you’ll need a pretty thick pair of blue-colored glasses to make this crew seem better than average.