Batting orders are made more complicated than they should be. The best hitters should get the most at-bats and the worst hitters should hit least. The way to do this is to bat your most elite hitters as high in the batting order as possible and their inferior teammates lower.

It’s simple math. It’s been estimated that each spot in a batting order gets 30 or-so more at-bats than the spot behind it over the course of a season. A leadoff batter is going to get the most chances to get on base. Then a second hitter. Then the third hitter and so on. If you accept that math, which you should because it’s fact, how can you possibly advocate for hitting a .225 hitter who doesn’t get on base more often than a .320 hitter who does?

For a day? Okay. For a week? No. For a month? Terrible idea. All the time? Outrageous. Unforgivable. Laughable.

Dusty Baker is currently hitting Wilmer Difo second and Anthony Rendon sixth. On days when Difo doesn’t bat second another 4-A type like Ryan Raburn does. Sometimes a bench bat like Stephen Drew will. Rendon almost never does. He continues to bat sixth and he continues to terrorize pitching staffs by getting on base at a rate that ranks fourth in baseball.

In 2009, two-hole hitters got 65 more at-bats than six-hitters. Can you imagine 65 more chances for Rendon to impact games? The same Rendon who is likely to finish in the top-five in MVP voting for the second time in his five years in the majors. He’s hitting about .320 while having already homered as many times as he did a year ago in 260 fewer at-bats. He’s tearing the cover off the ball and perhaps the most amazing thing about Rendon’s season is that he is walking more than he strikes out. He has 53 walks and 49 strike outs.

Why would you want him to hit more often?

So what does the ideal second hitter in a batting order do, you ask? The two-hitter should be somebody proficient at getting on base who can be trusted to make. Those are two of Rendon’s top attributes. You also want your top-of-the-order bats to take and see a lot of pitches. Rendon is top-three in baseball at pitches seen.

You’d also like your two-hitter to have doubles power and the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark. Sound like anybody you know? Maybe from Rice? Lastly, unless you’re Dusty Baker, you’d like the second hitter in your order to be able to run well enough not to clog up the bases. (I say unless you are Dusty because this is not a ‘lastly’ for him. He seemingly cares more about the speed a guy possesses when he gets on base than how often he actually does).

If you were going to design a No. 2 hitter for a batting order in a video game you would build Rendon. And yet despite the fact that the team’s traditional leadoff batter (Trea Turner) and typical second batter (Jayson Werth) are both hurt, Rendon still hasn’t been moved up in the order. Brian Goodwin or Raburn or Difo or another Syracuse Sky Chief turned National bats in the top-third of the order and Rendon often gets one fewer at-bat than those guys.

This is not to knock any of them. They’ve all played well in their opportunity with the Natinoals this season. Goodwin has flashed plus power and Raburn has provided important outfield versatility. But those guys are role players who can execute their tasks from anywhere in the batting order.

Interestingly, the Nationals lineup is so loaded when fully healthy that you could make the case that hitting Rendon sixth was reasonable. It could at least be defended. Turner is an obvious and perfect leadoff man. Bryce Harper may win the MVP award and needs to bat in the top-third. Ryan Zimmerman is having a career year, although he’s cooled off considerably. Daniel Murphy is working on his second straight season hitting over .330, so he too has to hit in the top-third ideally. And then there is Werth and his other-worldly plate-discipline and ability to grind at-bats, which makes him a proficient two-hitter himself.

But Turner and Werth are hurt, accentuating the ridiculousness of Rendon continuing to bat sixth.

And even if Werth was healthy, he should be moved down to the six spot in the order. Why? Rendon is better and gets on base more. We go back to the logic at the beginning of this piece. He’ll do more good things for you more often, so he should get more chances to impact games. Heck, as much as Zimmerman’s sensational season has been a shot in the arm to a club that needed it, flipping him and Rendon would make perfect sense.

When asked about why Rendon has stayed in the bottom half of the lineup, Baker has said he doesn’t want to change something that works.

The Nationals have the NL’s best lineup and one of baseball’s most feared offenses. Fans see that the team is winning and think what’s being done must be correct. The team is scoring lots of runs so there is no need to field the most difficult lineup to pitch to. With this logic an airline wouldn’t alter something that could be better on an airplane because “it’s been landing without incident.”

The process is more important than the result. You should field your best lineup every single day.

Another flawed philosophy you hear from managers on this subject is the idea that a guy like Rendon may not perform as well if he’s moved up in the order. Why would hitting Rendon in a more opportune spot in the order, with better protection behind him, make it harder for him to succeed? It’s harder to be a good sixth-hitter in an NL lineup than No. 2 hitter. As a sixth hitter you’ll often have a catcher, a lighter hitting position player and a pitcher behind you. As a second hitter you’d be hitting (and in Rendon’s case, getting on base) in front of Harper, Murphy and Zimmerman, the heart of Washington’s order.

So you’re afraid to move him up because it might lead to him regressing?

If he regresses it will be because he’s 40 points above his career average and he was going to come back down to earth anyway. If he slows down it will be because his 326 BABIP (meaning he has hit with some luck on balls-in-play this season) comes back to league average. It won’t be because he is hitting in front of the team’s three all-star sticks.

The fact is that the Nats will keep winning, because they are good. They’ll keep scoring runs, because the lineup is elite. Rendon will keep hitting because he was put on this planet to barrel baseballs. And most of the team’s fans will keep saying that “it’s not broken” so “it shouldn’t be fixed.” But it should be.

Good hitters should hit higher in the order than worse hitters. We may not have known this 20 years ago but we know it now. It’s math. It’s simple. Let’s stop over-complicating it.

Grant Paulsen

Leave a reply

14 + 16 =