Jul 10, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; Colorado Rockies left fielder Carlos Gonzalez (5) during his at bat in the first inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado Rockies, A Proposed Lineup Change: Bat Carlos Gonzalez Second

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It is no secret at this point that the Colorado Rockies, though their lineup appears strong and mighty on paper, are struggling offensively. Much as we love the young Nolan Arenado and the old Todd Helton, they are not producing enough power from the corners. Jordan Pacheco has been no better and has been much, much worse than he was in 2012 when “all he did was hit.”

Wilin Rosario is streaky. Josh Rutledge was a disaster; DJ LeMahieu, while decidedly better, doesn’t exactly scare anybody. Other key players have been injured.

Tweaks might be on the way. Trades might be executed and veteran hitter Xavier Nady might be promoted. But here is a tweak that the Rockies could make right now and potentially improve their lineup: change who bats second.

Right now LeMahieu seems to have a claim to the second spot in the order. He has a respectable .317 OBP and a “meh” .668 OPS. Before that it was Rutledge (.272 OBP, yikes) and a cast of characters that included Jonathan Herrera and Arenado who followed the lead-off spot.

What about batting Carlos Gonzalez, an MVP candidate with his .366 OBP and .969 OPS, in the second spot in the order?

Joe Sheehan wrote the following in a Sports Illustrated article on June 10th regarding the Cincinnati Reds lineup:

Babe Ruth wore his iconic number 3 because when the Yankees first assigned uniform numbers, in 1929, they did so based on a player’s lineup spot. Ruth batted third, because the fashionable thinking of the time was that the best player bats third. Other fashionable thinking from the late Jazz Age held that it was a good idea to smoke like a chimney while traveling by train no farther than St. Louis to play all-white baseball games.

“…It doesn’t have to be this way. The best modern analysis of lineup order—as published in The Book, by Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman and Andy Dolphin—points to one conclusion: a team’s best hitter should bat second. Doing so clusters the best hitters more efficiently, putting more runners on base for the big sticks in the middle of the lineup. But most significant, it gets the best hitter more at bats. Each lineup spot gets about 18 extra plate appearances a season more than the spot below it, so moving up a Votto is like squeezing four extra games a year out of him, while taking those games away from a player with a .271 OBP.”

Gonzalez leads the National League in home runs, so manager Walt Weiss might point to that fact and say he wants CarGo coming up to bat with guys on base and that’s why he should bat third. Just one problem: 17 of his 25 home runs have been solo shots. He isn’t batting with runners on anyway, so why not get extra at-bats out of him?

Jul 19, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Rockies center fielder Dexter Fowler (24) is congratulated for his home run by third base coach Stu Cole (39) during the fourth inning against the Chicago Cubs at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

How about this lineup?

Dexter Fowler
Carlos Gonzalez
Troy Tulowitzki
Michael Cuddyer
Wilin Rosario
Todd Helton
DJ LeMahieu
Nolan Arenado
Pitcher

By not being hung up on the traditional lineup structure, this bumps everybody up a spot and gets extra at-bats for Tulowitzki and Gonzalez. You maximize the number of plate appearances you get from your four best hitters, in this case, by batting them #1-4.

Weiss has insisted on having CarGo, Tulo, Cuddyer in the 3-4-5 spots, participating in a stale mode of thinking and leaving the #2 spot an absolute black hole. As Sheehan notes, he can potentially get his best hitters up more often and add wins for his team by breaking from this mode of thinking.

For a Rockies team in desperate need of offense, this move makes sense. As Sheehan writes about the Reds and Joey Votto:

This is one of those ideas that seems a lot more radical than it is. ‘Give your best hitter more at bats at the expense of a lesser one’ shouldn’t be that hard a sell, but the most powerful force in baseball isn’t Miguel Cabrera—it’s inertia. The argument that we’ve always done it this way is not enough anymore. Joey Votto should be batting second for the Reds.”

And Carlos Gonzalez should be batting second for the Rockies.

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