Line 'Em Up
by Lane Rizzardini
We're in the full spring training swing now, and while Michael Morse's .516 on-base percentage probably isn't telling us a whole lot about how the season will actually play out there is important information to be gathered that fantasy managers need to pay attention to. As most seasoned owners know, where a player hits in his respective team's lineup can have a major impact on which statistical categories they will likely contribute most. Once a week we will take a look at the changes being made in major league batting orders and what it means for the players on your fantasy team.
In our first installment of Line 'Em Up, we'll take a look at some headlines from spring training regarding major lineup decisions being made around the league.
- According to Cincinnati Reds' manager Dusty Baker, Drew Stubbs will begin the season as the team's leadoff hitter. The 30 bases he stole in 2010 show he clearly has the speed to hold down the spot, but his measly .329 on-base percentage and .67 contact rate last year say otherwise. In the 34 games he batted from the top of the order he hit just .220. He will have to make major improvements in the average department if he is to stick at the top of the order. Considering the 20/30 season he posted last year he is still a player you want manning your outfield if you can afford the batting average hit, but in the leadoff slot he will have a harder time reaching 22 home runs and 77 RBIs as he did last season, though the stolen bases would figure to stay in the 30 range or higher.
- Probably the best lineup conundrum to have this spring falls on the shoulders of Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who must choose between 2008 batting champion Dustin Pedroia, 50-60 steals threat Jacoby Ellsbury or the newly acquired Carl Crawford for the top two spots in the batting order. Poor guy. Buster Olney thinks Pedroia and Crawford will be slotted one-two with Ellsbury in the nine-hole as the end of the order speed guy or "bizarro" leadoff man, which seems logical as there is no way you can slot the other two at five or lower. Ellsbury's value is obviously hurt by this simply because of the fewer at-bats he will see but due to his freakish speed and great average he could still be a nice value pick in fantasy drafts. With all that talent in the Boston lineup, no one is really suffering due to batting order.
- According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Texas Rangers will put Ian Kinsler in the top spot in the order this season with 2010 leadoff man Elvis Andrus batting second. It is a peculiar move considering Andrus' 64 walks last season were more than Kinsler has ever drawn in a single season, and that he has more speed while the oft-injured Rangers' second baseman has substantially more home run pop. The likely result will be more stolen base chances for Kinsler and less for Andrus as the team will not want to risk outs with the big sticks of Hamilton, Beltre, and Cruz coming up next. Perhaps if Andrus can improve on his atrocious 68-percent success rate on stolen base attempts from last year he could regain the top spot at some point in the season.
- Some exciting news out of Pittsburgh Pirates camp is Andrew McCutchen's continual usage and success in the third spot in the order this spring. The third-year outfielder has been flirting with stardom and a move to the primetime batting position could be the thing that vaults him into the elite tier of outfielders. He certainly possesses 20/30 skills and now he will certainly improve on the mid-50 RBI totals he has posted in his first two seasons. Ignore the surrounding talent in the batting order (and there is substantial improvement), we are looking a five-tool player in the making here, something all fantasy players drool over.
- It is looking like Tsuyoshi Nishioka will bat second in front of Joe Mauer while playing second base for the Minnesota Twins this season. The transfer from Japan posted an absurd .346/.423/.482 line in 2010 for the Chiba Lotte Marines and has the skills to perform well in the United States. He could be a reliable three-category player from the two spot and come at a fantastic late-round price. The scarcity of the second base position makes him even more valuable for fantasy owners.
- There's been some rumbling out of the New York Yankees fan base and media for second baseman Robinson Cano to bat third in the lineup this season. He certainly played well enough, putting together a line of 103/29/109/.319 in 2010 and apparently would love to have a crack at it. A move like that would put currently number three hitter Mark Teixeira in the five hole and raise the question of how the team's streakiest batter would react to something like that. Right now though, this is all a lot of media-made hype as manager Joe Girardi has made no such adjustment to his batting order in spring training. Unless something changes soon expect things to remain as they were in 2010.
- Jimmy Rollins will likely start the season as the Philadelphia Phillies leadoff hitter when the 2011 season begins instead of Shane Victorino. Manager Charlie Manuel referred to his shortstop as a guy he always viewed as a leadoff hitter, but also said he, "could hit first, second, third, fifth, sixth, or even fourth for a couple of days." This is a situation that could change dramatically as the season goes on, but if Rollins can regain some of the magic he had in 2006 and 2007 he will find a consistent spot in the lineup and thrive. Keeping his hamstrings healthy and bringing his batting average up will be crucial to him sticking in the leadoff spot in 2011.