If one were to simply Google-search the phrase "Votto hitting 2nd" there would be 3,850,000 results for the find. The topic has been hotlydebated for quite some time as Dusty Baker insisted on batting the putting weak batters in the 2nd spot in the Reds lineup. Those that from that spot hit .228 with a .281 on base percentage last season. Baker, instead of changing the lineup, allowed his hitters in the two-hole to bunt ten times before the fourth inning last season. TEN.
The latest entry into the debate comes from Steve Mancuso from Redleg Nation. Mancuso sites several bits of information from Tom Tango's The Book, and also quotes Joe Maddon, which is always a positive in my book. The strongest point was made here:
Hamilton scores from first like clockwork on Votto's doubles. And, if you're worried about the opponent simply walking Votto after Hamilton steals second, understand they'd be less likely to do that with #19 batting second and no outs then if he's batting third with one down. And if Votto does walk you've got runners at first and second with no outs instead of one. Either way, it's better to have Votto's AB occur right after Hamilton gets on.
If opponents continued to pitch Votto out of the zone with Hamilton on base, either at 1st base or at 2nd base after stealing, they could potentially be digging themselves a huge hole. The run expectancy for runners on 1st and 2nd with 0 outs is 0.643 whereas using the two-hole batter to bunt the batter over creates a run expectancy of 0.418.
Last season, when Votto came to the plate with either nobody on base or a runner on 1st, he hit .303/.418/.485, walking 16.3|PERCENT| of the time and seeing 47.3|PERCENT| of his pitches in the strikezone. When he came to the plate with runners in scoring position, he hit .291/.477/.455, walking 26.3|PERCENT| of the time and seeing just 42.3|PERCENT| of his pitches in the strikezone. That is a big reason why Brandon Phillips drove in 103 runs last season; he often came to bat with both Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Votto on base.
The reason I would like to see Votto hit second has more to do with just RBI opportunities, because I feel it enhances the value of Billy Hamilton. Hamilton should benefit from Votto hitting second primarly because an extra base hit is going to score him with his blazing speed. It should also benefit him because with a left-handed batter in the batter's box, the catcher is going to have to make an extra movement to get a clean throw off to second base. As it is, catchers are having a tough time throwing him out on pickoffs, and every tenth of a second counts when you are trying to make the perfect throw to get the speedster.
Additionally, Votto is an ideal hit and run candidate because he makes excellent contact and is very willing to hit the ball the other way. If Hamilton is in motion, the shortstop is going to come cover the bag, that opens up a huge hole for Votto to hit the ball through setting up even more advantageous run scoring situations for Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips to drive in.
Dusty Baker's old school approach to lineup construction is gone. More importantly, Shin-Soo Choo's high OBP at the top of the lineup is now gone. The Reds need to create runs as Votto is the only returning batter in the lineup with an above average on base percentage last season. A Hamilton/Votto/Bruce/Phillips quartet at the top of the lineup has the potential to do a lot of damage in 2014.