Troubles In The Two Hole

Texas Rangers v Tampa Bay Rays
For each of the past four seasons, Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus has primarily hit in the second spot of the batting order. For much of the past two seasons, Andrus hitting second in the lineup has caused consternation and frustration among Ranger enthusiasts. Traditional baseball wisdom says a hitter with good bat control and contact skills that has the ability to sacrifice bunt is ideal in the two hole. Sabermetric principals and empirical research by Tom Tango in The Book has shown a manager hitting his most productive hitter second in the batting order would be the optimal strategy. Andrus yielded a 78 wRC+ in 2013, and has generated the same number so far in 2014. While a lot of offensive production is not expected out of your shortstop, Andrus’s 78 wRC+ is still below the American League average of 86 at the position. Andrus also leads all of baseball in sacrifice bunts with 25 since the beginning of ’13.
Based on the statistical information presented by the author in the first paragraph, one is lead to believe Andrus fits the description of a contact skills, bat control, sacrifice bunt type two hole hitter. The Rangers stereotyping the role of a second hitter can be exasperating for those who choose to root for them, but are the Rangers the only team adhering to the stereotype? The following chart is comprised of American League hitters who have hit second most often for their respective team in ‘14, and their slash line while hitting in the second spot in the order. The numbers are of September 16th 2014.
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Yes, the author understands some of these are not large samples, and judging a player’s performance based on the spot in the order he hits is a quick way to construct a narrative. However, the chart provides the reader with an idea of who managers are choosing to place in a very important spot in the batting order. Mike Scioscia hits the best player in baseball second for one of the league’s most potent offenses, but other than Trout, the majority of the hitters on this list are not their team’s most formidable weapon offensively. Joe Girardi has given Derek Jeter, one of the worst hitters in baseball in ’14, 580 plate appearances in the second spot of the batting order. The shrewd A’s began the year by using their best hitter Josh Donaldson as the second man in the order, but moved him down in the lineup and have given Jed Lowrie the majority of plate appearances in the two hole. Oakland has actually started fourteen different hitters at the two hole, with the diminutive Sam Fuld receiving the majority of at bats recently. The author will now provide the reader with the chart of overall offensive output from all American League teams provided by the second hitter in the order, with sacrifice bunts now included. These numbers are also as of September 16th.
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So while Andrus has struggled to provide much offense out of the second spot of the batting order, and just overall in general, other teams are also having difficulty generating production out of the second spot in the batting order due to managers not constructing their lineup optimally. The Rangers second place hitter OBP ranks ahead of six other teams, and Texas has not even sac bunted out of the two hole the most often in the American League. Terry Francona and Joe Girardi are known for their astute managerial skills, but they have asked their second place hitter to sac bunt a combined 24 times.

There is perhaps some valid reasoning in hitting Andrus second in the order despite his below average offensive production. Fangraphs writer Dave Cameron wrote this short piece on Instagraphs last week pertaining to hitters with high OBPs, but low frequency of scoring runs. While Andrus does not have a real palatable OBP, he is still scoring runs at a 34% clip, slightly above the league average of 30%. Elvis has also yielded an XBT% of 72%, well above the league average among players with 600 PAs of 40%, and leading all players with 600 PAs. The 72% XBT% would be a career high for the 26 year old. While some of Andrus success at RS% can be attributed to hitting in front of Adrian Beltre, one has to also consider he has hit in front of hitters who were largely ineffective in Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, Alex Rios, Mike Carp, and Mitch Moreland to name a few. We have all known Andrus’s base running has been part of what has made him valuable, but his base running ability can at least explain some reasoning in hitting him at the top of the order.

Elvis Andrus is certainly not what the author would consider a saber two hole darling. He sac bunts far too often, and simply does not hit for enough power for someone hitting second. His proclivity to hit worm killers is also not very desirable. However, other teams also are receiving less than adequate production from their second hitters, and managers continue to pencil the suboptimal name in the order on their lineup card. Perhaps the players mentally feel more comfortable at certain spots in the batting order, and are typecasting themselves as middle of the order hitters. Regardless of whether or not managers are constructing their lineups with emotion or ungoverned principles, with his strength in base running, Andrus would provide more value to the Rangers by hitting near the bottom of the order and then giving the top of the lineup chances to create runs. Whether that happens or not remains to be seen, but ensuring Andrus has the chance to provide the most value is vital especially considering his exorbitant contract extension begins in 2015.

Dustin Dietz
Dustin graduated from the University of North Texas with a degree in Radio/TV/Film, and a minor in history. He will often write about pitching mechanics and analytical baseball stuff. You will more than likely disagree with the majority of what he writes or says. In his spare time, Dustin time travels and plays at a replacement level in slow pitch softball leagues.

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