05 May 2012
I don’t know how long Jim Leyland is going to be able to keep Brennan Boesch in the number two spot in the batting order if he continues to struggle so much. But the question is, if Boesch was to be yanked, who would fill his place?
I’ve seen a good bit of internet chatter clamoring for Andy Dirks to get a shot, but while his .282 batting average looks good, he doesn’t draw many walks and only has a .300 on-base percentage to go with it. And when you boil it down OBP is the name of the game for your top-of-the-order hitters. They’re getting the most plate appearances every game, and it’s their job to ‘set the table’ for the big power guys in the three and four slots. Other than that, though, I haven’t heard many suggestions.The Book (by Tango, Lichtman, Dolphin), a statistically rigorous book about baseball strategy, the authors concluded that the number two hitter and number four hitter are basically identical in their importance to the team. Or, to put it another way, number two and number four should be two of your best hitters (with OBP preference to number two, and SLG preference to number four).
Keeping this information in mind, I think a perfect fit for the spot would be Alex Avila. First of all, he would keep the righty-lefty-righty feel of the lineup (which is excellent strategy in my opinion) but even more than that, he fits the profile of an excellent number two hitter.
Avila strikes out a bit more than an average hitter would, at a rate of 23% of his plate appearances, but he more than makes up for that with his well-above average walk rate (12.5%) and his ability to hit for extra bases. But really, you don’t need to look any further than his career .363 OBP to see that he would be a strong candidate to hit directly in front of the Miguel Cabrera-Prince Fielder duo.
My one concern with Avila is that he’s nothing like a speedster, and slower players could tend to hit into double plays (which are a killer in the two spot), but he hits more balls in the air than on the ground which helps mitigate the risk. For his career, he’s grounded into a double play in 10% of his opportunities (runner on first with less than two outs), which is slightly better than the league average rate of 11%.
The big problem with Boesch right now is his approach at the plate. He’s not good at drawing walks and tends to hack at too many balls out of the zone (even in good hitter’s counts). You would think that hitting in front of Cabrera and Fielder would force pitchers to throw more balls in the zone, but why would they do that when they know Boesch will chase anything?
Avila patient approach at the plate (his willingness to take more than his fair share of walks) could help the team take advantage of the protection that the big fellas provide. He’s not going to chase pitches like Boesch will which will force pitchers to either put the ball in the strike zone or face Cabrera with an extra runner on base.
I don’t know that Jim Leyland would ever view Avila as a candidate for the number two spot in the order, but I think it would be a great experiment to try.
Matt Snyder is the editor of The Tigers Den. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.