Should Josh Hamilton Bat 2nd in 2013

This is a question that doesn't deserve to be dignified with an answer. C'mon now, shouldn't Josh Hamilton really be batting 2nd in the Angels’ lineup come 2013? The answer is so obvious, who wouldn't want to see a Trout-Hamilton-Pujols-Trumbo lineup? That is easily the deadliest 1-4 in all of baseball within recent memory. I haven't been a fan of baseball as long as a lot of you have, but I feel confident in saying that is one of the best lineup combinations within the last few decades. That lineup has the potential to put together 120+ HR's just between the four of them. The all put up a combined 135 HR's last season, so even if they remain stagnant and neither improve nor regress that'll still be an incredible amount of production from 4 consecutive players. At first glance it seems that it's almost a no-brainer that Hamilton bats 2nd, that idea quickly falls apart once you regard both the lineup behind the 4 spot and the unpredictability in said lineup.

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Once Josh Hamilton signed it seemed to be a fact that he would bat 2nd, but the departure of Kendrys Morales to the Seattle Mariners took away a lot of depth and protection from the Angels lineup. Whereas Kendrys would have projected to hit 4th with Trumbo protecting him in the 5th spot it seems that there is a serious vacancy in the 5th spot in the lineup. If Hamilton does indeed hit second then who could possibly hit 5th in the lineup behind Trumbo? Howie Kendrick? While he does seem to be the best fit in the lineup currently to hit 5th his inability to find consistency at the plate as well as his high strikeout numbers would prove more damaging than productive to the Angels lineup. Once you take into account his horrible tendancy to his into the most untimely double plays, noted by the 26 double plays he grounded into last season, it seems that Mr. Unclutch Freeswinger isn't really the best option to hit 5th. However, his 2012 season was a regression from his 2011 campaign, and when you take into account his relatively young age (29) it seems plausible he could have a strong bounce back campaign. But if that were the case wouldn't the lineup project better with a bounce-back Kendrick hitting 2nd with Pujols/Hamilton/Trumbo behind him? Last year Torii Hunter saw an incredibly low number of off-speed pitches, with only 15.1% of the pitches being thrown to Hunter registering as off-speed/breaking pitches. The benefit of hitting behind Trout is getting a lot of hard, fast pitches to hit; with guys like Hamilton or Kendrick having the benefit of seeing a bevy of hittable pitches it seems that one of these two would be perfect for the 2 hole. Once you consider these two hitters ability to kill fastballs and flounder on breaking pitches it seems obvious that one of these two would be best fit to hit 2nd. Kendrick’s inconsistencies make him a less attractive option than the very stable Alberto Callaspo, though Callaspo does not have as high of an upside as Kendrick.

Last year Josh Hamilton saw an incredibly low amount of fastballs, with fastballs being thrown to him approximately 50% of the time. This number, based off of FanGraphs, is the sixth lowest fastball rate in the last decade. To compare, the lowest fastball rate in the last decade belongs to Ryan Howard in 2009, a season in which he saw fastballs only 47% of the time. With Hamilton hitting behind Trout he'll be feasting off of more fastballs, there is no doubt about that at all. Hamilton kills fastballs in the middle/lower-half of the zone, holding a .700+SLG % on the middle/lower-half fastball. Adding in the fact that Hamilton will be hitting between Trout and Pujols, it just seems obvious that Hamilton should be batting second in the lineup. Keeping him away from the 2nd spot would be like keeping the caramel out of a Twix bar. Even though it just feels so obvious that Hamilton should be hitting second the fact that the lineup drops off pretty hard after Trumbo signifies to us that Hamilton should be hitting lower in the lineup to keep from packing the meat of the order into one area while allow the rest of the lineup to suffer. The biggest key would be Mark Trumbo, given how absolutely horrible his 2nd half was in 2012 is seems that having him hit 4th when he could fall apart at any second seems counter-productive to creating a strong, consistent lineup. Then again, if we do see the return of pre-All Star break Trumbo we could be in for an absolute behemoth of a lineup. However, even a resurgent Trumbo can't ensure quality bats in the 5-9 spot in the order. Even if the 1-4 hitters are killing hit having an inconsistent Howie Kendrick hit 5th followed by Chris Iannetta or Callaspo seems like a weak follow up to the top of the lineup.

It would work better for the long term production and consistency of the lineup to have someone like Kendrick or Callaspo hitting 2nd in order to ensure power bats in both the 4th/5th spot in the lineup. Having Hamilton 4th and Trumbo 5th allows the Angels to slot Ianetta in the 5th hole, with gives them a strong Left/Right/Left combination in the heart of the order without sacrificing any production to the top of the order. Let's be honest, the lineup looks much better with Ianetta hitting 6th behind Trumbo looks a lot better than Ianetta hitting 6th behind Howie Kendrick. A middle of the order consisting of Trumbo/Iannetta/Callaspo in the 4th/5th/6th spots is a lot more versatile while keeping power in the bottom and top of the lineup. The real question here is who should be hitting second, once that falls into place the bottom of the order will sort itself out as well. Let’s say Kendrick cuts down on the GIDP and K's while hitting for the same power he did in 2011, his presence in the two hole would add an incredible amount of pressure on opposing pitchers especially when you consider that they have to deal with danger in the 1-5 spots instead of just the first 4. This lets the Angels hitters put consistent pressure on the opposing team rather than let them get in the mindset of dealing with the first four hitters then relaxing once they've gotten through the meat of the lineup. Keeping the pressure thick through the entire lineup is going to be the key to the Angels success in 2013.

Even though Callaspo and Aybar made suitable candidates for the top of the lineup last year I feel that their presence in the bottom of the order would work much better for the lineup than having them at the top. The basic structure of the lineup has completely changed, at least for the Angels. Now that have both the power/speed threat in Trout to pair up with hitters like Hamilton, Pujols, and Trumbo the top of the Angels lineup has become a meat grinder. Now the table-setters (should!) be hitting at the bottom of the order, Callaspo-Aybar-Bourjos, this gives the top of the order plenty of base runners to work with, adding even more pressure onto the opposing team. Though it might seem counterproductive I'd rather have Bourjos hitting 8th after Callaspo but before Aybar given that Aybar is able to get on base at a much better clip than Bourjos and is better at making contact. Then again having Bourjos batting last as expected would give incredible speed on the base paths for Trout to work with. My favorite thing about the lineup last year was having Iannetta hitting 9th due to his incredibly ability to get OBP, work pitch counts, and his general expert control of the strike zone made him a perfect partner for Mike Trout. He not only gave Trout a guy in front of him that he could rely on getting on base, he had a guy in front of him that could work pitchers to the bone, even if he got out most of the time he made those pitchers earn the outs. Unfortunately the Angels don't have anyone more suitable for the 6th spot than Iannetta, so the bottom of the order will have to sacrifice in order to fortify the heart of the lineup. Having Aybar, Bourjos, or Callaspo hitting in front of Trout won't be nearly as effective as Iannetta; but then again having Aybar or Callaspo hitting closer to the middle of the order would be far less effective for the lineup.

I don't know if the Angels have had a lineup like this in a long time. Not just because of the star power, but because of the pure versatility the lineup offers. There are so many options here to experiment with that it'll almost drive you crazy. I guarantee the Angels will not be seeing a consistent lineup for the first couple months or so of the season. This isn't just because Scioscia's love for scrambling the lineup day in and day out, this is due to the fact that the lineup will need heavy experimenting before finding the most suitable option. Don't get all pissy when Hamilton, Kendrick, Trumbo, Aybar, Callaspo and Iannetta are constantly bounced throughout the lineup to see what works best. This season Scioscia actually has a valid excuse to do some heavy experimenting with the lineup throughout the first couple months, which also means that he'll come across a failed product or two. Given the characteristics of this lineup it'll be a while before it settles into something solid. The only true thing that can be said about it is this; once the 2nd spot in the lineup is sorted out the rest will fall in place. It's just a matter of how long that takes.

Let's pray it's settled in in time for the World Series.

 

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