Every year much ink is spilled and many a hand is wrung over the lineup choices of Mike Scioscia. Like most teams, the construction of the Angels lineup is the source of much debate. Things were fairly stable for the Halos last year, but comments by Scioscia this offseason have thrown things into flux once again.
Where will Mike Trout bat?
Who will bat cleanup?
So many choices!
But what should the Angels do? Every choice they could make leads to problems somewhere else. Anything Scioscia could do exposes a hole in another spot in the order, making filling out the lineup card into a bizarre shell game.
Take Scioscia’s idea to move Mike Trout down from the two-hole to bat third in the order. Forget for a second whether or not that is even a good idea. Moving Trout down creates a gaping hole where he was previously located, arguably the most important spot in the order. Scioscia’s idea would be to bat Matt Joyce in the two-hole then.
Great, but then what? If Joyce is hitting second, who bats behind Pujols? He needs some protection, preferably left-handed protection with power, at least against right-handed pitching. The Angels don’t have that unless they drop Kole Calhoun to fifth. But if they do that, who bats leadoff?
Scioscia would probably suggest Erick Aybar, which would be a huge mistake since he is a low-OBP hitter. If you wanted to go the high OBP route, some are sure to suggest Chris Iannetta, but that is problematic since it puts one of the slowest players on the team in front of one of the fastest players in the league. Is that worth the bump in OBP? Probably not.
So that pretty much rules out Calhoun moving down. But by not moving Calhoun down, you’re stacking two left-handed batters back-to-back, one of which has especially large troubles with left-handed pitching. That alone should rule out Joyce now batting second.
Can we still get away with Trout batting third? Does that not put us back in the same quandary as finding a replacement leadoff man? You still don’t want Aybar in the top of the order and you still don’t want Iannetta clogging up the bases for Trout.
Alright, fine, batting Trout third is a bad idea (and it is, for a number of other reasons as well). That doesn’t mean the lineup is set though. Even under the status quo lineup, the Halos don’t have a great solution for who should bat cleanup.
The de facto solution is to let Matt Joyce bat fourth against righties and David Freese bat fourth against lefties. This isn’t the worst idea, but it has flaws. That platoon arrangement leaves the heart of the order vulnerable to matchup pitching late in games. Do you really want Collin Cowgill pinch-hitting for Matt Joyce with the tying run on second with two outs in the ninth and a lefty reliever on the mound? No, you don’t, but opposing managers sure do. You’ve got a similar problem with Freese, too, only not quite as pronounced. In fact, Freese probably wouldn’t be pinch-hit for, he’d just be allowed to hit despite his notable platoon disadvantage.
What are the alternatives? Scioscia has already been experimenting this spring with Erick Aybar batting fourth. Yep, prototypical cleanup hitter Erick Aybar and his career .108 ISO. But, hey, he’s a switch-hitter, right? No platoon problems! Sure, he would be ineffective at actually driving in the runners on base, but at least he’d be just as ineffective against all pitchers.
You could go the other way and let C.J. Cron bat cleanup. He might end up being a human out machine, but when he doesn’t make an out, he has a tendency to hit the ball very, very far. He also has yet to prove that he’s vulnerable to platoon matchups. So that’s… something.
However, in either scenario you’re burying Joyce and Freese further down the batting order. With Chris Iannetta already buried in the bottom third of the order due to his inherit catcher-iness, that would mean having your two top OBP guys (non-Trout division) batting no higher than fifth in the order. That seems just a tiny bit suboptimal and makes you want to revisit the whole “Joyce batting second” idea all over again. Welcome to the hell of lineup logic loops.
The fact of the matter is that there just is no Angels lineup that is going to please everyone. Scioscia is going to tinker with it. Some fans are going to complain about said tinkering. Some other fans are going to complain when he doesn’t tinker. Some are going to do both because, well, internet. There’s nothing any of us can do about it other than to just try and accept that no matter how much you dislike the lineup arrangement, the Angels lineup has enough talent to be a top offense with any lineup permutation short of Trout batting ninth and Scioscia foregoing the DH so the pitcher can hit in the two-hole instead.