I am listening to MLB Network Radio today and Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette and the talk shifted to the Cincinnati Reds based on the most disappointing season. Among that talk it got into the Reds lineup and Billy Hamilton hitting leadoff. Jim Duquette kept talking about how catchers will call a ton of fastballs when Hamilton is on base to give themselves a chance to throw him out because there is next to no chance of it happening on an offspeed pitch with Hamilton unless he falls over or overslides the bag. That got me thinking about who are the best fastball hitters on the team?

With that in mind, I headed over to Fangraphs to take a look at the Reds hitters values against certain pitches.  I looked at the last two seasons for the players and am only looking at the other projected seven starters. The Reds have four players who are considerably above-average against fastballs over the last two years. Joey Votto, Ryan Ludwick, Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier all showed up well on the positive side of the ledger against fastballs. Devin Mesoraco and Zack Cozart found themselves well on the negative side. Brandon Phillips was a tiny bit below-average.

Of course, a 2-year sample can hide some things. Brandon Phillips for example has been above-average against fastballs from 2007-2012. With his wrist/hand injury, perhaps there is an easy explanation for why 2013 is the outlier for him. Zack Cozat a bit below-average prior to 2013 but he really struggled against them last season.  Devin Mesoraco was slightly above-average in his career prior to 2013 against fastballs, but really struggled in 2013 against them. Jay Bruce has always been good against fastballs, but he crushed them in 2013.

Then there is Joey Votto. Votto, one of the best hitters in the game, has crushed fastballs for his entire career. He seems to hit all pitches well though, but he really stands out against  the fastball.

I think it would be wise to avoid Mesoraco and Cozart in the two spot of the lineup, while there are some OBP concerns with each of those guys, but also because they have struggled against the fastball. However I do think that the Reds of the lineup, no matter which of the other players winds up hitting second would benefit from hitting behind Hamilton.

Personally, I would love to see what Joey Votto could do if pitchers actually had to pitch to him more often and I would love to see him hit second. But as long as Cozart or Mesoraco aren’t hitting second (unless they turn things around on how they have performed against fastballs in their careers), the guy batting second should see an uptick in production whenever Hamilton is on base because of how they will be pitched.

27 Responses

  1. CoachD178

    Here is my issue with batting Votto second. If Hamilton is getting on base at a .400 clip, fine, consider it. But otherwise, you are sending him up to the plate more often than not with maybe only 1 runner on. Of the three guys hitting ahead of him, two of them are likely the worst OBP guys on the team. One of them, the ptichers spot, is going to get on what, a .200 clip? He gets that position normally as the 3 hole hitter, but moving him up means he not only gets the SP’s spot but now the No. 8 spot in front of him as well? makes very little sense to me if you look at it big picture.

    • Doug Gray

      It also gets Votto about 30 extra plate appearances though.

      I think I would be willing to take my chances that Hamilton gets on base 30% of the time and have him see 10-15% more fastballs.

      • KyWilson1

        It would also give the 3-4 hitters a better chance of having someone on(likely in scoring position) with less then 2 outs bc of Votto’s OBP and power. Hes also a good base runner.

  2. babull

    The very selective approach that Joey employs at the dish fits very well in the 2-hole. He could have a very big year hitting there considering the extra PA’s and, hopefully, not being pitched around as much.

  3. DaveCT

    I would think Votto’s presence in the 3 spot benefits the offense more, as the 2 hitter cannot be pitched around as easily. As said above, pitchers will have to attack more with Hamilton on base. Also, what is to prevent other clubs from pitching around Votto at the 2 spot if the next batter is an easier out? This creates the double play, and takes the bat out of Votto’s hands. The way I see it, Hamilton benefits the 2 hitter and the 3 hitter when on base. I see a larger need, which to protect Votto batting 3rd, namely with Bruce.

  4. babull

    I would bat Joey and Jay back-to-back, yes – either 2/3 or 3/4. I am curious to see how Price puts his lineup together. I pray on a stack of toothpicks that he doesn’t bat Cozart #2.

  5. Tony

    Anywhere you put Votto, you can make a case for him… Let him bat where ever he feels most comfortable, even if that’s leadoff. Hamilton could be #1 but to me I see a better fit at #2. We could really benefit from a switch guy who has a high OBP at #1. (Choo would be great. Is Juan Pierre circa 2004 available?)

    • Tony

      I would go: 1.Frasier 2.Hamilton 3.Votto 4.Phillips 5.Bruce 6.Ludwick 7.Cozart 8.Mesoraco I understand the problems of Frasier at the top, but I don’t see a better option in the current lineup.

    • Stock

      Billy Hamilton could very well be much better than Pierre ever was.

      • Tony

        Hamilton has not shown he can have the BA required to leadoff… granted he was trying to learn to switch hit some of his minor league career but he was a .280 hitter over 5 seasons with the Reds minor leagues. And those are minor league pitchers… so a .280 converts to a .270 BA in the Majors… maybe. That is nowhere near Juan Pierre type hitting.

  6. Stock

    Frazier pounds the fastball. He and Bruce are the only two that make sense here. Hamilton has to lead off. Hamilton is the obvious choice to lead off. Outside of Votto and possibly Bruce he will lead the team in OBP. You don’t want either of those two batting leadoff. Additionally, you want him batting with nobody in front of him in the first inning.

    Hamilton, Frazier, Votto, Ludwick, Bruce, Phillips, Meso, Cozart.

  7. Krozley

    The downside of Votto hitting #2 is that once BHam is successful stealing, then Votto will not get good pitches to hit, taking the bat out of the hands of their best hitter and setting up the double-play. Plus, Votto tends to go the other way, so an out to the left-side will generally not be productive. Bruce doesn’t ground into many double-plays, so I think if Votto hits 2nd, Bruce would need to hit 3rd.

    BP seemed to have a bit of a knack hitting the ball the other way and traditionally hits fastballs fairly well, so I could seem him having success at #2 with hit and run scenarios. It will be interesting to see Price’s strategy.

  8. MK

    No way I pay $20 million to a 2-hole hitter. Hamilton, Phillips, Votto, Bruce, Ludwick, Frazier, Mesoraco, Cozart, pitcher.

    • Doug Gray

      Are you paying Joey Votto for RBI or are you paying Joey Votto to be productive? If you are paying for RBI, sure, don’t hit him 2nd. But if you are paying him to be productive, then hitting him 2nd isn’t a concern at all.

      • Alan Horn

        You don’t pay 20 million a year for a table setter. You pay 20 million to drive in runs. Kind of like set up pitchers versus starters/closers. The latter get paid more money.

      • Doug Gray

        The difference is, hitters are all getting the same opportunity.Starters and relievers are not getting the same opportunities. One is asked for get 21 outs, the other is asked to get 3.

        Hitters, they are asked to do two things. Avoid making outs. While avoiding making outs, acquire as many bases as possible.

        They may have once upon a time been asked to do things more specific than that, like “be an RBI guy”, but even then, an RBI guy did the most damage by acquiring as many bases as possible (slugging). The game isn’t the same as it used to be in terms of how teams are looking at things.

        Mike Trout is absolutely,unquestionably the best player in the game. He is one of the top 5 hitters in the game. Last year he logged 493 plate appearances in the #1 and #2 spots of the Angels lineup last year. Yes, he isn’t making that kind of money, but only because of how baseball is structured. If everyone were paid based on production on the field, no one would be paid higher.

      • DaveCT

        Even with a new look at the question of where Votto hits, and why (RBI’s vs, say, OBS), it still doesn’t change it too much. Where will Votto be most productive, 1 or 2 spots behind leadoff? In front of Bruce or someone else? The hypothetical of him hitting 2nd doesn’t necessarily match this team’s realities, namely will Hamilton hit enough, will his speed create more fastball counts, does Phillips or another at 2 increase their productivity and help the team overall offense more, … time will tell.

      • Doug Gray

        Yeah, it really is a multifaceted question that depends more on Hamilton than anyone else. The Reds really need him to keep pitchers in check at the plate and hold his own somewhat.

      • Nick

        Agree with Doug. Smart teams don’t concern themselves with RBI. It is a flawed stat to evaluate players. There is a statistical argument that your best player should hit second (according to The Book). I’d be happy with Votto batting second or third and Bruce behind him. Not sure Hamilton is a great lead off option, but I don’t think we have a great lead off option.

    • Norwood Nate

      Cano, Beltran, and Trout all logged time in two-hole. Those are pretty good hitters. I think it’s archaic/Dusty-ian thinking to view the two hole as a table setter.

  9. Troy

    I think Votto or Frazier would fit best… I don’t think they will bat Votto 2nd though. Frazier did not have any success in the 2-hole last season, but I still think his relative on-base ability, along with his pop/ability to drive fastballs, would make him a good candidate. Wouldn’t be upset to see Phillips there either, as I think the injury was an issue for him last season, and I expect him to bounce back.

    • KyWilson1

      You sandwich Frazier behind Hamilton and in front of Votto hes seeing a major increase in fastballs. I think it should be Phillips though, he handles the bat better for hit and run situations,

  10. Jasonp

    I think Votto hitting second would be best as well. If not him I would do Frazier. I think giving your best hitter more at bats make sense. Votto has one of the best line drive rates in baseball and with Hamilton’s speed I think Votto will have a good chance of driving him in even if he is on first base. Votto is also takes a lot of balls and I think that will give Hamilton a lot of chances to steal.

    I think I would hit Bruce 3rd but I think between Ludwick, Frazier, Mesoraco, Phillips we have enough people who could be 4 and 5 hitters.

  11. Tim

    Batting Votto 2nd doesnt decrease his chances for driving runs in that much. When Hamilton gets on in front of Votto everyone knows he is going to steal 2nd so Votto will automatically have someone in scoring position. And Votto usually works deep into counts so that will help Billy steal a base also. Having him bat right after Hamilton also decreases the chances of Billy being left on 2nd base after a steal because the #2 hitter gets out before Votto gets to the plate to hit if he is the #3 hitter.

  12. Norwood Nate

    Joey Votto should absolutely be the 2-hole hitter and Bruce the 3. It gives more ABs to the two best hitters in the line ups and takes full advantage of their skills. Votto is the best person to have up there to take a pitch if Hamilton is on, because he is the best on the team at batting down in the count, and additionally he takes pitches anyway. The 70% of the time Hamilton is not on base, Votto is likely to get on base. That way you have someone on when Bruce etc come up to bat more times than not, and with less than two outs. Bruce gets to serve as protection for Votto and also sees more guys on base with less than two outs. I would love to see that construction, but unfortunately I think we’ll see Phillips in the two-hole. At least with Hamilton in front of him, he’s less likely to ground into double plays.

    • Nick

      Great thoughts, Nate. The main reason I would enjoy seeing a 2/3 of Votto and Bruce is that is gives the Reds’ two best hitters more at bats which is precisely your first point. Makes a lot of sense.

  13. Cbus

    If Hamilton is leading off, I don’t like Votto batting 2nd since the Reds never seem to steal bases with Votto at bat.

    I think Frazier and Phillips are the two best options and I’d lean towards Frazier for one reason. They might both hit fastballs well, but I think Phillips is the much better off-speed hitter, so getting more fastballs benefits Frazier more than Phillips.