Saturday, February 20, 2010

To Three Or Not To Three

  • Jose Reyes batting third is a great idea:

Mets manager Jerry Manuel played with the idea of batting Jose Reyes third last spring, but resistance to the idea from the player and the fact that the Mets lineup didn't need the change at the start of the season put the kibosh on the plan. Now, with Carlos Beltran out and the lineup more in flux, the idea is being revived.

It's a great idea.

The club's best overall hitter should always hit third. That doesn't necessarily mean the hitter who hits the most homers; has he highest average or on base percentage; but the hitter who can do the most "stuff". For the Mets, right now without Beltran, that's Jose Reyes.

While Reyes doesn't have more than 15 homer power (if that at spacious Citi Field), he's still got gap strength and will rack up the extra base hits. Because of his early season injury, we never got the chance to see what was going to happen when Reyes ripped a shot into the right field corner at Citi and watch him run around the bases as the ball bounced around like it was in a pinball machine.

Reyes can do it all at the plate and in the field. If there are runners on base in front of him, he can drive them in; if he gets on base by himself, he can steal bases; and he can hit the ball out of the park. Instead of having him as the leadoff hitter with the big bats behind him, he can be one of the big bats in the middle of the lineup and has the potential to drive in 100 runs.

As camp broke last season, the Mets situation was vastly different than it is now. With Daniel Murphy the leading candidate to replace Carlos Delgado at first base; Beltran out until May at the earliest; and not much expected from catcher and second base offensively, the Mets have to maximize what they have. Batting Reyes third does that.

This is similar to that of the 1985 Cardinals when they inserted Tommy Herr----not exactly a power hitter; nor the best hitter in the Cardinals lineup----into the third slot as an accident of circumstance more than a conscious plan on the part of manager Whitey Herzog. Herr wound up driving in 110 runs because Vince Coleman and Willie McGee were always on base in front of him wreaking havoc; he also scored 97 runs because Jack Clark was batting fourth to drive him in.

Citi Field is similar to the old Busch Stadium in the vast expanse of the outfield. That Cardinals team rode three starting pitchers, a deep bullpen and a load of guys who could run to leading the league in runs scored and went to the World Series. If you look at the way the Mets are configured, they have more power than that Cardinals team and a few options if they choose to bat Reyes third.

They can bat Luis Castillo leadoff because he gets on base; Angel Pagan second; Reyes third; and David Wright fourth.

They can bat Pagan leadoff and try something creative like sticking Jeff Francoeur second despite his low on base percentage and double play possibility in the hopes that he'll see some fastballs; this would free them to bat Castillo eighth where his on base skills and lack of pop would be mitigated because if he's on base, the pitcher can bunt him over as the lineup turns.

Reyes's value is diminished as a leadoff hitter because he's rarely in a position to use his extra base pop to drive in runs and that the hitters behind him aren't as threatening as they were in 2006-2008. Since he can do so many things and the Mets have Wright and Jason Bay to hit behind him, he'll score as many or more runs as he did when the Mets lineup was packed with power 2-3 years ago. When Beltran gets back, they can either slide Beltran into the 2 or 4 hole and move everyone around.

It's the smart move. In fact, it might win Jose Reyes the MVP.

  • Jingling the keys:

Last week, I wrote of the various "keys" to the season for each team. For the Cardinals, I wrote that Matt Holliday was the most important factor because of the importance of protecting Albert Pujols in their lineup and the relative weakness surrounding him at third base and possibly center field. The more I looked at the Cardinals though, I realized that Holliday isn't the key to the Cardinals season. The key to the Cardinals success or failure is Chris Carpenter.

Carpenter's health is paramount. We saw the dichotomy of Carpenter last year. After being injured with arm problems for all but five games in 2007-2008, he got hurt again in early 2009 missing almost the first two months of the season with an oblique strain. At age 34 and with that list of maladies to every part of his body, who could've expected him to return and be as brilliant as he was in his Cy Young Award winning heyday with the Cardinals?

But he was.

Carpenter went 17-4 with a sterling 2.24 ERA and was dominant from the time he got back in late May through the end of the season and finished second in the NL Cy Young Award voting. No player has the "what if?" label attached to him like Carpenter.

His history has been simple: brilliant when able to pitch; will he be able to pitch?

Who knows?

If the Cardinals have a healthy Carpenter, their rotation is fine. If they don't, they have Adam Wainwright, Brad Penny and three question marks and will be putting the pot of gold on Tony La Russa, Dave Duncan and a bad division.

They need Carpenter to produce more than Holliday; if he doesn't, they fall right back into the pack of the weak NL Central. Carpenter is the key to the whole season and if anyone says they know what to expect from him one way or the other, I can tell you now----they don't. Not even the Cardinals or Carpenter know. They just have to hope.

1 comment:

Joe said...

If your opinion is that "the best overall hitter should hit third," then David Wright should be batting third. He is their best hitter.