The White Sox’ annual struggle with the second spot in the batting order is no secret. Ever since the Tadahito Iguchi days, the two-hole has been a weak spot on the south side. So yet again, Robin Ventura & co. are tasked with figuring out who leadoff hitter Adam Eaton and slugger Jose Abreu will sandwich in the lineup.
Last season, Melky Cabrera was brought in on a 3-year, $42M deal. He’s settled nicely into the middle of the order since last June. Thing is, the thought process in bringing him in was that he’d give the Sox an at least competent, and potentially potent 2-hitter.
Through 12 games this season, Melky is enjoying hitting in the 5-hole behind Abreu and cleanup hitter Todd Frazier. His average is up to .333 after a brutal opening series in Oakland, and he’s only struck out three times while drawing four walks through 46 plate appearances. Cabrera hasn’t finished a season with nearly as many bases on balls as strikeouts since an impressive 2009 campaign in The Bronx, so the K/BB ratio will almost surely regress back to what we expect from him. Nonetheless, paired with all of the hard-hit balls we’ve seen from the Melk Man of late, you can say with some certainty that at least for right now, he’s totally dialed in at the plate and is often giving the team professional and productive at-bats.
So, would the obvious option to try Melky out in the 2-hole again be a good decision? Would losing a legitimate threat of a 5-hitter you can slot in behind Abreu & the Todd Father with confidence be worth it? Well, time to look at the other options …
Rollins has been the Sox’ number two hitter out of the gate for obvious reasons. The future Hall of Famer knows how to hit. Despite the steep drop-off in his performance over the past couple of years, he is not quite at the point of looking completely overmatched in the box.
While he does still have some pop, which he displayed in Spring Training and with a game-winning home run in Oakland a couple weeks back, he just isn’t the threat to put a charge behind the baseball that he once was, and when you pair that with his porous on-base skills (.285 OBP in 2015; 1 walk through 37 plate appearances in 2016), the name on the back of his jersey is cannot be enough to justify him being the guy to bridge the gap between a potentially elite leadoff hitter in Eaton and the potent middle of the order.
Rollins is fine as a quality control veteran in the infield and even in the lineup … if he’s hitting at or (very) near the bottom of the order.
I believe Lawrie was brought in to be a scrappy leader in the clubhouse and on the field, and a good defensive second baseman. And while he hasn’t quite lived up to his potential as a professional, he has shown plenty of pop at the plate. So for a team that not only needed a scrappy guy, but also needed to add power bats, I say you leave him be in the 5-7 range of the order and hope he provides a SLG % of over well over .400 with 15-20 HR like he has proven plenty capable of doing throughout his career.
An option that I by no means love, but do certainly like more than Rollins, is the good guys’ new center fielder Austin Jackson.
A. Jax hasn’t put up numbers to write home about over the first couple weeks of the season, but he does have tons of experience hitting atop a lineup for a contender and still constantly provides quality, hard-fought at bats.
Now, I don’t want to sound contradictory here. Giving “professional at bats” and having been a good hitter in a past life, like with J-Roll, should by no means be enough to earn him a nod in a crucial spot in the Sox’ order. By those standards, Alex Avila would also be a good opiton. LOL.
Thing is, Jackson is just flat-out better than Rollins.
He doesn’t draw lots of walks, but he does more often than Rollins. Jackson, 29, also has more pop than the 37-year-old shortstop. That ‘pop’ probably won’t translate into long balls, as I’d say I expect Jimmy to hit more homers (at least per at bat) this year. But I do think his ability to hit situationally and square the ball up while doing so is better at this point in his career than Rollins’.
If the decision had to be Rollins or Jackson, I’d take A. Jax every time. Realistically though, A.Jax too is a 7, 8, or 9 hitter on a contender, not a 2-hitter.
JUST GROUP THE STUDS TOGETHER IDC WHAT THE ORDER IS
It’s not something that I believe many Sox fans have considered much, but Ventura may need to mull over the idea of moving Jose Abreu or Todd Frazier into the 2-hole.
One of the best baseball sites on the web, Fangraphs, has dissected the importance of the 2-spot a lot over the past year-or-so. Check it. Long story short? The 2 hitter is important … maybe the most important hitter there is in the lineup.
I hate having a leadoff man like Eaton and throwing some average (at best) hitter between him and one of the top 3-4 duos in baseball. Feels like such a waste. Eaton, Abreu, Frazier, and Cabrera are by far the top-4 hitters on the team, and there’s a decently big drop-off after them. So I am all for grouping them together in the lineup.
So, the Verdict is…
If I were Robin, I’d give Melky another go in the 2-hole. Does that dilute the middle of the order, as your 5 hitter suddenly becomes Avi, Lawrie, or Jerry Sands? It sure as hell does. But I think putting a good hitter behind Eaton and ahead of the mashers is far more valuable than strengthening the 5th spot.
I’m a bit of a traditionalist in that I like having those mashers hit 3rd and 4th, but frankly I think any combination of the Sox’ top-4 guys hitting in the first 4 spots would be a far better option than breaking them up with a clearly insufficient hitter like Rollins.
Whether it’s Eaton-Cabrera-Abreu-Frazier, Eaton-Abreu-Frazier-Cabrera, or Eaton-Frazier-Abreu-Cabrera, I say give it a whirl. Pair the studs together and HELP THEM HELP EACH OTHER.
Then again, Tadahito Iguchi is still mashing in the Japanese League at age 41 this season, so maybe we should stop overthinking things and just turn back to him.
(Photo via Duane Burleson/Getty Images)