The whole picture for the No. 2 hitter

Open Thread: Tape delayed
Backing up the brittle DH

Over the past few days we’ve looked at a few aspects of a quality No. 2 hitter. We want someone who will get on base and set the table for the heart of the order, but who also won’t ground into double plays when the leadoff man reaches. As it turns out, the guy who gets on base more grounds into far more double plays. Will those twin killings hurt the team more than his presence on the base paths helps it?

Since we’re working with the theoretical here I’ll use the Bill James projections, mostly because they assume a greater run environment. We really could have used any system, though, since we need only compare the systems to themselves.

Getting on base for Teixeira

Bill James projects Granderson to reach base in 35.3 percent of his plate appearances, and Johnson to reach in 41.4 percent. To make things easier, we’ll scale this to 600 plate appearances, which lies between each of their projections. That means Johnson would reach 248 times to Granderson’s 212. Beyond the obvious observation that Johnson would reach base 36 more times than Granderson, it also represents some fraction of those 36 where Granderson would end an inning.

That last point, I think, is sometimes overlooked when discussing players reaching base. Clearly, Johnson won’t keep 36 innings going where Granderson would end one. But if that’s true for even a third of them, it’s a dozen innings where Teixeira hits with a man on base rather than starting the next inning with the bases empty. Over his career Teixeira has hit .295/.400/.555 with men on base and .285/.357/.535 with the bases empty. Those dozen situations, then, could lead to a few extra runs over the course of a season.

Keeping Jeter on the base paths

Given the same number of plate appearances, we know Johnson will make fewer outs than Granderson. Unfortunately, sometimes the outs Johnson makes count double. He has come to the plate 594 times in his career facing a double play chance, and has hit into it 72 times, or 12.1 percent of the time. How much, then, does this offset his ability to get on base?

The Bill James projections peg Jeter for 152 singles and 64 walks, or 216 times reaching first base. It also projects him to bat 631 times, so we need to scale down the number to 600 PA, which puts it at 205 times. At a 12.1 percent GIDP rate, Johnson would erase Jeter 26 times. Granderson, however, grounds into a double play just 4.4 percent of the time, so he would erase Jeter only 9 times. That’s 17 additional instances, or 34 additional outs, for Johnson.

We often say that the most important thing a player can do at bat is not make an out. Each team gets only 27 outs per game, and only three before they have to clear the bases and start over, so those outs are the most valuable assets in the game. Using straight OBP in a 600 PA environment, we can expect Johnson to make 352 outs and Granderson 388. Once we add in their twin killings, though, we see that Johnson projects to make 378 outs and Granderson 397 — and that’s just considering Jeter’s instances of reaching first base.

More than one way to think about it

Clearly, the double play situation does not bode well for Johnson. He still projects to make fewer outs than Granderson, but the double plays make that a lot closer. Like all baseball issues, however, there are plenty more ways to look at the comparison.

Yes, Johnson might erase Jeter in 26 of the 205 times he reaches first base. No one wants to see that. But the flip side presents the number of times both Jeter and Johnson will reach base. Scaled to 600 PA, Jeter figures to reach base, but not hit a home run, 237 times. Holding consistent Johnson’s .414 OBP, that means that 98 times Teixeira will come to the plate either with both Jeter and Johnson on base, or otherwise with Johnson on base with Jeter sitting on the bench and a run on the board. With Granderson that figure falls to 84 instances.

Granderson, however, has a bit more power than Johnson right now. Scaled to 600 PA, Granderson projects to hit 51 extra base hits, which represents 8.5 percent of his plate appearances. Then again, Johnson projects to hit 49 extra base hits when scaled to 600 PA, so it might not be that big a difference. The enormous caveat here is that we’re scaling down Granderson’s and scaling up Johnson’s. I know it shouldn’t make a huge difference, but I feel a bit more comfortable with the former.

What about their results once they’ve reached base? According to Baseball Prospectus’s EQBRR, Granderson added 1.9 runs on the base paths. That doesn’t seem like a huge amount, especially for a player with his speed. Then again, his OBP fell to .330, which certainly plays a part. In 2008, when his OBP was .365, Granderson generated 5.8 runs on the base paths. Johnson was worth -2.1 runs on the bases, which doesn’t seem that bad considering his lack of speed. Still, we’re looking at something like a seven-run swing at 600 PA.

So who hits second?

From all indications, it’s Johnson. At this point, with a clean slate, I think that’s the right call. Even when factoring in double plays he makes fewer outs than Granderson, which means more opportunities to hit with men on base for Teixeira and A-Rod. At the outset that should be the No. 1 concern.

Of course, if the DPs become a problem, they could consider a swap. Granderson doesn’t figure to be a black hole in the two hole by any stretch. He can get around the bases, and he won’t erase Jeter too many times. But with the presence of Johnson on the roster, he’s the second best man for the job.

Open Thread: Tape delayed
Backing up the brittle DH
  • andrew

    Joe, another thing to consider with the double plays is that a certain number of the times Jeter reaches 1st base, there will already be two outs. So if Jeter is on first base 205 times, 50-60 of them may be with two outs, mitigating the number of chances for Johnson’s double plays to negatively impact the team. His double plays would still outnumber Granderson’s, but rather than 26 to 9, it might be only 18 to 7.

    • andrew

      Doing out the math, if Jeter reaches base 205 times, we can estimate just for the purpose of this discussion that 160 of those times there will be 0 or 1 out. That being the case, the double plays would come out to 19 for Johnson, and 7 for Granderson, which would save 10 outs over your projection. Overall, not a huge factor, but a reduction from 34 to 24 is a fairly significant drop when we’re factoring in a few outs here and there.

  • BigBlueAL

    I say re-sign Knoblauch to DH and bat leadoff so you can move Jeter back into the 2 hole.

    • The Evil Umpire

      And give Keith Obermann’s mom season tickets behind 1st base!

  • YankeesJunkie

    Another question is who will be on base when Johnson is up. It will most likely be Jeter, however, there are going to be instances when it won’t be Jeter will be Gardner, Swisher, Thames, Winn, Hoffmann, Cervelli, etc. It is really hard to find out the exacts just because there are so many variables.

    However, I agree with the main point that Johnson should be batting #2, however if Gardner proves to be a guy who can get on base closer to a .370 to .380 clip I will reconsider my statement very seriously.

    • Drew

      However, I agree with the main point that Johnson should be batting #2, however if Gardner proves to be a guy who can get on base closer to a .370 to .380 clip I will reconsider my statement very seriously.

      Umm.. If Gardner gets on base at a 370 clip I’ll gladly eat a shoe. It won’t happen, so I guess you won’t need to reconsider your statement…

    • Bo

      Even if Gardner gets on at a magical 370 clip(cue fantasy land) he should stay at 9. why have him not be able to use his one tool? why would he ever run in front of 3-4-5?

      • Joe


  • Drew

    One thing I’m interested to see. We always talk about how teams won’t walk guys if they don’t hit for power. I wonder how NJ’s OBP will adjust when he has one two great hitters behind him.

    • YankeesJunkie

      Also, NJ will be hitting in a park that is more suited for lefties so that may negate it. I am not saying that he is ever going to be a 30 hr guy, but if they throw him meatballs he could hit 20.

    • NDR

      Just intuitively I would think that pitchers would challenge NJ more with Tex and A-Rod hitting behind him than they did in recent years in the much weaker Washington or Florida lineups. Therefore, a 0.414 OBP from NJ as the #2 hitter seems a little optimistic to me. On the other hand as a recent RAB article notes, NJ hits fastballs very well so it wouldn’t surprise me if he gains more SLG than projected batting #2.

      • Tubby

        With the Marlins, NJ had a .477 OBP hitting in front of Hanley. In 2003, he had a .422 OBP hitting in front of Giambi and Bernie.

        • NDR

          Good point. NJ might get on-base > 40% no matter who is behind him. However, the .477 with the Marlins was in only 150 PA, and 2003 Bernie was the beginning of the end (OPS+ = 107). The combination of Tex and A-Rod behind him and the loss of some power due to his wrist injury might lead to pitchers challenging NJ in the strike zone with fastballs more often at least early in the season until he hurts them with some doubles and home runs.

    • Bo

      One thing NJ does is get on base. That has never been in question.

  • BrianM

    I know that the main issue here is laying the table for Tex and ARod, but since you are looking at a number of factors here we should also remember what happens to the guy who doesn’t get the nod to hit 2nd.

    Looking at the 5th and 6th spots it see looks likely that Johnson/ Granderson will be there and Posada. I really don’t like putting two guys that slow back to back in the lineup. Both are good OBP guys, but laying the table for Cano isn’t a priority. I think that having Granderson hitting 5th or 6th will actually spark more from the bottom half of the line-up than having Johnson get on base. It might not make a huge difference, but it could be worth a couple of runs. Especially since he has more power and will be hitting behind Tex and ARod, who have been known to get on base occasionally themselves.

    • BrianM

      BTW, I know nobody is going to pitch to ARod to avoid Granderson, but especially against RHP Granderson’s power threat might provide a little more protection for ARod than Johnson or Posada.

    • Drew

      Cano will hit fifth.

  • Sean

    I like NJ hitting second because that would make a tough 1-3 to get through. The pitcher has to work hard to get those outs…and if not they get A Rod. This lineup is intiminating

  • http://Youcan'tincreaseyourrange TLVP

    Don’t forget that Jeter will steal second reasonably often, and possibly more often when NJ batting rather than Granderson.

  • Owen

    Given all the talk about Granderson’s struggles against lefties I’m curious what this same sort of analysis would look like if we were only talking about hitting Granderson 2nd against righties.

    • Sean

      Johnson is a lefty too so I assume he is also quite good against rhp as well

      • Rob in CT

        IIRC, he hits roughly the same against RHP and LHP.

  • Bo

    This is great if you go by the premise that NJ can actually stay healthy and get 500 ab’s. Nothing in his past history says he can and yesterday wasnt a good omen.

  • vin

    For what it’s worth, Granderson’s game would probably really benefit from hitting in the 2-hole. Not only does he have Tex and Alex protecting him, but he’d have a nice big hole on the right side of the infield when Jeter (or others) is on 1st. Seems to me that these two elements would help him more drastically than they would help Nick.

    With that said, I’d still hit Johnson 2nd on opening day and go from there.

  • Bill

    I actually like Grandy in the 5th spot personally. It keeps the L-R-L handedness in the middle of the order and also makes Grandy a second leadoff-type guy. You have to figure with Teix and Arod in front he will have numerous chances to get on base and start a rally for the bottom of the order. It’s always nice to have 3 leadoff types of hitters scattered throughout the lineup (Jeter, Grandy and Gardner), makes the pitcher more uneasy throughout the game. Just a thought.

    • Slugger27

      i like grandy in the 5 hole against righties… against lefties move him down

      i think lineup consistency is a bit overrated… it may be nice to keep the same 1-3 or 1-4 day in and day out… but 5-9? who really cares if the order switches up

  • AlvaroEspinoza

    “That’s 17 additional instances, or 34 additional outs, for Johnson.”

    Also, this assumes that Granderson would get hits instead of making an out himself in each of these instances. So it’s really 17 additional outs, minus the times there are two outs already.

  • Big Juan

    I just want to say how much I enjoyed this article. Extremely well written and well reasoned. Great job, Joe.

  • Tom in GA

    I enjoy the article, too, and I personally agree with all of you who think Johnson would be the best fit in the 2 hole. However, do not be surprised if Granderson is pencilled in there at least to start the season. I think that Joe would rather put the speed guy at the top and go with the larger, slower guy later on, even if their power and on-base numbers are inverted from what you might expect. That’s my hunch, anyway.