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.