With baseball season fast approaching, and spring training in full swing, debates abound about who will be this season’s Cy Young winner or who is the best hitter.
The batting order is often a topic of choice, with fans wondering who will be the lead-off man, who bats clean-up and who will protect the best hitter. While batting positions one, three, four and five may have all the glory, the person in the two-hole may be just as important as any in the lineup. This person may not be the slugger or RBI machine or even a speedster on the bases, but the number two hitter has the crucial tasks of moving runners and transitioning between the lead-off man and the power hitters.
Below are the ten best second batters from 2009; five for each league. These are not ranked based on batting average or RBIs or home runs, but a number of factors including walks, how many times they grounded into a double play (GIDP), and sacrifice hits.
First, a note on eligibility. I looked at players that played a plurality of his team’s games in the two-hole. This means that while Joe Mauer batted quite well in the number two spot for Minnesota, I used Orlando Cabrera instead. And, I attempted to limit it to one team; Cabrera batted second for two different teams in 2009, but I let him represent Minnesota rather than Oakland.
With the exception of sacrifices, GIDPs, and pitches per plate appearance, all stats are from situations where the player batted second in the lineup. Additionally, the stats were normalized by games played (so even though Shave Victorino had the second most home runs, his HR/game places him eighth).
Now, let’s get started:
5. Michael Young (Texas Rangers)
The former batting champion from 2005 gets here on the strength of his batting average. He batted .325 in the two-hole, second only to Rajai Davis of the Oakland Athletics, and had an OPS of .890, tops among AL number two hitters. Manager Ron Washington placed Young second 110 times in 2009 and he drove in 58 runs on 64 hits. He also walked 41 times. The only knock against Young is that in total for 2009, he grounded into 16 double plays, fourth most among AL second batters.
4. Adam Jones (Baltimore Orioles)
Adam Jones continued to show what he could do in his second full season with the O’s. After batting towards the bottom of the batting order in 2008, Jones played 81 games in 2009 in the second slot and he did not disappoint. He had a 0.520 slugging percentage — best in the AL — and was among the leaders in runs per game, home runs per game, and RBIs per game. Jones also led the American League in strikeouts per game in the two-hole.
3. Johnny Damon (New York Yankees)
Damon did two things exceptionally well as the number two hitter for the World Champs; take a lot of pitches and draw walks. He was second in pitches per plate appearance, taking an average of 4.06 pitches. He also drew 66 total walks, which when normalized by games places him first among his fellow second hitters. He did have a relatively low batting average (.287; good for tenth in the AL), but he also scored quite a bit (102 runs in 128 games).
2. Dustin Pedroia (Boston Red Sox)
The third AL East player on this list, Pedroia was all around phenomenal. He had the best on base percentage (0.388), was second in doubles (42) and walks (64) per game, and third in batting average (.311). He also had the fewest strikeouts per game as a number two hitter (37 Ks in 129 games). If there is a flaw, it is the fact that he does tend to ground into the double play and he does not tend to drive in a lot of runs. But, with regards to the latter, that is not really the job of the number two hitter.
1. Maicer Izturis (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim)
Who? Izturis epitomizes the hitter in the number two position. Although he only batted in second in 55 games (tied for second fewest among eligible AL players), he made the most of it. He ranks in the top three in runs, RBIs, walks and on-base percentage. He did not strikeout that much (24 times in those 55 games) and for the 2009 season he grounded into the fewest double plays among eligible second hitters (seven, tied with Willie Bloomquist of the Royals and Carl Crawford of the Rays).
Honorable Mentions: Aaron Hill, Toronto (played 158 games as the number two hitter; most home runs in that slot); Rajai Davis, Oakland (tops in hits per game, doubles per game, and batting average).
5. Orlando Hudson (Los Angeles Dodgers)
Hudson’s numbers will not astound you, but such is the life of a number two hitter. In 58 games, Hudson did well to draw walks (28) and sacrifice himself for the team (14 total in 2009). His on-base plus slugging percentage was admirable (0.840), but everything else were mediocre.
4. Nick Johnson (Washington Nationals)
You can also add the Florida Marlins to Johnson’s resume as a number two hitter. Johnson played in 102 games between the two squads and was the leader in walks (81) and on-base percentage (.433). He was also among the league leaders in pitches per plate appearance (4.37). Other than that, the remainder of Johnson’s stat line is mediocre, save RBIs. He was near the bottom in sacrifices and in the lower half in hits, strikeouts, and GIDPs.
3. Martin Prado (Atlanta Braves)
Like Hudson, Prado’s numbers will not blow you away, but he was consistent across the board. In his 81 games batting second, Prado batted .315 with nine home runs and 43 RBIs. He came across to score 52 times and 27 of his 104 hits were doubles. Prado also got the job done when it came to getting a sacrifice hit (11). He did not draw many walks and did tend to hit into the double play, but overall Prado was consistent in 2009 for the Braves.
2. Shane Victorino (Philadelphia Phillies)
The Flyin’ Hawai’ian led the National League with games batting second (124). He translated that into a nice stat line. He was second in runs scored and triples per game, and third strikeouts and slugging percentage. He tended to avoid the double play, which is crucial for any number two hitter. The knock against Victorino is that he does not face a lot of pitches, even though he was fifth in walks per game. He also was not called upon to sacrifice often. Nevertheless, he was crucial cog in helping the Phillies repeat as NL champs.
1. Craig Counsell (Milwaukee Brewers)
Again, who? The guy (formerly) with the weird batting stance is a gritty player who knows what it takes to be a number two hitter. Like Prado and Hudson, his numbers are not eye-popping, but he ranked well among his peers. He was top three in runs, hits, doubles, RBIs, average, and OPS. Additionally, he drew a fair number of walks and took a lot of pitches. He did not sacrifice much, but across the board Counsell played his role well for the Brew Crew.
Honorable Mentions: Miguel Tejada, Houston (tops in many categories, his league leading 26 GIDPs keeps him off the list); Luis Castillo, New York (19 sacrifice hits led all position players).
See also 2010 Best Second Batters for more stats for the unsung Two Hole.