Much is made of the inexact science of making out a successful batting
order. Truth be told, it can be a vexing problem. Imagine the difficulties that
Yankee manager Joe Torre faces trying to decide who bats eighth in THAT lineup.
I mean, how do you tell All-Star catcher Jorge Posada that he has been demoted
to the lower end of the batting order because those 30 home runs and 101 RBI
just don't quite cut it in a "new and improved Yankee Murders Row?" Not exactly fair, I would
Yet for more mundane teams like our very own Philadelphia Phillies, the answers not only lie in the numbers, but in the potential to make those numbers as effective as possible. Bowa has obviously given this issue some thought and offered his likely lineup in an interview on Monday. This is why I was so hoping for that phone call. Not only does LB fail to make the most effective use of his natural resources, but he is still leaving out a player who is likely to play a key role in the offensive fortunes of our favorite nine this year.
Granted, it is only spring, but it is precisely this time of the year that hope "springs" eternal. In the spring, even the Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates can wax optimistic about their upcoming season. Alas, spring lasts only but a "season" and, unfortunately for the Brewers and Pirates, this season lasts only till April, when the true "season" begins.
With that in mind, I can only assume that Bowa still has time to mull his
original thoughts, and understand that even though his best efforts at a
workable lineup are rationale, they are not likely to work as well over the
course of a 162 game schedule.
So, without further ado, here is Bowa's proposed lineup, and an upcoming dissection of CD's "Fair and Balanced " lineup. Bowa hopes to field a lineup composed of Marlon Byrd, Jimmy Rollins, Jim Thome, Pat Burrell, Bobby Abreu, Mike Lieberthal, Placido Polanco, David Bell and the pitcher's spot. He reiterated this hope throughout the week, both publicly and privately.
His goal with this lineup is three fold. First, he wants to get two
speedsters, Byrd and Rollins, batting at the top of the order. Second, he hopes that by batting Thome
third he will somehow coax a few more at bats over the course of a season out of
Gentle Jim. Third, he wants to
maintain a lineup where the right-hand hitting Burrell breaks up the
lefty-swinging duo of Thome and Abreu.
At first glance, these are admirable and logical goals. However, I find fatal flaws with all of them and, thus, propose for you're approval my idea of a successful and effective batting order. This lineup attempts to take advantage of each player's strength, minimize their weaknesses, and work a little mental magic on a player in great need of a mental "pick me up!"
Agreeing with LB on the lead off slot, Marlon Byrd belongs at the top of the order. A budding star, who should begin to put up speed and power numbers comparable to his outfield buddy, Abreu, Byrd hit a cool .317 after being placed in the leadoff spot last June. Watch for his average to level off a bit from the .303 of last year, but expect all other numbers to rise. He is a future All-Star in the making.
My number two hitter is the Phil's best on-base machine, left hand hitting Bobby Abreu. While Bowa would minimize his on-base talents by batting him fifth, I want him near the top of the order, just behind the speedy Byrd, and ahead of potential RBI giants in Burrell and Thome.
While Abreu has often refuted the notion that he is most effective at the
top of the order, it might be easier to convince him that batting second in the
order offers him a very real opportunity to score 125 runs and still put up his
normal plus .300 average and solid power numbers.
Mental magic calls for my number three hitter to be none other than last year's leading candidate for Most Disappointing Star, Pat Burrell. In almost any baseball lineup, the number three hitter is generally recognized as the team's best and most dependable hitter. What better way to anoint Burrell's 2004 coming out party than to bat him in that slot?
Realistically, this move makes sense. Batting third still keeps him as a righty protection between the sweet-swinging lefties, Abreu and Thome, while giving him the added protection of a slugger batting immediately behind him. With Byrd and Abreu filling the base paths and Thome hitting behind him, Pat the Bat is likely to see more fastballs than any hitter in the lineup.
Fact is, even in his most dismal days last summer, no pitcher cared to throw him a fastball, and it was the curves and sliders that fooled him. Hitting third is very likely the panacea for whatever ailed Burrell in 2003.
Hitting fourth is the reigning free agent king, Jim Thome. Quite possibly no new player so easily won over the hearts and minds of the Philadelphia masses like he did last year. Not only were the 47 home runs and 131 RBI appreciated but, even more so, it was the professional and friendly manner in which he accomplished those feats. If healthy, his numbers could possibly rise this year, especially in the RBI department.
Coming out of spring training last April, catcher Mike Lieberthal was a major question mark. Beset by recurring injuries, and reaching the dangerous over 30 age for a backstop, Lieberthal instead enjoyed a relatively pain-free season. Offensively, it was also one of his best. Hitting over .300 with 13 home runs and 81 RBI, his right hand bat follows the lefty swinging Thome in my lineup.
A quick note about Lieberthal for all Phillie followers. It is absolutely imperative that he remains healthy, as there really is no long-term replacement for his talents. Although Todd Pratt and Shawn Wooten provide veteran assistance as able back ups, no one in the Phillie organization truly believes that either is capable of catching on a daily basis.
If he should suffer a long-term injury, look for minor league free-agent
AJ Hinch to report from Scranton Wilkes Barre and become the starter. Much
younger than Pratt, and better defensively than Wooten, he was signed for just
such an emergency. However, if
Lieby should be injured, the lineup would change dramatically, as Hinch is much
better behind the bat than with it.
The sixth spot in my order belongs to the speedy Jimmy Rollins and he
hits there because I have Placido Polanco hitting seventh. This takes the
greatest advantage of their best talents, Rollins's speed, and Polanco's bat
Because Rollins is a switch hitter, this also keeps the righty-lefty balance intact throughout the order. It also allows Polanco to do what he does best, move runners along, hit behind runners, and knock in an occasional speedster with an in the gap double.
Having Rollins and Polanco batting sixth and seventh also would serve to shore up a real Phillie weakness in 2003, the inability of the bottom of the order to produce consistent run support. It would surprise no one if Rollins scored 100 runs and stole over 30 bases with the reliable Polanco to move him along, or knock him in.
Another reason that a sixth spot Rollins might score triple digit numbers is because the number eight hitter in my lineup is youngster Chase Utley. Although Bowa is confident of a David Bell comeback and has penciled him in as the eight hitter, I remain unconvinced that his serious back injury last year will render him effective in '04.
Instead, my choice for Phillie surprise of the year comes in the form of an Utley uprising, both offensively and defensively. Scouts who have witnessed early returns from Clearwater marvel at Utley's work habits and improvement since last year. In a September that fell apart for our favorites, it was widely assumed that Utley was a major reason for the collapse.
In truth, it was the pitching that caused the flameout, not Utley's
defensive shortcomings, and the guess here is that he will eventually win the
second base job, with Polanco moving to third. With the sweet swing and
power-generated bat, Utley could easily hit double-digit figures in home runs,
with an average far north of .260.
A number eight hitter of Utley's ability is an invaluable tool for a team with the offensive potential of this season's Phillies lineup. He also provides a bit of speed to the bottom of the order, while giving the Phils a touch of youthful enthusiasm, an often-overlooked element in today's numbers driven era.
My proposed lineup offers a righty-lefty rotation throughout the eight hitters, while providing speed, power and versatility up and down the order. It serves to protect the speedsters Byrd and Rollins, while maximizing the power and on-base percentage of sluggers like Abreu, Burrell and Thome.
Clearly, in my view, this lineup promises the greatest potential for scoring while providing the players with the greatest opportunity for success. It gives players like Byrd, Abreu and Rollins a real chance at over 100 runs scored, while giving Burrell and Thome the possibility of providing 80 home runs and over 240 RBI.
It maximizes the strengths of Abreu, Lieberthal and Polanco and minimizes the potential deficiencies of Burrell, Rollins and Utley. It keeps Thome right in the middle of everything and offers Burrell a chance at redemption. It also balances the veteran presence of Thome, Polanco and Lieberthal with the youthful enthusiasm of Byrd and Utley.
In short, this lineup offers the Phils the greatest opportunity to advance to where they want to go, not just the first or second round of the playoffs, but to the World Series. An opposing team would find this lineup difficult to pitch against, because the Phil's versatility and balance would render most match ups relatively short term in effectiveness.
Retro everything has become quite popular in the 21st century. As if in hopes of a return to simpler times, people everywhere are turning back to what seemed to work so well in the past. Yet it is my contention that as much as Manager Bowa hopes that his return to the days of Rollins hitting second and Burrell hitting fourth will revive visions of a successful past, I say that it is a new day and calls for new ideas.
Indeed, retro may be good for clothes, fashions and music, but for Philadelphia Phillie batting orders, "fair and balanced" will carry the day!
Columnist's Note: I welcome suggestions, questions
and comments. Please send then
to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will respond. CD from the Left Coast