Dynamic No. 2 hitters packing pop like never before
Lineup spot has become a place for more productive, powerful offensive contributors
Nowhere is the philosophical drift away from small ball in the Major Leagues more evident than in the evolving role of the No. 2 hitter in the lineup.
Long gone are the days when the second spot was manned by little guys named Junior and Nellie, slap hitters who could bunt, hit-and-run, move runners along with productive outs and take pitches so speed-burners such as Maury Wills and Luis Aparicio could swipe bases.
What we're seeing now are bangers with speed in the table-setting slot, driving balls through gaps and over walls. Junior Gilliam and Nellie Fox, the prototypical No. 2 hitters of the 1960s, would be amazed.
The introduction of the designated hitter in the American League, reshaping the construction of lineups, had an impact in the changing role of the No. 2 hitter. The increasing disdain of the sacrifice bunt -- driven in part by the power of analytics -- and a desire by managers to get their best hitters as many at-bats as possible are other factors.
Logic informs us that over the course of a season, only the leadoff man climbs into the batter's box more often than the No. 2 hitter.
"I've always liked that," Rays manager Joe Maddon, an independent thinker, said of the notion of bringing power into the No. 2 spot. "If you have productive guys in the eight and nine holes, you can play big in the two-hole. We did that with Jimmy Edmonds and Gary DiSarcina when I was [coaching] the Angels.
"It's a very exciting place to hit, a positional spot in the order with good protection and a chance to be productive. You're sitting in a nice rocking chair in the two-hole."
In Matt Joyce, Maddon has one of the game's most dynamic second-place hitters. But the manager, keenly aware of matchups, picks his spots in deciding when to use the left-handed hitter in that role.
In 94 plate appearances while batting second, Joyce is the Major League leader with his .590 slugging percentage and 9.07 runs created per 27 outs. Second in both categories, at .586 and 8.16, is the Yankees' Robinson Cano, another part-time No. 2 hitter.
Among relatively full-time No. 2 hitters, Joe Mauer, Carlos Beltran, Mike Trout, Jean Segura, Jose Bautista, Jason Kipnis, Manny Machado, Marco Scutaro and Torii Hunter lead the way. Each has an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of at least .755 and has created 5.23 runs or more per 27 outs. Padres catalyst Evert Cabrera has done his best work (.352 average, .906 OPS) in the second spot.
Twenty players occupying the No. 2 role have an OPS of at least .750, with 14 at .800 or higher. Fourteen two-hole hitters have slugging percentages in excess of .450, and 19 are creating at least five runs per 27 outs.
Going back 25 years, in 1988 only Dave Henderson, Claudell Washington, Kevin Seitzer and Johnny Ray reached .800 in OPS out of the two-hole. Three, including Hall of Famer Robin Yount, had slugging marks of .450 or better. Eight created five or more runs per 27 outs.
In some special cases -- Trout, Machado, Segura, Yasiel Puig -- the No. 2 role can be a holding place for rising young stars destined to hit third or fourth.
|"Mike [Trout] really took off this year when we moved him to the two-hole, in front of Albert [Pujols]. Mike's getting a lot of opportunities to drive in runs now."|
|-- Angels manager
Bryce Harper already has made the transition to the No. 3 spot after spending his rookie season hitting second for Nationals manager Davey Johnson and putting together impressive .815 OPS and .478 slugging marks. Harper was tearing it up (.989 OPS, .603 slugging) hitting third before crashing into a wall at Dodger Stadium and going on the disabled list with knee issues.
The game's premier leadoff man and the AL Rookie of the Year in 2012, Trout has flourished hitting second this season. Manager Mike Scioscia liked the idea of connecting Trout with Albert Pujols, just as Dodgers manager Don Mattingly did in dropping the phenomenal Puig from first to second, with Adrian Gonzalez providing protection behind him.
"Mike really took off this year when we moved him to the two-hole, in front of Albert," Scioscia said. "Mike's getting a lot of opportunities to drive in runs now."
Scioscia's Angels have a history of production in the No. 2 spot. In 2009, when they last went to the postseason, Erick Aybar (.895) and Bobby Abreu (.848) were second and ninth in the Majors in OPS while batting second.
The shape of AL lineups is inherently different than those in the National League, where pitchers bat. The No. 9 hitter in the AL is often viewed as a second leadoff man. This turns the No. 2 hitter, in effect, into a No. 3 hitter as the game progresses past the first inning.
The Cardinals don't have a DH, but they have maximized Beltran's ability to drive the ball behind Matt Carpenter, who has put together a .403 on-base percentage from the leadoff slot.
A three-time AL batting champion for the Twins, Mauer is hitting .332 in the No. 2 spot with a .905 OPS, creating 7.91 runs per 27 outs.
The second-place hitter who best fits the old-school profile of the small-ball operator is Scutaro. When Giants manager Bruce Bochy installed Scutaro, a midseason acquisition from the Rockies, in the spot between Angel Pagan and Pablo Sandoval last summer, his team took flight en route to the World Series title.
Never regarded as a power threat, Scutaro was seventh in the Majors last year with his .801 OPS out of the No. 2 spot. He was the MVP of the NL Championship Series with 14 hits and six runs scored in seven games.
"Marco can do everything you want from a guy in the two-hole," Bochy said. "He's a smart situational hitter, which is so important in that role."
The Diamondbacks' rise to the top of the NL West this year has occurred despite just 11 games from Aaron Hill, who returned to action from the disabled list with two hits on Tuesday night. The second baseman had a .902 OPS and .552 slugging mark out of the No. 2 spot last season, numbers surpassed only by Beltran's .949 and .574 for the Cardinals.
The Yankees have stayed in contention in the AL East without injured Curtis Granderson, who produced an .858 OPS and .517 slugging mark as their primary No. 2 hitter last season behind Derek Jeter.
A move to the second spot can be an antidote or a struggle. The Royals' Eric Hosmer, the Mariners' Kyle Seager and the Marlins' Ed Lucas have taken to it swimmingly, while the Braves' Jason Heyward has treaded water.
A disappointment in 2012, Hosmer has hit .308 with an OPS of .860 in the two-hole, lifting his season numbers to .275 and .708.
Heyward, conversely, has hit only .219 with a .373 slugging mark while batting second. He hit .269 with 27 homers and 82 RBIs last year while primarily batting third, but he was most effective (.374 average, .717 slugging) in the No. 6 spot.
"I'm only 23, going on my fourth year -- too soon for me to answer open-ended questions," said Heyward, who homered and doubled out of the two-hole on Tuesday night. "It's a different lineup we've had every year. We have a very American League-type lineup now, but I don't look at it as an American League or National League thing. I can use my speed anywhere."
If Heyward needs some counsel about hitting second, he might want to reach out to Hunter.
A mid-order thumper for a dozen years with the Twins and Angels, Hunter was so effective hitting second between Trout and Pujols last year -- batting a career-high .313 with an .817 OPS -- that the Tigers signed him for two years as a free agent to bat between Austin Jackson and Miguel Cabrera.
"I altered my stroke a lot hitting second," said Hunter, who has continued to lash bullets the other way, hitting .305 for the Tigers. "I'm staying back and using the whole field, doing whatever I can to get on base for Miggy and Prince [Fielder]. This is a game of constant adjustments."
In the No. 2 spot today, liberated hitters are free to use everything they have. It's a new breed of cat perched in that rocking chair, as Joe Maddon puts it.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.