Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona has never been shy about playing with his batting order until he finds one that works – and fans should not expect anything different this year.
The Tribe is heavy with left-handed hitters, especially lefties who project best at the top of the lineup.
But who is the best fit for to break up the left-handed hitting outfielders?
Jason Kipnis is the prototypical No. 2 hitter.
When healthy, he can pretty much do it all for the Tribe. He hits for both average and power. He steals bases and can lay down bunts. Kipnis seems like the most obvious selection to bat second for the Tribe this season, but there is just one problem.
He, too, is left-handed.
In 575 at-bats against southpaws over the last three seasons, Kipnis is hitting just .245 with seven homeruns and 125 strikeouts. He does not fare well against LOOGY specialists and, hitting in the two-hole, Kipnis makes late-game bullpen management easier on opposing managers.
While he might be the most obvious fit, Kipnis is certainly not a lock to get the nod at the No. 2 spot in the batting order this season.
Admittedly, I never considered hitting Carlos Santana No. 2 until Kyle Downing put together this piece late last week. And he is probably a dark horse candidate to hit second this season.
It is an interest perspective, though, especially given that Santana is widely considered a lock for the cleanup spot. He is the prototypical No. 4 hitter, as he is the Tribe’s biggest power threat. He has 42 homeruns from the four-hole over the last three seasons and, without the added pressure of learning to play a new position this season, Santana is primed for the best season of his young career.
Santana drew more walks (113) than anyone in all of baseball last season. Despite a somewhat pedestrian .231 batting average, Santana posted an OBP of .365 – and twenty points higher after the All-Star break.
Simply put: Santana gets on base.
As a switch-hitter, Santana does not pose the same lefty-lefty-lefty issue that Kipnis does at the top of the lineup. In fact, Santana does a majority of his damage from the right side of the plate, posting a .271 average from the right side last year.
In the end, all roads lead to the 22-year-old switch-hitter Jose Ramirez.
While unproven, Ramirez put together an impressive offensive performance after being installed as the Tribe’s full-time shortstop. He played 68 games and hit .262 while posting an OBP of .300 in all of 2014.
But Ramirez was even better than those numbers suggest.
After the All-Star break, Ramirez recorded 60 hits on his way to batting .283. He hit .291 from the right side of the dish and .299 from the No. 2 spot in the batting order. Ramirez brings everything Francona could possibly want out of his second hitter: speed, batting average and an ability to hit with runners on base (.289 with runners on in 2014).
Ramirez certainly is not a better hitter than Kipnis or Santana. Do not confuse the two. He is, though, the Tribe’s best option to bat second to start the season.