Last week's media discussion about where Lucas Duda should bat in the lineup received quite a bit of attention. While many were clamoring for Duda to be moved into the cleanup spot, Terry Collins insisted he didn't want to do so because he was worried it would mess with Duda's confidence, approach, and various other empirically weak baseball axioms.
Of course, like any good manager, Collins then went ahead and moved Duda into the cleanup spot a few days later, and like any good team, the Mets went ahead and made a case in support of Collins's words rather than his actions by scoring seven runs in four games.
Managerial cross-ups aside, perhaps a slightly less conventional approach is in order here. Rather than fourth or fifth, why don't the Mets consider batting Lucas Duda second?
Despite his size and lumbering running style, Duda has two real strengths as a hitter, one that's obvious and one that's not so obvious. To illustrate, consider the following table, which contains the career walk rate, on base percentage, ground ball rate, and ground into double play rate (per 600 plate appearances) of each of the five hitters who have spent time hitting between the second and sixth spots in the Mets' lineup recently.
There's an important quality to the second slot in a batting order that often goes overlooked: The best bats in the lineup directly follow the second hitter.
The traditional view is that a second hitter should handle the bat well enough to help advance the leadoff hitter into scoring position, and short of that he should simply avoid striking out. The former of these qualities can be marginally important in certain situations, though the batters who follow the second hitter are much more important than the batters who precede him. The latter is just an antiquated relic from an era that abhorred the batter strikeout.
With the hitters most likely to create runs due to follow, the most important thing a second hitter can do is avoid creating outs, and that word is plural for a reason. Creating two outs on a single play is absolutely devastating for run scoring. Consider the following table, based on Tom Tango's Run Expectancy:
|Baserunners||0 Outs||1 Outs||2 Outs|
In an average situation, the difference between a runner on first base and zero outs and zero runners on and two outs is .829 runs. The difference between runners on first and second and zero outs and a runner on third with two outs is 1.171 runs. That's roughly equivalent to 12 percent of a full win before even factoring the hitters due up next. With three or four above-average hitters due up, the difference is even larger.
The most meaningful qualities to look for in a second hitter are an ability to get on base at a high clip and the ability to avoid hitting into double plays. There's one batter the Mets currently employ who manages both of these qualities: Lucas Duda. He may not be particularly fast, but he doesn't hit many balls on the ground, he's very patient, and he gets his share of extra base hits.
Of all the things a manager does, lineup construction isn't usually particularly important. But by sliding Lucas Duda into the second slot in his lineup, Terry Collins could gain his team quite a few runs over the course of the season by giving the heart of his order a frequent baserunner and by reducing the number of double plays that happen before his best bats step up to the plate.