Walt Weiss makes right move with Michael Cuddyer in Rockies lineup

Doug Pensinger

Moving Michael Cuddyer up in the lineup is proving to be a wise decision on the part of the Rockies' manager.

Last season, en route to winning his first batting title, Michael Cuddyer hit cleanup 71 times (mostly in the abscence of Troy Tulowitzki and/or Carlos Gonzalez) and hit fifth another 49 times, accounting for 120 of his 127 starts. Meanwhile, DJ LeMahieu and his .673 OPS was the Rockies' most frequent two-hole hitter, batting there 62 times under the well-known "second baseman bats second" rule of Rockies lineup construction.

This season, however, Walt Weiss has had Cuddyer hit second in eight of the Rockies' first 10 games with LeMahieu relegated to the eight-hole in seven of those contests.

As anyone who is even somewhat versed in Sabermetrics can tell you, a defending batting champ and on-base machine (Cuddyer reached base at a .389 clip last season) is a much better choice of two-hole hitter than a light-hitting second baseman.

The whole "second baseman bats second" phenomenon was really a product of Jim Tracy and his desire to have a hitter in the mold of LeMahieu in the second spot in the order. To illustrate the change Cuddyer presents in the Rockies' lineup construction, let's look at the OPS of the team's primary two-hole hitter since Tracy took the reins in 2009 (using Cuddyer's numbers from 2013).

2014: .939 (Cuddyer)
2013: .673 (LeMahieu)
2012: .684 (Marco Scutaro)
2011: .612 (Jonathan Herrera)
2010: .757 (Dexter Fowler)
2009: .734 (Clint Barmes)

As lineup analyses such as this one from Beyond the Box Score have shown, the second hitter is one of, if not the most important hitter in a lineup, with the spot ideal for someone like Cuddyer who brings a good balance of on-base skills and power. Is it any mystery that the 2011-2013 Rockies spent three straight years in last place filling that role with a guy with a sub-.700 OPS?

Beyond the Sabermetrics, the fact remains that with the Rockies' current lineup construction if the leadoff hitter gets on base, which Charlie Blackmon has been doing quite well so far this season, the opposing pitcher is already in deep trouble with Cuddyer, Gonzalez and Tulowitzki coming up immediately after him. Additionally, moving Cuddyer up to the second spot doesn't really "shorten" the Rockies lineup at all, with Justin Morneau, Wilin Rosario and Nolan Arenado packing plenty of punch from the five, six and seven slots in the order.

The team trumpeted other changes to roster management with a sabermetric tilt to them in the offseason, specifically regarding an increase in platooning players and the use of Rex Brothers in the bullpen. So far, there has not been much of a chance to platoon players having faced right-handed starters eight times this year, though the team did take the opportunity to bench some lefties against Wade Miley and Jose Quintana.

Brothers, meanwhile, has exclusicvely been used in the eighth inning so far, though those appearances did coincide with him facing a team's big slugger such as Giancarlo Stanton or Mark Trumbo or facing left-handed hitters as he did in Wednesday's win. Given the circumstances, it is fair to say the jury is still out on the use of platoons and Brothers.

However, the move of Cuddyer to the two-hole has worked brilliantly, as he has hit .424 (14-for-33) in that spot so far in 2013 and the Rockies have averaged six runs per game when he has started there. Weiss would do well to not mess with success.

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