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Rock Mining, Week 3: The Lineup Edition

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A Saturday look at the past week of Rockies baseball, going beyond the box score to find the good and bad trends of the Colorado Rockies.

So, Dex is in the right spot as the leadoff hitter, but what about everyone else?
So, Dex is in the right spot as the leadoff hitter, but what about everyone else?
Justin Edmonds

In last week's article, I championed Dexter Fowler's great start, thereby jinxing him into fouling a ball off his foot and missing the coldest double header in Rockies history. At the end of that article I asked everyone if the Rockies should consider moving Dex from the leadoff spot based on the increased power in his bat. More than 50% said leave him where he is and after reading an article by Sky Kalkman on optimizing batting order, I agree.

For those without the time to read Kalkmans article, it boils down to a few main points. First, lineup order is mostly overrated. Second, your best hitters should be put in the 1,2, and 4 spots--the 3 spot is not near as important as everyone thinks. Finally, speed is more important later in the lineup where the singles hitters are than at the beginning of the lineup. Many old school ideas are agreed with in this article and Sky references The Book when he breaks from common historical opinion.

Based on these salient points, I wonder if Walt Weiss has gone a little too far with conventional wisdom and could be getting slightly better production out of the team with a better lineup? I know, I know, the Rockies are doing great offensively, why would I even suggest that something is amiss? If Sky Kalkman, and others, say that lineup order isn't that important, why should we care or suggest messing with the team's current chemistry? Don't get me wrong, I love how the Rockies offense has come out of the gate and I look forward to them continuing to pile on the runs, but I often feel like this team should be doing even better when I watch the games.

If I had the opportunity to sit down with the Rockies' manager, my biggest suggestion for the offense would be to move someone better and more experienced into the two hole. While statistical evidence suggests that it should be Cargo, he likes hitting with Tulowitzki as protection (another potentially false concept) and so he should be left to hit number three. Therefore, a solid player like Cuddyer should be looked at for the number two hole. The second spot in the order can be difficult to fill, as it demands patience, the ability to hit behind the runner, and a very good bat.

Michael Cuddyer meets all of these requirements and provides the consistency and ability to fit into the spot between Fowler and Carlos Gonzalez. He also runs the bases well, which is deemed important in this position. Going first to third on a single, scoring from second on a base hit, and being able to steal a base occasionally are all in his repertoire. I could see occasionally using Todd Helton in this position as well against some right-handed pitchers. As far as Josh Rutledge, I think he would benefit from hitting sixth or seventh, it would fit his batting style better. It would also provide the speed at the back end of the lineup mentioned in Kalkman's article.

The only other position that I would mention changing to Walt Weiss would be the eight spot in the lineup. Hitting before the pitcher can be very difficult. National League pitchers will pitch to the eighth batter very differently depending on the situation. Number of runners on base, number of outs, and likelihood of a pinch hitter for the pitcher all determine how an opposing team is going to pitch to numero ocho, and this is why an experienced, patient bat is needed here as well.

So far, Weiss has used a lot of young players in the eight spot, and none of them have done well there. Albeit with few batting attempts that may skew the statistics, but Josh Rutledge, Chris Nelson, and Reid Brignac have all hit better at other spots in the lineup than they have as the eighth hitter. This will become even more important when Nolan Arenado comes up as he could lose confidence in the eight spot.

When Yorvit Torrealba is in the game, he makes a good candidate for the eighth spot. When he is not, whomever of Cuddyer or Helton is not hitting number two can hit eighth. The problem is that there is a stigma hitting this low in the order that may not go well with them, and so it may stay the way it is.

As I said in the beginning, it has been proven that lineup order is fairly overrated, but I believe that if the Rockies could follow the few proven points on lineup order they could be more successful and also more consistent as the 2013 season goes on. Based on everything above, my ideal lineup against right handers would be: Fowler, Helton, Cargo, Tulo, Rosario, Rutledge, Nelson (Brignac), Cuddyer, pitcher; and against lefties: Fowler, Cuddyer, Cargo, Tulo, Rosario, Rutledge, Nelson, Helton (Pacheco). This is based on our current regulars with players in parentheses that should see significant time over the everyday starter. Again, Arenado coming up would change this and I would try to fit him in between Rosario and Rutldege depending on how well he bats.

I look forward to your comments and what you think of the Rockies batting order. Now on to a quick good, bad, and ugly for the week:

The Good: Todd Helton's return to form of late. Mentioned by Row writers already this week, Todd is looking like the future hall of famer we all expect him to be instead of the older, slower bat he appeared to be in the first week and a half.

The Bad: The weather. The Rockies were given a bit of a respite from their 20 games in 20 days thanks to the weather, but playing in the cold wears on the bodies, even if it didn't cool down their win streak. It also adds another game later in the year, meaning the Rockies will lose a future off day.

The Ugly: Jhoulys Chacin had already ensured the tenth quality start by the Rockies in 16 games and was about to be the second pitcher in a row to throw seven innings when the magical 100 pitch monster attacked. We are not likely to know the extent of the injury for a couple of days, but anything more than one missed start could be painful for the whole team. Jhoulys has been the dominant starter the Rockies have needed so far this year, giving up only four runs in four starts to go with 16 strikeouts in just under 25 innings.

The team has been playing well and can deal with him out of the rotation for one or two starts, but anything more starts to hamstring the team's ability to deal with other injuries or rotational issues (for example if Jeff Francis stays unproductive). With all of the team's success making Rockies fans stand tall, this oblique injury feels like a punch to the gut.