Saturday, December 5, 2009

How Polanco Affects the Lineup

.266, .249, .246, .211, and .248. Those are the batting averages of the Phillies third basemen over the past 5 years. With the signing of Placido Polanco the Phillies finally have brought some form of legitimacy to the thirdbase position since Scott Rolen. Fortunately for the Phillies, this third baseman will not flee to Canada in efforts to acquire national health care. But in Rolen's defense, he clearly needed that as he hasn't played an injury free season since 2006. Polanco is a career .303 hitter and is one of the most consistent hitters in the majors. He is also one of the toughest players to strikeout as he rarely strikes out more than 40 times in a season. Based on his style of hitting, Polanco is suited perfectly for the second position in the lineup which presents an interesting dilemma for Charlie Manuel.

Going into the offseason, the Phillies appeared satisfied with the top of their lineup. Rollins and Victorino have been igniting the potent Phillies lineup the past 3 seasons. The acquisition of Polanco means that these three players will occupy the 1, 2, and 7 positions in the lineup.

Typically, the 7 hitter in the lineup will have a lower batting average but will display good power. The Phillies do not have a great need to fill the 7 hole with a power hitter as they had 4 players hit over 30 homeruns in 2009 and are guaranteed to pace the NL in homeruns, again. The Phillies have never been an organization to build their team in typical fashion so why start now.

The most probable scenario on how the lineup will be setup is Jimmy Rollins leading off, followed by Polanco, and Victorino will be moved down to the 7th spot. In the end, it won't matter where these three players hit as all three are good professional hitters that can generally be inserted anywhere throughout the lineup.

When carefully analyzing these three players it would make sense theoretically for the Phillies to remove Jimmy Rollins from the leadoff position. It is imperative that the top 2 hitters in a lineup have high on-base percentages while placing players with better power numbers lower in the lineup. While taking this into effect, Victorino and Polanco should be placed first and second in the lineup and Rollins should be dropped to 7th. Rollins historically owns low on-base percentages but has improved his power numbers significantly in the past 3 seasons.

Jimmy Rollins may be the hardest player on the Phillies roster to analyze as he can be the best player one week and the worst player the next. Many people will acknowledge that Rollins had a disappointing 2009 season. Whether Rollins can revisit his 2007 MVP season is unknown. If Rollins 2009 season does not prove to be an anomaly, then he he presents the best fit for the 7th spot in the Phillies lineup. Rollins had a sub .300 OBP while hitting an impressive 21 homeruns and 43 doubles in 2009.

As Rollins statistically proves to be the best fit for the 7th spot in the lineup, moving Rollins to that position should and never will happen. Of all major American sports, baseball is the most statistically analyzed sport. In this scenario, statistically comparing these players is the incorrect approach. Removing Rollins from the leadoff position would adversely affect the Phillies offense. Even though it makes sense based on Rollins statistics to drop him in the lineup, Rollins performs worse along with the Phillies offense, when he is removed from the leadoff position. This can be easily compared to the Yankees scenario when they acquired Alex Rodriguez in 2004. I promise this will be the last time I compare these two organizations. In any matter, it would have made sense for the Yankees to place A-Roid at the SS position as he is a much better defensive SS than Derek Jeter, but they couldn't do this because it would affect the organization too much as Jeter was the leader of the Yankees.

This is one of the rare situations where batting statistics should be ignored. Rollins needs to be the leadoff hitter for the Phillies because when he succeeds as a leadoff hitter, the Phillies are almost an unbeatable team. In 2009, the Phillies were an astounding 61-19 when Rollins scored a run. Whether you are J-Roll fan or not, you cannot disagree that he is the leader of the team and demoting him in any fashion would hurt the Phillies offense. This is why I believe the Phillies never seriously considered Chone Figgins, irrelevant of his reported high price tag.

With the lack mobility of Rollins throughout the lineup, Polanco deserves the 2nd position because he posts a higher batting average while Victorino can hit with significantly more power. Victorino hit only 10 homeruns in 2009 but being placed lower in the lineup should change his approach to hitting. If Victorino is asked to place an emphasis on power over batting average, I believe he has the ability to be a 20 homerun hitter. There are certain hitters that have the ability to hit with more power in this league but choose not to because it benefits the team more when they place an emphasis on their on-base percentage. Victorino is one of those players and when placing him in the 7th hole for 162 games, fans should see a surprising rise in his power numbers.

After everything is taken into account, the Phillies will appear a little different offensively but will be much better for it. Now just imagine if Carlos Ruiz could play the regular season like he plays the postseason. The Phillies would then be too good for the National League and should be allowed to start their own league called the "Let Me Know When the World Series Starts League."

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