With less than a week remaining until MLB‘s Opening Day, the Philadelphia Phillies are soon to be returning to Citizens Bank Park to play their annual On-Deck Series, this year versus the Toronto Blue Jays.
Spring training enabled the team to take care of a lot of general housekeeping issues including who their Opening Day starter would be, who would man the corner infield positions and which guys would make the bullpen. The preseason games also enabled Manager Charlie Manuel the opportunity to fiddle with his lineup, trying different combinations, including putting Ben Revere in the leadoff role.
While Ryan Howard is and always will be this team’s cleanup hitter, any of the other spots are really up for grabs. Will Revere or Jimmy Rollins lead off? Where will Domonic Brown hit? Who makes up the heart of the order?
In order to answer these questions, you have to look at the lineup that figures to give this team the best chance of success and the best chance to score runs, and that would be a lineup that looks a little like this:
CF Ben Revere
SS Jimmy Rollins
2B Chase Utley
1B Ryan Howard
3B Michael Young
RF Domonic Brown
C Carlos Ruiz
LF John Mayberry/Laynce Nix
P (Insert name here)
There are several reasons to bat Revere leadoff over Rollins that go beyond just OBP. For one, Revere has primarily batted either leadoff or second in his career, and to bat him second would mean the Phillies would have three lefties in a row, which is something they would like to avoid if at all possible.
More importantly though, Revere has absolutely no pop. In his major league career, he has yet to hit a home run. Now Rollins, on the other hand, is a power hitter but there is a caveat to that. He pops the ball up entirely too much for a leadoff guy. Revere meanwhile, has a 2.34 GB/FB ratio, a number that last season equated to almost three ground balls to every one fly ball.
Make no mistake, Rollins will bat leadoff this season. In fact, Manuel will likely bat both guys leadoff about 50 percent of the time. Against righties, it will probably be the switch-hitting Rollins and against lefties, expect to see Revere, a .285 career hitter against LHP, in the leadoff role.
Batting Utley in the third spot is almost as much of a lock as batting Howard cleanup. If you look at a sample from 2005-2009, the last year Utley played the majority of a full season, he scored at least 90 runs and drove in at least 90 runs in each of those five years.
While injuries have hampered Utley, he is still someone who works out good at-bats and gets on base, having a career OBP of .376. The best part about Utley in the third spot is that he can drive in runs with Revere and Rollins on base because of his power, or he can work out a good at-bat and get on base for Howard to bring him home. You can’t ask for much more in your three-hole hitter.
As a righty, Young breaks up a predominantly left-handed lineup. If he can hit for production, all the better.
Not coincidentally, some of Young’s best seasons in which he bested the .300 average mark came when he was hitting behind Josh Hamilton in the order. Like Howard, Hamilton is a power guy. The advantage to having Young bat behind him is not so much that he will hit back-to-back home runs with Howard, but rather that he hits for average and really doesn’t strike out all that much.
Looking at this particular lineup, you can see the advantages the Phillies have. As a whole, this is a strong and diverse batting order with guys who can get on base, guys who move them over and guys who can bring them home.
You can also look at it as two separate entities, with one to four and then five through eight repeating the process. Permitting that all guys stay healthy and return to production, especially Howard and Utley, the Phillies can be very competitive with the potential production this particular lineup provides.