If you’ve paid attention to many of the statistical wizards figuring out optimal lineup construction and run production, the second spot in the lineup is considered the most important slot among the nine hitters. The Milwaukee Brewers‘ offensive struggles can be directly attributed to their number-two hitters, who have combined to post the lowest OBP and OPS in the NL.
The league’s top four teams in runs per game (entering Wednesday) all resided in the top six in OBP and OPS among their second-place hitters. Sure, the Brewers still are seventh in runs scored, but they’ve been consistently dropping in the last couple of weeks.
As a comparison, the San Francisco Giants‘ two-hitters are sixth in OBP at .345, while the Brewers’ counterparts stand at an awful .263 OBP. The Giants are third in runs per contest.
Meanwhile, the Miami Marlins‘ second spot ranks sixth in OPS with a .771 mark as the Brewers’ 15th-ranked second-spot batters have posted a .610 OPS. The Marlins are second in the NL in runs, behind only the Colorado Rockies, who also boast the top OPS in the two-hole.
The question becomes, who should hit there for the Crew? Last season, Jean Segura was used a vast majority of the time there, posting an OBP and OPS that would put the Brewers in the middle of the pack this season. That would be a big improvement over their current second-place hitters. But of course, he was part of those poor stats to start the year (.272 OBP, .618 OPS).
Scooter Gennett is the only other hitter with significant time in that spot in the order and his numbers have been similar to Segura’s when batting there (.265 OBP, .640 OPS). I don’t believe Gennett is a top-of-the-order player at the MLB level, but can be productive in the bottom third.
Dropping Carlos Gomez to the two-hole could work out, though Ron Roenicke appears to be completely sold on Gomez as a leadoff hitter. Traditionally, the second hitter in a lineup will see more runners on base than the first or third hitter, so that would take advantage of Gomez’s power. All eight of his home runs in 2014 have been solo shots.
But GoGo’s speed and aggressive style actually fits better in the fifth spot. There, he doesn’t have to worry about his OBP, attack-style hitting and sometimes foolish base running being a negative in front of clearly poorer hitters.
That really leaves the second spot open for one of two players — Jonathan Lucroy or Ryan Braun.
Braun is set to return to the lineup on Tuesday, and his presence alone should help kick start the Brewers’ offense. Perhaps Aramis Ramirez will have woken up his bats by then as well.
Lucroy has been up and down recently, but his style of hitting plays well in the second spot. He works the count, which would allow a speedy leadoff man (such as Gomez or Segura), the opportunity to swipe a base. Lucroy also does a great job of hitting the ball the other way, a perfect hit-and-run candidate to create offense and stay out of the double play.
However, Braun would still be the absolute best option to hit second if he and Roenicke put aside ego and tradition.
The Brewers’ right fielder owns the perfect combination of on-base ability, power, speed and overall talent to fill this current black hole. He owns a career .374 OBP and .938 OPS, beastly numbers to produce in the most optimal spot in the order. This would truly be the fastest way to get the offense going again and create a lineup-optimized scoring.
No matter the decision Roenicke makes — and I’m 99 percent sure it won’t be Braun — the second spot in the order needs to be addressed, because the futility in that position is severely damaging the Crew’s production.
Assuming Braun stays at number three, perhaps it’s time to give Segura some extended time there to find his stroke and some confidence once again. I’d still go with Lucroy and let him pepper balls to right and work pitchers for long at-bats, but that seems unlikely.
Either way, if their two-hitters continue to put up the current numbers we’re seeing, they’ll need lights out pitching all season long to make a serious postseason run.