A major topic of discussion every March is what the lineup will look like and where to bat so and so. For the sake of time and words, let’s assume for this post that Jung-ho Kang is healthy because when talking about what the Pirates lineup will look like during the season, Kang would certainly be a part of it. This post will be what I think the lineup should be come regular season spot by spot. Let’s take at look at my North Shore Nine…
LEADOFF—This has to be Josh Harrison in the leadoff spot, right? JHay is the spark plug to this offense and his energy usually feeds off of the rest of the team. When JHay is producing and getting on base, the rest of the offense benefits in the past two seasons. Harrison led off in just 64 games last season, but he missed about 40 games due to injury, leaving the leadoff position to Gregory Polanco for the majority of the season. Polanco produced enough to work in the leadoff position. JHay hit .276/.324/.373 from the leadoff spot last year, but I think we’ll see more of a performance similar to his breakout 2014 season. In 84 games in 2014, Harrison had a .328/.359/.535 slash line from the leadoff spot. He just makes the most sense to me leading off.
SECOND—The second position in the batting order was a revolving door for this team last season. In 2015 while we only saw four players lead off all year, we saw 12 different players bat in the two hole. Why? Because there always seems to be a variety of opinions on what is needed at this position. Traditionally, you’d want a player that knows how to work counts, take pitches and give the leadoff man a chance or two to swipe second base. Obviously, someone who hits for a decent average, but can lay down a sac bunt or a hit-and-run if need be. But in today’s sabermetrics world, you’d want to high OBP player that can get on base in front of your big bats. I subscribed to that strategy and believe it should be a good OBP guy. So who does that come down to? In my opinion, it’s between John Jaso and Francisco Cervelli. In 80 games with the Rays last season, Jaso had a .380 OBP and is a career .361 OBP hitter. He’s been solid so far this spring and just looks like a good fit for the two hole. For some reason, no one ever mentions Cervelli as a possibility for the two spot because it’s not traditional to bat a catcher so high in the order, but Cervelli is a huge OBP guy and had the second best mark at .370 in 2015. Cervelli only batted second for the Bucs three times last season. I’d still go Jaso when he starts against righties, but when he sits against lefties in favor of Morse, I’d probably bat Cervelli second and Morse further down in the order. Cervelli crushes left-handed pitching anyway.
THIRD—The third hitter is your best hitter on the team. That’s McCutchen. In the past three seasons, McCutchen slashed .308/.405/.512 in 460 games. ‘Nuff said.
CLEANUP—The fourth spot in the lineup has been a revolving door as well. Last season, Neil Walker batted cleanup for most of the first two months in 34 games then Starling Marte took over in the fourth position for 49 games before giving way to Aramis Ramirez for the rest of the season. Well, Ramirez and Walker are gone. That leaves us with Marte, who performed great in the cleanup position last season. He hit .327/.373/.464 batting cleanup in 49 games in 2015, and I think Hurdle is finally sold on riding with a Marte Partay batting behind McCutchen. In McCutchen’s rookie year, he batted leadoff before dropping in the order. The Pirates followed the same route with Marte in his first couple seasons and now I think we’ll stay and find a home in the cleanup position.
FIFTH—This is Kang’s spot in the lineup. Some might say put Polanco here, but you can’t argue with what Kang did last year overall and from the five hole. Kang batted fifth in 58 games in his rookie year and posted a .894 OPS from that position. The same OPS total that McCutchen posted all season. Kang healthy and hitting behind McCutchen and Marte is the best 3-4-5 this current roster can produce.
SIXTH—I would bat Cervelli sixth in the lineup. The 30-year-old catcher hits both righties and lefties well and gets on base on a nice clip (.357 career OBP). Cervelli hit sixth in 31 games last season to the tune of a .726 OPS. Actually, Cervelli hit well basically everywhere he batted last year, I just like him in the sixth spot.
SEVENTH—Sixth and seventh in the batting order is between Cervelli and Polanco in my eyes, but I would bat Polanco seventh until I see more development from him. He makes too many errors on the base paths and you can’t afford that in front of the big guns in the lineup. So far in two seasons, Polanco is a career .249/.316/.369. Not exactly the career line you want to see from a former prospect. Polanco needs to take a step forward this season, but until that happens I wouldn’t bat him in the top 6. At the very least, hopefully Hurdle has figured out the days of Polanco leading off (like he did last year in 98 games) needs to end.
EIGHTH—Welcome to Mercer County! Jordy Mercer‘s OPS+ has unfortunately decreased in each of the past three years—117 to 94 to 70 last season. Hopefully, Mercer can stop this downward trend, get on base a little more and produce closer to 10 HRs. Either way, Mercer will be locked into the eight spot for this team.
NINTH—Pitcher spot. Yes, it’s the National League and the pitcher still bats as it should be.
That’s the way I see it. Let’s recap…