Wednesday, April 05, 2006

batting second and fifth

today's piece looking back at opening day in the bright one included this small but important nugget of analysis.

Reds pitchers seemed to have a game plan of pitching around Lee, who walked three times, and Aramis Ramirez, who singled in the first inning and walked twice. If that was the strategy, it backfired. Pierre, Todd Walker and Matt Murton had three hits apiece, and catcher Michael Barrett doubled twice.

it would not at all surprise this page if this continued to be a strategy employed by opposing pitchers throughout the first half. a look at the cub roster quickly confirms that the offense could very easily be perceived at lee, ramirez and a collection of role players -- much of the power in the lineup is concentrated in them. pitching to these two will seen by some as unnecessary under many circumstances, particularly if they come up with one or two out and none on.

it will be important for the cub offense then to, first, try not to create that situation and, second, to capitalize on team's willingness to put lee and ramirez aboard by driving them in. that brings the focus squarely on the players hitting immediately before and after them. and that turns the focus of the cub offense squarely upon the second and fifth spots in the lineup.

in the opener, todd walker and jerry hairston combined to reach in 5-of-6 plate appearances from the second spot, ensuring that lee came to the plate with a man aboard in the first, fifth, sixth, seventh and ninth. it was not coincidental that the cubs scored in three of those five opportunities. only in the third -- after the second had been ended by a walker strikeout -- did lee come up with no one on, and the inning passed without damage.

it bears noting that the patient lee was walked anyway in the 1st, 5th and 7th, despite the successful efforts of walker and hairston. in the latter two examples, lee was put on with one and two away, respectively, and each inning ended without a run being scored. this is sure to reinforce the notion that it's best to pitch around lee particularly with an out having been recorded; ramirez doesn't have lee's patience and will expand the strike zone to get himself out on occasion, and the fifth spot lies beyond him.

jacque jones and neifi perez shared fifth in the lineup, and here the results were less impressive -- reaching in 2-of-6 pa with 3 rbi -- and yet equally demonstrative. jacque reached on an error in the first, which allowed a run to score and crucially kept the inning alive beyond barrett's double play for murton, who blasted a three-run shot. but jones ended the third and fifth, striking out in the latter with walker on second and lee having been walked to first. neifi took the next at-bat in the sixth with the bases loaded -- a walker single, lee double and ramirez intentional walk -- and punched through a run-scoring single. neifi also grounded into a run-scoring fielder's choice with the bases loaded in the ninth.

opportunities to score won't often be so plentiful as they were this day, and barrett and murton picked up five rbi in the 6th and 7th slots to clean up some of the mess left by jacque and neifi. but the performance of the second and fifth batters will be an issue to watch for this page at least through the first half. there are valid concerns about low-percentage players -- notably neifi and jacque -- getting too many opportunities in these positions over high-percentage players such as walker and (it is hoped) murton. this page will do what it can to bring to the fore over the coming weeks the output of these lineup spots and what they mean to scoring runs for a club that could yet prove to be offensively limited.

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