To some people, the batting order for the 2015 Miami Marlins may seem like a simple decision. Stolen base champion Dee Gordon should bat first, and home run champion Giancarlo Stanton should bat third, right? Well, as with every decision, things are not that simple. Especially with regard to Gordon, two sets of data tell two very different stories.
Sixty-four stolen bases in a single season has lead off hitter written all over Dee Gordon. Being able to get into scoring position and prolong innings so that your star players get to bat is critical for scoring runs and winning games. When Gordon is on base, he is a nightmare for opposing pitchers. However, last year he didn't get on base nearly as often as that stolen base number suggests (.326 OBP) and he walked at an alarmingly low rate. Those are not the sort of numbers you expect from someone who is supposed to set the table for the heart of the lineup.
Another candidate for lead off hitter is Christian Yelich. Yelich held this role last year for the Fish and he had a very impressive season. He was successful at getting on base and he also swiped twenty-one bags. 6.8% of Yelich's at bats ended up with him hitting for extra bases though, which is more typical of a hitter lower in the order. This means that it may be more beneficial to have Yelich hit behind Gordon as extra base hits will probably drive Gordon in if he is on base. Plus, Yelich's patient approach at the plate will get pitchers in trouble if they are conscious of the fact the Gordon could run on any pitch and they waver from the strike zone.
Wherever Giancarlo Stanton bats in the lineup he will have an impact. He has thrived in the three spot in his career and when batting third, Stanton is guaranteed a plate appearance in the first inning. On the other hand, he could get more opportunities to drive in runs batting fourth. Each spot has its advantages. Michael Morse or Marcell Ozuna could bat right behind Stanton as protection with their similarly (well, not quite) powerful bats. Morse could well be favored due to more experience in clutch situations but Ozuna proved what he is capable of by driving in eighty-five in 2014.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Adeiny Hechavarria project to round out the order as they both have limited offensive upsides. Actually, Martin Prado could prove to be the determining factor in this year's Marlins batting order. The ever-consistent, ever-versatile Prado has the skill set to bat anywhere from second to seventh. Should he bat higher and provide another man for Stanton to drive in? Or should he bat lower down to strengthen the back-end of the order which could lack some punch (if Saltalamacchia produces 2014 numbers)?
There has been a lot of deliberation on this topic. Here is some insight from Marlin Maniac, and here is what I think the batting order should look like:
1. Dee Gordon
2. Christian Yelich
3. Giancarlo Stanton
4. Michael Morse
5. Marcell Ozuna
6. Martin Prado
7. Jarrod Saltalamacchia
8. Adeiny Hechavarria
That's at full squad strength. Factor in when Ichiro Suzuki gets a start and this conversation enters a whole different dimension. Mike Redmond has more pieces that he could have hoped for this season as the front office has done a great job assembling a talented squad. This is what spring training is all about; ironing out the creases and figuring out how the team will shape up for the start of the season. Let the games begin.