Never in my life would I have expected to see Orioles infielder Chris Davis batting second in the lineup. After coming off the bench to fill in for the injured Manny Machado on Monday night, he was 2-for-3 with a home run … so there is that.
But the Monday night success in the two-hole is what I think statisticians would call “a small sample size.” And yes, going 4-for-5 in strikeouts Friday night is also a small sample size. But one of those four strikeouts was with one out and the bases loaded against Corey Kluber—the best shot in the whole game to do serious damage against one of baseball’s best throwers.
Before referencing a larger sample size, let’s ask the question as to what is the role of the number two batter in a lineup? If the leadoff hitter is to be an on-base guy who sets the table, the following hitter is one who needs to be able to move him around the bases before the team’s best hitter in the three-hole and the RBI machine in the four-hole come to bat. Traditionally the second guy is a bat-control type of player who can hit behind a runner and spray the ball around. Does any of this sound like Chris Davis?
Here is the larger sample size. Chris Davis leads the American League in strikeouts. His four trips back to the dugout on Friday night now give him a total of 145 on the season. It might be surprising to see that Mike Trout is second with 131, but the Angels outfielder also has 107 more plate appearances and is batting 100 points higher.
The average American league batter strikes out in 19.7% of plate appearances. Chris Davis does it in 34.2% of times at the dish. I know, it seems like even more, doesn’t it? If you take out the walks, it is 39.94%.
Even that strikeout machine Chris Carter of the Astros is faring better—striking out in 30.9% of plate appearances, though hitting seven more home runs (28 compared to 21) and batting 40 points higher (.233 as compared to .193). Would you have taken the bet in March of this year that Chris Carter would have a better season than Chris Davis?
The Orioles don’t really have a stereotypical number two hitter on their roster. Probably the closest thing would be Nick Markakis, though he is excelling in the leadoff role and never really thrived in the past at second in the order. Machado does not fit the bill perfectly, but he has hit exceedingly well in this position over his short career.
Perhaps the best choice currently in the absence of Machado would be J.J. Hardy. You may recall that back in 2011 he did hit second most frequently. In those days he hit more home runs, and I believe the sixth spot (or seventh) of the order perfectly fits him, even now. But since he has now become more of a spray hitter—standing back from the plate and driving more pitches the opposite way—he would be a very serviceable option at second in the lineup.
Buck Showalter has commented on several occasions over his years in Baltimore that the fans make too much of batting orders and lineups. I’m not sure what Buck’s thinking is over the past two games that has him writing Chris Davis after Nick Markakis on the card. Could it be that he does not want to move several others? So maybe this lineup thing is more important than he has said.
But putting the #1 strikeout leader in the entire league into the second spot in the lineup—carrying a .193 average to the plate—is not a recipe in the current context for success. Davis will still hit some critical home runs and get a few hits (about 19.3% of the time to be exact), but right now, batting him second is to put just about the biggest hole in the lineup that can be found.
Understand, though this all sounds terribly critical, like O’s fans everywhere I want to see Chris Davis emerge from this horrific slump. I would even want to see him playing every day until then and would welcome him ending his career in Baltimore. But until the numbers are turned around, which I believe they will be, he would be in the seventh or eighth spot in the order.