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April 28, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Lineup Shuffles

by Craig Brown

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In Pittsburgh, the struggling Pirates (3.6 R/G - 15th in the NL) have made some changes to their batting order. Former leadoff man Akinori Iwamura, who owns a .294 OBP and a .276 EqA, has been dropped to the seventh spot. The pitchers are still hitting eighth for John Russell and Iwamura has already been taking more walks this season (12.9% of all PA’s vs. 10.1% for his career), so he figures to draw a few more in his new home in the order.  Iwamura is hitting line drives 21% of the time, but he’s been betrayed by a .212 BABIP.  Although his on base percentage figures to improve, his Run totals will suffer hitting ahead of both the pitcher and Ronny Cendeno (.264 EqA) at the bottom of the Pittsburgh order.  

The new leadoff man is Andrew McCutchen who is off to a .280/.344/.366 start with a .297 EqA and is trying to turn back the clock to the days of Astroturf, disco and the stolen base. McCutchen has run in 34% of his stolen base opportunities, the highest rate in the league among runners with at least 20 chances. By moving up a spot in the order, he’ll hopefully draw a few more walks - he has a weakness for sliders down and away - but overall, he’s exhibiting some solid plate discipline so far this year. Green means go and McCutchen isn't slowing down. His value continues to climb.

The main beneficiary of the lineup shakeup is Andy LaRoche who has moved from seventh to second. Since returning to the lineup after missing six games with back spasms, LaRoche has been smoking the ball, collecting 12 hits in 18 plate appearances to push his slash line to .400/.471/.489 with a .258 EQA. A nice little strech, but 11 of those hits have been singles, giving him just a pair of extra base hits on the year (1 2B and 1 HR). He has only three RBI, but that’s partially because he’s had only 10 plate appearances with runners in scoring position. If McCutchen can continue to get on base and swipe second, LaRoche should get a few more RBI opportunities. He will definitely get better pitches to hit higher in the order - and away from the pitcher spot.

Iwamura and McCutchen are back in their old spots today, but that’s due to Jason Jaramillo getting the start (and hitting seventh) in place of Ryan Doumit.

In New York, Angel Pagan has assumed the leadoff duties while Jose Reyes has dropped to third in the order. Pagan has decent speed, but has never figured out how to use this asset. Last year, he owned a -0.58 EQSBR and stole 14 bags in 21 attempts. This year, he’s two for three in steals with a -0.07 EQSBR. So frustrating. His .350 OBP was elevated last year due in part to his .349 BABIP. He’s bumped his walk rate this year, but those batted balls are finding more gloves than grass and his on base percentage has dropped to .319 as a result. The speed potential is there, but he’s just not a good option for fantasy owners.

Can Reyes regain some of his value by dropping to third?  He’ll boost his RBI total (he’s already driven Pagan in three times) and based on preliminary returns, it looks as though he’ll continue to swipe the bases which is very good news. He’s run in 14% of his stolen base opportunities this season which is positive, but his contact rate needs to elevate (currently at 77%, down from his career rate of 84%) before I'm sold on his recovery. 

With Reyes hitting third, David Wright moves to fifth and Jeff Francoeur drops to seventh. With a .328 EqA, Wright is off to a solid start and will likely see just as many RBI opportunities in his new spot in the lineup. We like to hear that since he’s driving in a run every five at bats and has scored 18% of all base runners, but Jason Bay will get first crack at bringing Reyes home. While Francoeur is set to shatter his career best in walks, he hasn’t been as productive with runners on base. Maybe it’s because he’s been too patient - eight of his nine walks have come when runners have been on. More likely, the dearth of RBI is because he’s hitting .143 with runners in scoring position.

The Mets are 5-0 since shuffling their order in games through Tuesday, so this is a lineup that will likely stick for the time being.

Meanwhile in San Francisco, Eugenio Velez flunked his audition to replace Aaron Rowand at the top of the Giants order by hitting .172/.250/.310 in 33 plate appearances.  Andres Torres now takes his turn in the leadoff spot.  The Giants are last in the NL with six steals in 10 attempts and are running in just 3% of their base stealing opportunities.  Poor contact rate and a lack of plate discipline mean there’s no value in either of these guys.   

Craig Brown is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Craig's other articles. You can contact Craig by clicking here

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Game Story: Cubs/Natio... (04/28)
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