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Comparing Amed Rosario to other two-hole hitters

Amed Rosario shouldn’t be batting second in the Guardians lineup every day

Cleveland Guardians v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

It’s one of the most common complaints among engaged Guardians fans — why is Amed Rosario batting second? That, and when are we going to get an on-field winged G hat. Since I don’t have numbers to analyze on the latter, let’s focus on the former.

I’m of the viewpoint that Amed Rosario is a valuable player to have on any major-league roster. By two defensive metrics — ultimate zone rating and deserved runs saved — he was an above-average shortstop last year. He led the league in competitive runs to first base, displaying unrelenting hustle as a constant example to a young team. He also managed a 103 wRC+, which is a solid number for a shortstop.

I did not understand rumors of an extension for Rosario this spring, given that the Guardians have so many young shortstop/second-base types rising through their farm system, but I couldn’t argue with the team exploring the possibility of keeping a player who is often mentioned as a clubhouse leader in sideline reports and player interviews.

With all that said, I have found myself mildly frustrated by Terry Francona’s insistence that Rosario should remain cemented into the second spot in his lineup. Rosario doesn’t walk much, he doesn’t compensate for the lack of walks with a significant amount of power, and he also has a career ground-ball rate of 50.9%. This means that over half of his baseballs put in play with one out or fewer have the potential to start a double-play if the leadoff hitter (or another batter later in the game) is on base.

On one level, I think I understand Francona’s logic. I am sure he sees Rosario as a tone-setter. Everyone who sees him hustle to first, regardless of the outcome of his at-bat, will know the same standard applies to their involvement in the game. Last season, I also believed that Francona stuck with Rosario at the spot before José Ramírez because Francona trusted that Rosario would not overthink things with the team’s best hitter behind him, as a younger player might be tempted to do. Francona is also a fan of lineup consistency and responding to established player preferences, and I’m sure both factors play a part in slotting Amed behind Steven Kwan and in front of Ramírez in 236 of the past 324 games the Guardians have played.

Another consideration, of course, is splitting up left-handed and right-handed hitters in the lineup. With Kwan cemented in the leadoff spot, it makes sense for a right-handed hitter, or switch-hitter, to be in the second spot so that a left-handed reliever does not have the platoon advantage for two lineup positions in a row late in a game.

I think it’s important, however, to consider how other successful teams around the league are handling the second spot in their lineups.

For example, here are the top lineups in 2021 (based on wRC+) and who they most commonly used in the two-hole.

(Note: Numbers are each player’s full stats for that season, not just when hitting in the No. 2 spot)

No. 2 hitters in top 2021 lineups

Team Player wRC+ BB% GB%
Team Player wRC+ BB% GB%
Astros Michael Brantley 121 9.1% 46.8%
Blue Jays Bo Bichette 122 5.8% 49.1%
Rays Randy Arozarena 128 9.3% 49.0%
White Sox Yoan Moncada 120 13.6% 43.8%
Giants Mike Yastrzemski 105 9.6% 33.6%
Red Sox Alex Verdugo 107 8.4% 49.7%
Dodgers Max Muncy 139 14.0% 38.1%
Athletics Starling Marte 134 8.2% 54.8%
Twins Josh Donaldson 126 13.6% 43.0%
Yankees Aaron Judge 149 11.8% 41.3%

Now those same numbers for the most common No. 2 hitters of 2022’s top lineups.

No. 2 hitters in top 2022 lineups

Team Player wRC+ BB% GB%
Team Player wRC+ BB% GB%
Dodgers Freddie Freeman 157 11.9% 38.7%
Blue Jays Bo Bichette 129 5.9% 48.7%
Mets Starling Marte 136 5.1% 49.0%
Yankees Aaron Judge 207 15.9% 37.3%
Cardinals Paul Goldschmidt 177 12.1% 40.8%
Astros Michael Brantley 127 6.5% 45.9%
Braves Dansby Swanson 116 7.0% 38.7%
Mariners Ty France 126 5.7% 47.8%
Twins Carlos Correa 140 10.3% 42.7%
Phillies Rhys Hoskins 122 10.1% 35.6%

These are great hitters in great lineups, so they are obviously going to look a lot better than Rosario in Cleveland lineups that finished with the 16th and 20th wRC+ in 2022 and 2021, respectively. But it shows the kind of skillset good offensive teams are using in this slot — great hitters who draw a lot of walks and put the ball in the air more often than not.

However, even looking at the average production for No. 2 hitters across MLB in the same time period shows a great disparity between the league and who the Guardians are using as their two-hole hitter.

  • 2022 MLB averages for No. 2 hitters: 115 wRC+, 8.4 BB%, 43.3 GB%
  • 2021 MLB averages for No. 2 hitters: 110 wRC+, 8.9 BB%, 43.6 GB%
  • Amed Rosario’s career in Cleveland: 96 wRC+, 4.4 BB%, 52.6 GB%

Rosario walks about half of what the average No. 2 hitter does, his overall run production has been around 20% less than the average No. 2 hitter, and, perhaps most tellingly, his groundball rate has been around 10% higher than the average No. 2 hitter. It’s not that he isn’t a solid major league hitter — it’s that his skillset involving high contact, low walk-rate, and high groundball rate make him a poor choice to provide his offensive value in the top third of a lineup.

It’s impossible for me to say how much intangible value having Rosario’s hustle in the second spot in the lineup means. It’s also impossible to say how disruptive it would be to the team chemistry to move a veteran leader to a lower spot in the lineup without a severe decline in performance. With that said, I am hopeful that Terry Francona will be mindful of the approach of good-hitting teams in baseball who are batting their best hitters second each game. Moving Andrés Giménez or Ramírez, if he is willing and comfortable, to the second spot should help reduce the number of double-plays and increase run production, overall. Additionally, even swapping Kwan and Rosario would probably be preferable to cut down on the number of potential double-plays.

The Guardians are a young team and this is likely Rosario’s last year with the team. So, perhaps, it is Will Brennan, Bo Naylor, George Valera, or Brayan Rocchio who eventually shows they are fit for this role. However, the numbers make clear that transitioning Rosario to a different spot in the lineup would fit with the lineup optimization strategies we observed from other successfully hitting teams in MLB over the past two years.