The importance of being (an) Earnest (clean-up hitter), or why I hate writing headlines

Monday, January 20 2003 @ 03:53 AM EST

Contributed by: Anonymous

Speaking of budding dynasties, or at least columns about them, my latest A’s garbage is up. With all due respect to the up-and-coming Blue Jays, they can’t match the A’s dynamite 1-2-3 punch at the top of the rotation, so I give J.P.’s former boys the slight edge in the next few years. Soon after I finished gibber-gabbering, I also checked out, once again, Gary Huckaby’s Hot Stove Heater for the Athletics, and I took another look at his projected batting order.

2B Mark Ellis
1B Scott Hatteberg
SS Miguel Tejada
DH Erubiel Durazo
RF Jermaine Dye
3B Eric Chavez
LF Terrence Long
CF Chris Singleton
C Mark Johnson/Ramon Hernandez

In addition to how legitimately awful the back end of the order is, what jumps out is why Eric Chavez, a proven stud who is still improving (assuming he amps up his walk rate), would hit sixth and why Erubiel Durazo, who has yet to play a full season in the majors, would hit fourth. Durazo certainly has clean-up-hitter makeup, but maybe Huckaby thought Art Howe was still the skipper, because this is exactly the kind of thing Howe would do: not put pressure on Chavez to be “the man.” Chavez is entering his fifth season in the majors; if he’s not going to be ready this year, he’ll never be. He’s earned the right to hit fourth, and I think Huckaby made, for a BP guy, a rare mistake. At any rate, I started wondering about the topic: is batting order important? (Rob Neyer, among others, has done more exhaustive examinations of this topic.) Maybe it’s the dinosaur in me, but I think it is. Though I’m mainly using the A’s in this minor example, don’t worry: there’s a Toronto link to all this. (Here’s a hint.)

Last year I was frustrated with Howe for his insistence on hitting Scott Hatteberg third for nearly two months while the A’s languished around the .500 mark. Finally, Howe came to his senses, and the A’s offense finally got going with the confluence of Miguel Tejada hitting third, Jermaine Dye finding his stroke and the acquisition of Ray Durham. Hatteberg then fell into the #2 hole, and, despite playing 136 games and getting on base at a nice .374 clip, he managed to score only 58 runs—and 15 of those came on his home runs. Herein lies my sole complaint with sabermetric clubs like the A’s: their dependence on home runs. (An ancillary complaint is that, while effective on the whole, there’s a lot of standing around and little action, like a Merchant-Ivory film.)

The Yankees have built their dynasty with more than dollars; they’ve done it by adopting the power and patience model, but they’ve also done it with people who can run. Not necessarily steal, but who can run. The A’s have two people who can generally be called “fast”: Eric Byrnes and Chris Singleton. Problem is, Byrnes is stuck behind Terrence Long, who is terrible, and Singleton is, well, terrible himself; if his OBP is .300, the A’s will be lucky. Mark Ellis, while not exactly fast, is not as slow as Hatteberg, but his presence in the lead-off slot—he would make an ideal number-two hitter—means Hatteberg will continue to clog the basepaths from the two-hole. Fortunately, I’ve found a solution right here in Toronto, and if you followed the link above you already know the answer: Shannon Stewart. The A’s need a right-handed hitter desperately, and since they are loath to give Byrnes a full-time job, Stewart, despite his health problems, would be an immediate upgrade over Long. Not to be a talk-show caller here—“I think the Jays should trade Kelvim Escobar for Jason Giambi and Nick Johnson and Jeff Weaver”—but if the A’s got Stewart then I’d revamp the lineup like this:


Now THAT’s a lineup that will score some runs, assuming Durazo can stay healthy and get on base at his expected .400 clip. I don’t have the numbers to back this up—that is, I’m too lazy to research them—but I imagine there were many times last year when Tejada or Chavez or Dye smoked a double to the alleys, only to have Hatteberg get stuck and eventually die at third because of his speed, or, more precisely, his lack of it. Stewart is not as fast he once was, but he’s certainly faster than Hatteberg or Ellis, and he gets on base as much or more; and with three guys at the top of the lineup with OBPs of .370 or higher (projecting Ellis’), Tejada and Chavez could knock in 130 runs each. Now, Durazo is actually slower than Hatteberg, so there is the risk of him clogging up the bases; but it is a risk I will take, assuming they acquire someone like Stewart, because the A’s are going to miss Durham more than they think, and because batting order does matter.

Getting Stewart is a fantasy, of course; the A’s can’t afford him unless they move more payroll, which is unlikely, since T-Long is the only player the A’s would be willing to deal. And J.P. may be grateful to his mentor, Mr. Beane, but nobody is that charitable. On the other hand, isn’t it about time J.P. repaid his old friends here in the Bay Area? Now, I wouldn’t want you friendly Canadians to suffer from an excess of Terrence Long, but some prospects would be acceptable, no? After all, the Jays get a stud like Hinske and the A’s get Kardiac Koch? Where’s the love, J.P.?