Reds Blog Roundtable: Before Votto comes Choo, then who?

USA TODAY Sports

This week's question is one of the hotly debated point of lineup construction. Shin-Soo Choo has done a phenomenal job in the leadoff spot, but the spot right after him has sparked some debate, mostly because pretty much nobody has succeeded there. Reds 2nd hitters are at a .637 OPS so far this year, leaving a lot of offensive opportunities on the wayside. This week's question:

Who's your ideal hitter in the 2nd slot in the lineup (given the current roster)?

UncleWeez, Red Reporter: Ideally? Joey Votto. Zack Cozart is a black hole of ineptitude right now. While his K-rates are down, so is everything else. A 56% ground-ball rate out of the second spot in the order, especially when accompanied by a BABIP of sub-Mendozian proportions and a 7.3% line drive rate, will not cut it. I mean, that is bad. Choo gets on base a ton, and is fast enough that he can score from first if Votto hits for extra bases. Cozart has already erased a baserunner with a double play 5 times this year.

That being said, Votto will never hit there. He's cemented into the 3-hole til the 2020s. Given the current roster, I'd try Xavier Paul there against righties. In 492 career PAs against RHP, Paul sports a nifty .277/.327/.398 line, which is miles better than anything the Reds are getting out of Cozart. Now, Paul should be nowhere near a lefty, ever, under any circumstances. We all know Dusty's...let's call it reluctance to employ platoons, but at least XP is good against the more common version of pitcher (coughGomescough). If there's a southpaw on the mound, I'd try Frazier there, who sports an .831 OPS against lefties for his career.

Really, there's no ideal option (excluding Joey Votto, who is the ideal option for every spot in every order), but with what we've got right now, I'd love to see Xavier Paul against RHP and Frazier against LHP.

Amanda, Red Hot Mama: For a #2 hitter, we're looking for a guy who can get on base, but since the #1 and #3 spots are already occupied by left-handed batters, we need to find a right-handed batter to fill the spot. It's already going to be hard enough for Baker to accept the idea that anyone other than the SS should be batting second; piling on with three lefties in a row might be too much for the poor guy.

A trip to the stats page on Reds.com ordered by on-base percentage offers eight right-handed options (not including relief pitchers or guys who are disabled) who, so far, are getting on base more than our current #2 hitter Zack Cozart's rate of .238:

Robinson, D .375 switch
Mesoraco, D .338 right
Bailey, H .333 right
Phillips, B .328 right
Frazier, T .320 right
Miller, C .313 right
Izturis, C .286 switch
Leake, M .286 right

First on the list are Derrick Robinson and Devin Mesoraco. These guys are rookies, and we haven't seen good results from batting rookies so high in the order. We're not so desperate that we can't continue to give our hatchlings a little protection from the pressure, so I'm going to take them out of the discussion.

Next we come to...well, now this is interesting...Homer Bailey. And I'll be damned if Mike Leake isn't on this list as well. Wouldn't that be innovative: pitchers batting second 2 out of every 5 games.

It might smack a little of LaRussa-baggery, but it might inspire Mat Latos (OBP .176) and Bronson Arroyo (OBP .125) to pick up their games when they see their contemporaries batting higher in the order than them. For that matter, maybe it'd inspire Cozart to do the same thing.

Dave, OMGReds: At this point, you've got to move Cozart down in the order, right? If he gets hot - which I think is likely - you can move him back up. He doesn't have to hit seventh or eighth for the rest of the season. For now, I think Frazier is their best bet at No. 2. Not that he's a slam-dunk No. 2 hitter, but he's the best available option. And he's NEVER hit No. 2, so who knows?

Charlie Scrabbles, Red Reporter: Given the current roster, I think I would slot in Votto at #2. With Cozart struggling so much, he really doesn't have any business hitting at the top of the lineup. But Dusty is right: who else are you going to hit there? So I would just move everyone up a spot. This way, all of your best hitters are back-to-back with no easy outs in between.

Choo
Votto
Phillips
Bruce
Frazier
Paul
Mesoraco
Cozart
P

Sure, Votto isn't your prototypical #2 hitter. But that is more because of our prescribed notions of what a #2 should be than anything else. We want a lineup that scores the most runs. And slotting your worst hitter in between your best isn't going to do that. So why not just take out the worst hitter?

kcgard2, Red Reporter: Unfortunately, Cozart is about as far from my ideal #2 hitter as the Reds could use. And while Baker may not have an ideal solution at hand, few and far between are the managers who are given ideal solutions at every turn. The best managers maximize what they have. And among the candidates on the team right now, I think Todd Frazier makes the most sense. He's a solid all around hitter who will look even better if his BABIP comes up to around league average (and seeing more fastballs in front of Votto would probably help with that). Frazier is also the least ground ball prone hitter on the Reds roster, which matches perfectly with the needs of the #2 spot in the Reds order with Shin-Soo Choo being on 1B constantly. This choice also allows Baker to pretty much stick with his preferred "roles" for everyone else in the lineup, and keep his R/L alternation intact. Which means that this choice actually has a chance of happening, as opposed to the more creative ideas that would simply be DOA with Baker.

Choo
Frazier
Votto
Phillips
Bruce
Meso
Paul
Cozart
P

The top of that order looks fearsome without any automatic outs intermingled and power bats in every spot. The bottom of the order still has some ability, but the concern isn't about isolating your good bats around a number of bad ones. Votto stays at 3, Phillips at 4, Bruce at 5, Choo at 1 - nobody is upset/worried about changes in role. I think this could happen.

Steve Mancuso, Redleg Nation: Brandon Phillips would be my choice for the #2 hitter in the lineup. He has a good chance of batting .280 with an OBP of .330. I doubt that Xavier Paul could sustain numbers above that, especially if you assume he would have to bat agains left-handed pitchers. I'd bat Jay Bruce #4, or Todd Frazier.

Chad Dotson, Redleg Nation: Obviously, this would require some outside-the-box thinking, which is in short supply in Cincinnati's dugout, but I'd bat Joey Votto second. Right now, the Reds have their worst hitter, Zack Cozart, getting the bulk of the ABs in the 2-spot. That's a lot of extra at-bats -- including ABs at the end of games -- for a guy who makes more outs than anyone else in the lineup.

Give those extra ABs to Votto, I say. Maybe it's only a marginal improvement to the current lineup, but shouldn't the Reds be in the business of trying to improve their chances of run-scoring, even on the margins? Plus, the idea of Votto hitting directly after an OBP machine like Shin-Soo Choo is a mouth-watering possibility.

In the end, it's as simple as this: does it makes sense to give more at-bats to your best hitter (Votto) or to someone who isn't your best hitter (Cozart, Phillips, Paul, etc.)?

RijoSaboCaseyWKRP, Red Reporter: By most appearances, Cozart is the worst 2nd hole hitter Dusty could draw out of a hat. He struggles mightily to get on base and grounds out a lot. BUT: there does seem to be a "Votto effect" to hitting second. It's the only spot where Drew Stubbs put up a non-depressing line last season (.701 OPS). The same was true of Orlando Cabrera in 2010 (.298/.333/.415 hitting second).

It's baffling that Cozart has spent the vast majority of his career (93% of PAs) hitting lead-off or 2nd, but he's actually hit pretty OK in the 2nd spot: .290/.335/.434.

There might also be a Choo effect on the second spot now too. He's going to be on base a lot, so the 2nd hole hitter, on top of getting good pitches, might see more fastballs. Xavier Paul has shown an ability to get on base and handle a fastball, so he's a decent candidate. But I think Jay Bruce needs the soothing effects of the 2nd spot more than anyone. And he grounds out a lot less than Cozart or Paul.

I'd try him there for a jump start and move Cozart to 6 or 7 on the thought that he won't see total garbage there:

Choo
Bruce
Votto
Phillips
Frazier
Paul
Cozart
Mesoraco

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