As this is our second segment in this series, I suggest you read the first segment on who the Nats should leadoff, to catch up.
But if you're lazy here's the summary: While Cristian Guzman is by no means a typical leadoff hitter, the combination of his growing maturity, laser eye surgery, and lack of Nationals options make him the best candidate to leadoff in 2009. Other options discussed were Lastings Milledge for his athleticism, Anderson Hernandez for his late season success last year, and Adam Dunn for his surprising speed and ability to get on base.
But now the question arises of who Manny Acta should, not will, bat behind Guzman at the leadoff spot. The number two hitter has several important responsibilities, and many believe he can be the most crucial in putting runs on the board. We have to look no further than to see what Derek Jeter has done for the Yankees throughout the years, or the stunning effect Dustin Pedroia had for the Redsox offense last year.
Most importantly the number two hitter needs to be able to put the bat on the ball. If the leadoff hitter gets on base, it's the number two hitters job to get him to second or third so that the three and four hitter can do damage. In the past this meant the second hitter had to be ready to bunt, but in todays game it means that he has to handle hit and runs, hit to the opposite side of the field, and run the bases just as well as anyone on the team.
So who fits that role on the Washington Nationals?
Milledge has the potential to bat just about anywhere in the line up. He combines power with speed, the ability to hit for average without sacrificing power or patience. He has good bat control for such a young player and his strikeout rate went down as the season progressed. According to conventional thought this is the best place for Milledge because he will be hitting in front of Zimmerman, Dunn, and Dukes. Their power will be an asset to him seeing good pitches to hit, and his speed will be an asset for them to hit him in.
Last year Milledge batted second in 17 games. He put up a line of .269/.320/.388. While those numbers aren't very impressive we have to remember he was often batting in that spot when the team was having its worst batting struggles. Zimmerman was hurt, Kearns and Pena couldn't bat above .200, and Dukes forgot how to swing a bat. While it's troubling that he hasn't had much tangible success at this spot... athletically and in terms of tools, he may be the best option for the Nats.
Elijah Dukes truly is a puzzle. It's not clear what type of player he will develop to be exactly. At six foot one 240 pounds he has the frame of a power hitter. But his fluidity andspeed would have you think that he has future as a center fielder who will hit for a high average. The Nats would probably prefer that he develop more into a power hitting corner outfielder, but they will take anything they can get from a guy who was basically discarded by Tampa Bay.
Dukes saw plenty of action batting in the second spot for the Nationals in 2008. In 23 games he put up a line of .319/.413/.500. He hit three homers, 14 RBI, and five stolen bases. To put it simply, he excelled. Putting numbers like that up for an entire season would make Dukes an all star at any position. While Dukes may be more prone to strikeouts than Milledge, he makes up for it with his higher average and on base percentage. Statistically Dukes is the best option for the two spot...but the Nationals may want to bat him further back in the order to develop his power.
Zimmerman has been long crowned our teams franchise hitter and has been bolstered in the number three spot in the line up for the last three years. But is he a true number three hitter? Sure his numbers have been deflated by lack of solid protection in the line up, but will he actually translate to a number three hitter on a championship team?
At the three spot in his career he has put up a line of .278/.339/.457. He has averaged 22 homers and 92 RBI per 162 games, which is very solid. But a number three hitter has to be the most pure hitter on the team. While .278 with 20 homers and close to 100 RBI's is great, its hardly anything from pure. The Nats might be better off if they decide to move Zimmerman to the two slot where he can be a little bit more liberal about the pitches he swings at.
The Nats have much better options to bat in the second spot than they do the leadoff. All three options of Milledge, Dukes, and Zimmerman would be sought after by any team. While Milledge may project to be a better number two hitter down the road, I think the Nats best option is Elijah Dukes. Numbers don't lie and Dukes number two slot stats are excellent. If he develops into a power hitter that outgrows the two spot, so be it...but in 2009 the Nats should bat Dukes number 2.