There’s always been a little magic to batting third, for some reason. For those eager to play, it was a guaranteed spot to bat in the first inning, no matter what. It was the best chance to bat with men on base, behind what should be a team’s best on-base men. Heck, even the common nickname for batting fourth, ‘Cleanup’, suggests that they are coming in after the real action.
So it’s not surprising that fans have wanted Barry Bonds to bat third pretty much ever since he stopped in the middle of 2002. Especially when, at that point, his at-bats became required viewing. Heck, everyone from Joe Blow in the bleachers to Pedro Gomez at ESPN wanted to at least know “Bonds is going to bat in the first, so we don’t have to put our lives on hold for too long.”
The problem is that Bonds batting third comes perhaps too late, and that suggests it would have solved anything in the past for the San Francisco Giants.
The thing about batting third is that in today’s (usually) deeper lineups, it should be a team’s best combination of power (to take advantage of the players commonly on-base ahead of him), and speed and on-base skills (to be able to take advantage of the true power behind them). Speed is the most overlooked part of this equation, but it’s important. Speed’s not important on a home run, but it can be very important in trying to take an extra base on a single, or score from first on a double.
Bonds was that guy in the 90’s, even before he was the first National League player to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in a season. He might even have been that guy in the first part of this century, when he had guys like Jeff Kent and Ellis Burks batting behind him. But Bonds is not that anymore.
Of course, Bonds is still the best combination of power and on-base skills on the team, by far. But speed? He’s faster than people give him credit for on his bad knees, but he’s still a 42 year old guy on bad knees.
This is even more complicated because the Giants do not have a home run threat behind Bonds. Ray Durham might crack 20 again, and maybe Feliz might. But it’s more than likely neither will. It’s an almost certainty that no one on this team will hit 25 other than Bonds, and even that’s a maybe. That means that when Bonds walks, it’ll take more than one hit to score him unless it’s a homer. It’ll take at least two. And between Durham and whomever follows him (be it Rich Aurilia, Pedro Feliz or Bengie Molina), how likely is that?
Well, consider that if both guys batting behind Bonds are batting .333 (1 hit in 3 AB), the odds would be that the both get hits are 1 in 6. The more realistic odds are closer to 1 in 8. And then consider how many of Bonds’ walks will come with two outs if he bats third (compared with the number that’d come leading off an inning if he batted fourth).
No, Bonds’ best strength remains his power. He could still take advantage of having two strong on-base guys ahead of him, but he would get more chances to knock runners in if there were three strong on-base guys there ahead of him. Of course, the Giants may not have that either, but at least Bonds’ speed won’t affect the guys running ahead of him.
There are other reasons why people think Bonds should bat third, of course. The most common one has always been that someone batting third is likely to get more at-bats than someone batting fourth, and for Bonds, that means more home run opportunities. And that’s true. However, for the Giants last year, the difference in plate appearances between the #3 spot and the #4 spot was a total of 17. That’s not a lot. Now how many of those extra plate appearances will come in the 30-40 games Bonds is expected to miss?
Not to mention this assumes Bonds would be in the game until the last at-bat commonly enough to take advantage of that.
Manager Bruce Bochy has also suggested that moving Bonds up will have another side effect: he can pull Bonds earlier. Again, that’s true. But logically, Bonds would have realistically been pulled only minutes later than he will batting third most of the time, so the time difference is negligible. Bonds probably spends more time napping in his chair in a season than the move would save him on the field.
Don’t get me wrong, this move for Bonds is also unlikely to hurt the team. Wherever Bonds hits, he can do damage, and batting third probably won’t change his ability to get chances to hit, be it home runs or otherwise. It just won’t change much for the team. It’s the guys batting around Bonds who will affect this team. If they can’t get it together, moving Bonds in the order will be little more than rearranging the batting order on the Titanic.
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