Pirates Q&A with Dejan Kovacevic

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Q: Please tell me I am reading incorrectly that it's been suggested within the Pirates' organization that Jason Bay will be batting fifth. It is absolutely ludicrous to put your most productive offensive player that far down the lineup.

The opening day lineup should be Chris Duffy, Freddy Sanchez, Bay, Adam LaRoche, Xavier Nady, and then some order of Jose Bautista, Ronny Paulino and Jack Wilson, preferably in that order.

Bay is the team's best on-base percentage player, and you will cost him plate appearances and the team runs if he's losing at-bats in the fifth spot. Plus, again, he can be pitched around at No. 5. Batting Bay after LaRoche defeats the whole purpose of getting him, which is to protect our best player. With LaRoche behind him, Bay would actually see more pitches because of the semblance of a threat behind him. In the No. 5 hole, they would take their chances with Nady or whoever.

The management needs to get rid of the misplaced obsession with batting Wilson second so that we can field a lineup that can win games.

Vaughn Schultz of Mount Washington, Pittsburgh

KOVACEVIC: Fair enough, Vaughn. Before I respond, here is a different viewpoint.


Q:

Excellent lineup analysis in the Q&A last Friday. Bill James would agree with you. The No. 5 spot is the one statistically most likely to lead off the second inning, so it helps to have a good on-base guy with a little speed and not a straight power guy who strikes out a lot.

Also, if Duffy performs, I think Jack will be forced to take a few more pitches, which might actually help his on-base percentage, as well. And your best hitter bats third and, right now, Sanchez is your best hitter.

No need to overcomplicate things.

David Bruni of Cranberry

KOVACEVIC: This subject dominated the mail over the weekend, and it was split almost evenly, with a slight lean toward getting Wilson out of the No. 2 spot and sliding up Bay to No. 3, as Vaughn suggests above.

I remember something Lloyd McClendon told me a couple years ago when we were discussing where Bay's career was heading and where he might bat eventually. McClendon's feeling was that Bay would bat No. 5 in a good lineup, that he had all the hallmarks, including some that you mention, David. We can forget now about his good work on the basepaths because he was slowed by the troublesome knee last season, but he is capable of using those on-base capabilities at that point in the order, too.

I really see this argument as being more about where Sanchez hits.

I understand fully the argument in favor of having him at No. 2. With Duffy's outrageous speed in general and his ability to steal in particular, if he gets to first with any decent rate, he will be turning singles or walks into doubles, essentially. Having Sanchez there to poke one into the outfield would be nice.

But one negative tendency we saw with Sanchez last year -- maybe the only one -- is his instinctive unselfishness at the plate (if unselfishness can be called a negative). He was putting down bunts and hitting the ball to the right side to give himself up more often than not with a man on first and less than two outs. I am sure we can all agree that is a colossal waste of his talent. Now, you can order Sanchez all you want not to do those things, but instinct tends to stay ingrained in an athlete at the elite level.

There is this, too. I would like to have a No. 2 hitter willing to give up a pitch or two to give Duffy a chance to steal. Yes, Sanchez might be better at that than Wilson, but both are decent two-strike hitters and have the ability to escape the hole. Given the choice, I would rather have Sanchez working without such restrictions. Let him work his own counts, hit his best pitch.

(Yes, I know that statistics show steals are not that big a part of the game, generally speaking. But that dynamic changes, I think, when the guy in question steals almost at will, as Duffy does. The Pirates need to capitalize on that.)

And a last point regarding Sanchez: We might think of him as a punch-and-judy type because we see daily that he is no masher, but 53 doubles is 53 doubles, no matter how hard they are hit. Those count toward power numbers, and those are welcome at the No. 3 hole with or without home runs.

Also, I am not wild about the Nos. 5-8 spots if they are made up of Nady, Paulino, Bautista and Wilson. That plus the pitcher's spot gives the opposing pitcher too long a spell from any consistent power threat, and we have seen way too much of that over the years in Pittsburgh.

Finally, this is worth a fresh emphasis: The Pirates' plan is to use LaRoche as cleanup, Bay as No. 5, most nights but not all nights. There will be some pitching matchups where those two get flipped. Or maybe even other facets. In fact, the Pirates' plan to form this lineup we are debating is tentative if only because pitchers and catchers have yet to report, and things still can change.

Until tomorrow, when I hope to move on to different subjects. I have found that, anytime lineup stuff is raised in this forum, it brings an avalanche of feedback, most of it in the form of mock lineups. I think we will have time enough for those when we get to Bradenton and the thing actually starts rounding out ...



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