ever since i started this blog, i've had an unhealthy fixation on david eckstein's batting approach. too passive, i wrote repeatedly early in the season; he should be seeing very hittable pitches, because with walker-pujols-edmonds coming up behind him a pitcher can't afford to pitch eckstein too fine. i wanted to see eck hit more aggressively, and i discovered -- by watching way too closely -- that he did indeed go up there hacking sometimes. usually with good results.
but now walker's gone, and edmonds (who batted 2d occasionally last year and throughout the playoffs) will prob'y drop back to 4th; barring the acquisition of another outfielder, the lineup behind eckstein will prob'y run spivey-pujols-edmonds or bigbie-pujols-edmonds most of the time. what effect, if any, will that have on eckstein's performance?
dork that i am, i decided to parse out eckstein's batting line last year to see if it made a difference who batted 2d behind him. walker only lined up 2d behind eckstein 40 times in 2005, and only 7 times after may 31st; edmonds hit directly behind eckstein almost as often (33 games). and the two of them combined (73 games) batted 2d less often than grud'k, taguchi, nunez, and j-rod, who hit behind eck an aggregate 80 games. roger cedeno also made one appearance in the #2 slot, so for exactly half the season -- 81 games -- somebody other than larry or jed batted behind david eckstein.
did it matter? sample sizes are small, but based on the available data yes, it seemed to matter a lot. these are eckstein's numbers, parsed by #2 hitter:
to reiterate: those are eckstein's numbers, not jed/larry's, etc. i hadn't expected a split as dramatic as that. with anybody other than walker or edmonds hitting behind him, eckstein approximated his career averages thru 2004; with jed or larry at his back, he became tony gwynn.
it seemed like this split could very well be skewed by the fact that walker made most of his #2-hole appearances in april and may; perhaps eckstein simply got off to a hot start, and just by chance it coincided with walker's presence in the lineup? i broke down the season month by month. turns out that, in every single month, eck had a better line when batting in front of walk/jed than when batting in front of other guys. data are avg / obp / slg, with plate appearances in parentheses:
|walker / edmonds||all others|
|april||.286 / .366 / .349 (71 pa)||.143 / .368 / .143 (19 pa)|
|may||.366 / .438 / .493 (80 pa)||.267 / .327 / .400 (49 pa)|
|june||.290 / .389 / .323 (36 pa)||.254 / .359 / .284 (78 pa)|
|july||.235 / .333 / .265 (39 pa)||.215 / .250 / .338 (68 pa)|
|august||.395 / .435 / .628 (46 pa)||.286 / .341 / .452 (91 pa)|
|sep/oct||.358 / .387 / .458 (62 pa)||.327 / .417 / .346 (59 pa)|
the sample sizes are ridiculously small here, so you don't want to make too much of them. but you also can't just ignore the fact that this particular split held up consistently all season long, without a single month's exception. when eckstein was hot with the bat, he was hotter still when jed or larry batted behind him; and when he struggled, he struggled a little less with one of them batting 2d.
eckstein is an intelligent player who (as we've heard ad nauseum since the guy became a cardinal) exploits every little edge. i think one of the edges he exploited last year was the knowledge that pitchers had to come to him -- couldn't afford to dick around, with murderer's row due up next. the numbers are, at the very least, consistent with that hypothesis.
those same number suggest that edmonds ought to hit 2d most of the time this year, followed by albert and scott, then likely encar'cion and some combination of bigbie-molina-spivey. i realize that prescription is at loggerheads with hummingbird's fine diary about edmonds, which says edmonds' best slot in the order is 5th. but the golden rule of lineup construction seems to be: bunch your best hitters together. unless spivey reverts to 2002 form or bigbie finally finds his inner batting champ (both longshot propositions), eck-edmonds seems like the cards' best bet.