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Albert hit his 20th home run last night. It was his 12th w/ no runners on base. 60% of his home runs so far this season have been hit w/ no one on base. For his career, it’s only 52.5%. The only full season in which that percentage was higher was in 2007 when 62.5% of his homers were solo shots. So far this season he’s been to the plate 266 times and 142 of those have been w/ no one on base – 53.3%. Again, this is the 2nd highest rate of his career, only eclipsed by 2003’s 54.3%. Even in 2007, when nearly 2/3 of his homers were solo shots, he had runners on base 47.9% of the time.

Of course, when you look at the team’s OBP, it’s no wonder that there’s never anybody on base when Albert steps to the plate. The team’s 2nd highest OBP is Joe Thurston’s .347 – 93 points less than Albert’s. Our "leadoff hitter" – Skip Schumaker – has a feckless .329 OBP. Rick Ankiel’s hitting 2nd right now and his OBP is also .329 – and that’s during a "hot" streak. His career OBP is .326 so it’s not like this year’s low OBP is an aberration.

The Book and many other studies have demonstrated time and again that the #3 spot in the order is not the ideal location for the team’s best hitter. In fact, any one of the other spots from 1-5 is probably a better spot for Pujols than the 3 hole is. The problem w/ hitting in the 3 hole is that the 3rd hitter comes to the plate too frequently w/ no one on and 2 out. When the team’s 1st 2 hitters each have .329 OBPs it’s probably an even greater problem. By refusing to consider moving Albert to another spot in the order, Tony is failing to get as much out of Albert as he could.

By moving Albert to the 2 hole, Albert would have more PAs throughout the course of the year. Clearly, there’s an advantage to that, particularly since he’s the only one on the team w/ even a decent OBP right now. The argument against it is that he would have less of a chance of coming to the plate w/ runners on base, particularly in the first inning. Again though, when your top 2 hitters reach base fewer than 1 out of every 3 times they step to the plate, it’s not like Albert is seeing a lot of pitches w/ runners on base in the first inning anyway. At least you could take advantage of the increased number of PAs he and his 1.105 OPS would get. Hell, even putting his .440 OBP in the leadoff position is better than leaving him to bat 3rd w/ no one on and 2 out. Albert has a 1.300 OPS and has scored 11 runs in 44 PAs leading off an inning so far this year. Admittedly, it’s a horrendously small sample but it does indicate the value in having someone w/ Albert’s OBP ability leading off an inning. If Tony wants to do damage in the first inning, let Albert lead off.

The cleanup spot would also be a better spot for Albert than the number 3 hole. The 3 hole does see more PAs over the course of the season but the advantage to the 4 hole is that he comes to the plate more frequently w/ runners on base, thus allowing the team to take advantage of Albert’s ability to hit for extra bases. And when the team goes 1-2-3 in the first, you’d get to take advantage of Albert’s ability to reach base by having him leadoff the 2nd. Three times in Albert’s career he’s had more PAs w/ runners on base than w/ no one on base. Two of those were in 2001 and 2002 when he most frequently batted 4th in the Cards’ lineup. Now, this year’s lineup is very different as there’s no Edmonds or Rolen in their primes but that’s a distinct advantage to hitting in the 4 hole.

I realize that baseball tradition dictates that the team’s best hitter bat in the 3rd spot. You have some good hitters (hopefully) at the top of the order so the chances are pretty good that the #3 hitter gets to bat w/ at least 1 runner on base. You also guarantee him a PA in the first inning when pitchers are often at their most vulnerable. This is Tony’s rationale for having Albert bat 3rd as opposed to 4th.

I’m not going to make the argument that moving Albert up or down 1 spot in the order’s going to automatically turn this team from a team that can’t score into one that scores early and often but if we’re going to sit Ludwick against righties (and play Duncan) to take maximum advantage of platoon splits, we may as well consider – just consider – moving Albert to either the #2 or #4 spot in the order. It’s as if that sort of conversation is taboo and it shouldn’t be. We could try new players in the leadoff and #2 spots but no one else on the team is getting on base much more often than Skip or Rick. Tony moved Rasmus to the cleanup spot to take advantage of his SLG% -- 2nd highest on the team. So why not consider moving Albert to the 2 hole to take advantage of his OBP?

I think it’s also worth exploring moving Thurston to the leadoff spot against righties. His BA is pretty low right now (.247) but he has the 2nd most walks on the team. He also has 2 more extra base hits – in 48 fewer PAs – than Skippy. How about something like this:

  1. Thurston – 3B
  2. Pujols – 1B
  3. Ankiel – RF
  4. Rasmus – CF
  5. Ludwick – LF
  6. Skip – 2B
  7. Molina – C
  8. Pitcher
  9. Ryan – SS
You could even swap Ludwick and Rasmus if you wanted to split up the 2 lefties – Ankiel and Rasmus to make it a little more difficult on the opposing manager later in the game.

Day game today on Fox, I believe. Game thread goes up around 2:45.