With the acquisition of new right fielder Jason Heyward, the top of the St. Louis Cardinals lineup is going to be especially dangerous in 2015. Heck, when you think about it, the middle and end will both pack some punch as well, but the top will especially. Though it can be argued that his hitting approach is better suited for the two-hole, Matt Carpenter will find his name written down on the lineup card as the team's leadoff hitter for the second opening day in a row. In an article by Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Mike Matheny provided the following information regarding Heyward, and to be brutally honest, it is one of my favorite things I have heard from Matheny in his time as manager:
"I can see Jason as a ‘2’ or ‘3’ guy," said Matheny. "And I really like him in the ‘2’ hole."
With Matt Holliday batting second only 57 times last season, it is safe to say the Cardinals left fielder will find himself batting third again in 2015. Statistically, Holliday has been the team's best hitter in each of the last three seasons (when looking at wRC+). In The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball, Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman, and Andrew Dolphin wrote that the number two hitter should be better than the number three hitter because he has a similar amount of plate appearances with runners on base and will bat more often (roughly 18 more plate appearances per season). Yet, for whatever reason, Holliday isn't a likely candidate for the two-hole going forward.
Critics of Holliday hitting second almost always brought up his proclivity to ground into double plays, and this, in my opinion, can actually be seen as a legitimate argument (106 GDPs since joining the Cardinals, 5 in 57 two-hole PAs last season) given Carpenter's skill of getting on base. Now, this is largely precipitated by the facts that he barrels baseballs on a regular basis and that he is not necessarily the fleetest of foot. Well, after reviewing the following leaderboard shared by Mark Simon of ESPN, these same critics can put this argument to rest should Heyward hit second in the lineup:
2014 leaderboard of the day Which hitters were best at avoiding GIDP in DP situations? pic.twitter.com/nWTCmPBe40— Mark Simon (@msimonespn) December 28, 2014
Being good at "avoiding" double plays isn't the only prerequisite necessary for hitting second in a big league lineup, especially considering I'm not sure if a one year sample is all that predictive of future results. There are multiple characteristics desired, but the one I look to first is on-base percentage (OBP). Simply put, Jason Heyward gets on base at an above-average rate. His career .351 OBP is 37th best in the National League since his MLB debut in 2010. For those worrying about his splits, his career OBP versus lefties is .301 (and has been as high as .356). While .301 is not necessarily ideal, it's not terrible, and he has shown capable of doing better than that.
Not surprisingly, his OBP ranks fourth highest on the 2015 Cardinals—behind Holliday (.383), Carpenter (.379), and Jay (.359). As I have already touched on, neither Carpenter nor Holliday will be moving to the two-hole (at the start of the season at least). The problem with having Jay hit second is two fold: 1) His OBP is BABIP-fueled (though he has proven that his BABIP is not a fluke) and 2) He still isn't necessarily an everyday player (many still believe Bourjos should be the starter), and the two-hole is too important of a spot to be tinkering with consistently.
The next thing I have always liked to have in a two-hole hitter is a left-handed bat. Though the Cardinals don't necessarily go first-to-third on a single very often (excluding Kolten Wong and Peter Bourjos), the opportunity will present itself more often with a lefty at the plate, as the throw (to third base) from right is considerably longer than the throw from left. Of course, Heyward hits left-handed, and over the course of his career, ~43% of his balls in play have gone to right-field, with 17.4% of those hits being line drives.
As you may have presumed by now, I really enjoyed having Carlos Beltran hit second during his stint with the Cardinals. His OBP could have been slightly higher (but it was manageable), he batted left-handed the majority of the time, and his bat provided some pop to the top of the lineup (.227 ISO in 2012, .195 ISO in 2013). If Heyward's drop in power is an approached-based issue due to hitting in the leadoff spot for the Braves, then one could reasonably believe that the pop seen in the two-hole with Beltran in 2012 and 2013 will find its way back into the 2015 lineup. His career ISO of .167 and wRC+ of 117 will definitely be welcome additions at the top of the lineup.
In conclusion, the order of a lineup full of good hitters (like we will see with the 2015 Cardinals) probably isn't all that important, but it is still a fun thing to discuss, especially in December. If you've been following along, the two-hole has been a pretty hot topic on Viva El Birdos over the last calendar year as shown by the following articles—one written by Craig back in February and another by Ben in August. Of course, both were written prior to the acquisition of Heyward, so both Craig and Ben have the opportunity to state their opinion on the matter should they please.