On his blog The Dog Ate Daron’s Homework, Diamondbacks broadcaster Daron Sutton announced that in tomorrow’s first spring training game, Conor Jackson would hit clean up. Earlier in the off-season, there was talk of Eric Byrnes being the cleanup hitter, and indeed that may still be his role, especially against left-handed hitters. But as long as the subject of lineups has been mentioned, first by Diamondhacks and now by Daron, I might as well weigh-in with my thoughts.
One would have figured at least to start, that if Byrnes wasn’t in the four-hole, Chad Tracy would be there. After all, he led the team in RBIs and was second to Byrnes in homers. He struck out a lot last year, but claims that that was because he was not making an adjustment to the pitchers who have adjusted to him. We did notice that toward the end of the season, Tracy’s strikeout rate did slow down. So maybe he’s working out the adjustment. We’ll see a spring training progresses. Again, he is likely to see some time there — spring training lineups are quite fluid — but manager Bob Melvin has indicated that he would like to bat Tracy third.
Conor Jackson is an interesting selection. Jackson has the patience at the plate but not the speed on the base paths that would make him a good table setter. He and Byrnes tied for second in RBIs among the Diamondbacks last year. And they were both just one behind Chad Tracy in a race that was not decided until the ninth inning of the final game. He likes the pressure of the cleanup spot, something that the numbers suggest Byrnes is not all that comfortable with. Jackson also understands that a double with runners in scoring position will be fine; one does not always need a homer. There is some concern at that Tracy who, after 2005, was expected to be the team’s homer leader, might try too hard for the four-bagger if he’s hitting cleanup.
If it turns out that Conor Jackson is the man for the cleanup role, where should the Diamondbacks slot Eric Byrnes and why? I think, for early spring training at least, he should hit second. His lifetime stats show that he has his highest batting average in the second spot. But that would be just to get him going. In about two weeks, I’d start giving him at-bats in the fifth position. And I’d tell him now, if he hasn’t been told already, that the five-hole is really where he should be.
Rather than thinking of the lineup as having three parts, I like to think of it as having two: 1 — 4, and 5 — 8, with the pitcher who can slap a single or at least bunt, or a pinch-hitter, linking the two halves during a rally. That makes the five-hole a transition spot for which Byrnes’ combination of talents is well suited. He has the pop in his bat that can drive in a runner ahead of him and the speed afoot that can make him a table-setter for the second half of the order. This is especially useful for a team like the Diamondbacks, who have a fairly even lineup.