Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Day 324: Baseball for Beginners: Lesson #5 - The Lineup

While the snow is gently aggressively falling here in the northeast, Spring Training is in full swing down in sunny (un-snowy) Fort Meyers, Florida. I hate everyone who can comfortably wear shorts right now. I can't even comfortably wear shorts in my house—anything less than three layers and a fleece blanket is just not acceptable. I'm not bitter about winter or anything... nope.

Ok... here we are at Lesson #5 of Baseball for Beginners. I've realized that what I think in my head are very informative posts about baseball, are really just a bunch of gibberish that probably still don't actually teach stuff. Anywho... if you missed the previous "lessons", click here, here, here and here for your refresher. I've mostly talked about the defensive positions in baseball so this week I'm switching it up and discussing the offense—getting the hits and scoring the runs.

Often times conversations will revolve around a team's lineup—also known as the batting order. This is the order the nine players get their turn at the plate and it's the main component of a team's offensive strategy. The lineup is set by the team's manager before the game begins and must be followed exactly or it violates the rules and people get really mad and bad things can happen.

The batting order has some fun nicknames too. The first guy up to bat is called the "leadoff" hitter, the fourth guy is know as the "cleanup" because if the first, second and third guys get on base, he can clean up by driving them all in. The top two batters are often fairly quick and solid hitters—guys that have high on-base percentages and can get hits in front of the big guys.

The third, fourth and fifth batters are often called the "heart" of the lineup. These are generally the big bats, the guys who can hit for power and drive in runs. The remainder of the batting order are placed based on their lack of offensive abilities. The ninth or "last" batter usually isn't the best hitter on the team and with teams that don't utilize the designated hitter, this position in the lineup is reserved for the pitcher who is usually a pretty sucky hitter.

At the start of each inning, the batting order picks up where it left off in the previous inning. And because a game might end before the last cycle is complete, the #1 hitter might have one more at bat than the #9 hitter—another reason you want your strongest batters near the top of the order.

Also, in Major League Baseball, the designated hitter (DH) is a player who doesn't field a defensive position, but instead fills in for the pitcher in the batting order. The DH can only be used for the pitcher and only in the American League. The National League still requires the pitcher to hit for himself. In the past, teams normally would have employed a big, power hitter to hit in the "heart" of the order but times have changed and many organizations are unwilling to pay big bucks to a guy who only plays one side of the game.

My big question as we head into the 2014 baseball season is who the heck is going to bat leadoff for the Red Sox now that Jacoby Ellsbury has defected to the New York Yankees? Shane Victorino, perhaps? Or will Jackie Bradley Jr. prove himself enough offensively in spring training to earn that most important spot in the batting order? We shall see!

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