The Hangover: Why Is Erick Aybar Hitting Second?

Erick Aybar was the No. 2 hole hitter in the lineup yesterday for the third straight game. I don’t care much about lineups, but I’ve gotta write about something.

In an ideal word, for a team that’s trying to win baseball games, Erick Aybar should never bat second. He should almost always bat eighth (or ninth). This is not groundbreaking analysis.

Aybar is very much an old school two hole hitter because he works the count, can hit-and-run, bunt, hit behind the runner, control the bat, steal a bag here and there, yada yada. Those things are good and all—really, I don’t mind them in certain situations, for certain hitters—but they work perfectly fine lower in the order, too. Old school two hole hitters often simply aren’t productive overall, which is why they should usually bat at the bottom of the order.

Putting a bad hitter in the two spot doesn’t make sense, for obvious reasons: 1) you’re giving him more at-bats over the course of a season and 2) you’re putting him in an important lineup spot, right in the middle of the heart of the order. When you’re thinking about the top of a team’s batting order, the No. 2 hitter shouldn’t be a guy with a three-year OPS of .628. That’s a unnecessary breather ceded to the opposing pitcher.

So why is Andy Green, a seemingly smart, progressive manager, batting Aybar second?

Secret Tank Agenda

If Aybar is batting second because the Padres don’t really care about winning (or are actively trying to lose), that’s fine, I guess. It’s not really going to effect wins or losses to a significant degree either way, as most evidence shows an optimized lineup might add something like one win over a full season.

It’s hard to evaluate some of these decisions in a traditional sense because the Padres, just based on their roster, aren’t really built to consistently win games. They’re ultimately likely to finish last in the division, and at some point they’ll be better off losing rather than winning.

Um, He Prefers A Worse Lineup

The concern here is that maybe Green is just not great at filling out a lineup. I don’t know. I mean, that’s why I’m writing about it. It’s probably not true, as Green seems too smart for it. In fact, he proved as much in an interview at FanGraphs:

I am not married to a particular lineup. But I do like seeing my best guys right at the top, in the one and two holes, getting on base consistently. Getting them more at bats is also a big component of that. And I like the idea of the aggression that comes out of the box — you’re coming at a team right away. There are tough hitters for them to deal with right out of the chute.

But a bunch of managers have said smart things in the press while proceeding to make silly decisions from the dugout. It’s at least possible, given some of the lineups we’ve seen, that Green just isn’t great at making them.

In Green’s defense, the Padres don’t have a ton of super obvious options for the two spot. That said, just about anyone would make more sense than Aybar. Ryan Schimpf would work, especially if the BABiP ever climbs above .100. Yangervis Solarte would work, too, and he even comes with a lot of the old school two hole attributes. Even Wil Myers would work, jumping up a spot from his regular third spot.

Not that you’re asking, but here’s probably what I’d run out there (vs. a righty):

  1. CF Manuel Margot
  2. 3B Ryan Schimpf
  3. 2B Yangervis Solarte
  4. 1B Wil Myers
  5. RF Hunter Renfroe
  6. LF Travis Jankowski
  7. C Austin Hedges
  8. Pitcher
  9. SS Erick Aybar

I realize lobbying Schimpf for the second spot when he’s hitting .109 and moving Myers off No. 3 when he’s doing his best Babe Ruth impersonation probably doesn’t make sense, so forget I ever wrote it. Point is, Aybar shouldn’t be batting second. Neither should Travis Jankowski, really, even though Green’s put him there six times.

He Just Doesn’t Care That Much

Sometimes I do things that I know are silly beforehand, but I do them anyway. For example, sometimes I’ll drive across town to get fast food (bad idea No. 1) then drive back across town to my house, all the while knowing I’ll have to go back across town later on to get groceries or something. It’s a terrible waste of resources, but I want that fast food after work yet don’t want to commit to getting groceries then.

Maybe Andy Green is just throwing Aybar is the two spot because he’s comfortable with it, even though he knows it’s costing his team a tiny percent of a win each night. A couple bucks in gas and a half hour of wasted time isn’t going to kill anyone.

I don’t mean that Green really doesn’t care about his job, of course; rather, maybe he’s just kind of throwing up his hands, as there really isn’t an ideal two hole hitter on the roster at the moment. He’s feeling good with Aybar, and he’s just going with it, realizing the potential consequences of his decisions are minimal. That’s not really a defense so much as a potential explanation.

A perfectly optimized lineup isn’t a huge deal, especially right now. But Aybar hitting second is at least something we can keep an eye on, just to make sure it doesn’t tell us something about the bigger picture.

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