Batting Johnny Damon Second

Publishing something only to remember another bit of information to include is the bane of my existence. For whatever reason, I stumbled upon Heath Baywood’s column from earlier this year on why John Jaso should not bat leadoff, which had to do with his likelihood of grounding into double plays. Boy, that piece of information would have made a great inclusion in the Evan Longoria batting leadoff post, but alas, it’ll be a separate thought.

The only con with batting Longoria leadoff is that he will have fewer men on base to drive in. A pro, though, is that he will have fewer men on base. Batting with fewer men on base means Longoria will not into a high rate of double plays, which he is wont to do. At least, you would hope batting leadoff doesn’t offer more baserunners than batting third or fourth, otherwise the top of the lineup must hit a bunch of home runs or make a lot of outs.

Longoria had the fourth-best on-base percentage amongst Rays since 2008 (with suitable sample sizes, sorry Jaso), but one of those that finished higher, Johnny Damon, should not bat leadoff because his ability to avoid the double play ball is more valuable in the second slot. Baseball Prospectus tracks the double plays hit into and double play situations encountered by each hitter and provides a percentage—the higher, the more often a player bats into a twin killing. Below are Damon’s percentages since 2008 compared to Carl Crawford, whom Baywood properly credited as an avoider of double plays:

Damon/Crawford
2008 – 10.8 percent/9.5 percent
2009 – 6.3 percent/5.1 percent
2010 – 5 percent/3.8 percent
2011 – 2.5 percent/5 percent

In the offensive portion of the first inning, goal number one is to get on base. Goal number two is to then avoid a double play, and goal number three is to score runs. When laid out like that, the only slot of the top four that makes sense to lock in is Damon batting second, with Zobrist, Longoria, and Joyce falling in place around him.

And keep in mind, it’s not just that Damon avoids double plays by striking out a lot or putting the ball in the air constantly, but he also has the speed to beat out otherwise completed DPs, similar to Crawford. It’s a skill set Damon and maybe Fuld possess on the Rays. Meanwhile, Jaso and Casey Kotchman are on the other end of the spectrum—you don’t want them batting with a man on first and less than two outs unless absolutely unavoidable (and with this respect, you really would rather one bat behind a basestealer like B.J. Upton if everything else is equal amongst the bottom four batters).

Here is the data for every Ray with 50-plus plate appearances this season and in the seasons accounted for:

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