Not getting the memo

Japanese baseball has generally moved on from the 1970s’ and 1980s’ notion that a team’s worst hitter, if he’s a speedy middle infielder or center fielder and can bunt, is most valuable making outs – intentional or otherwise – in the No. 2 spot.

If one actually studies lineup construction, one should come away with two conclusions:

  1. The difference between the absolute best batting order and the absolute worst is minimal in terms of the runs it will gain a team over the course of a season, because every spot bats.
  2. The best order is one in which a team’s most productive hitters are packed together without easy outs diluting their impact. The worst order would be where none of the best hitters follow each other, with poorer offensive players sandwiched between them. This would be worse than batting your top-four hitters sixth to ninth.

Once a manager figures that out, then the next step is how to arrange the best hitters to give them the most plate appearances.

For decades, Japanese baseball people believed the value of using an out to advance the best on-base non-power hitter in the leadoff spot into scoring position ahead of the middle of the order outweighed having an offensive zero bat second.

Most Japanese managers still sacrifice in the early innings after the leadoff man reaches base, but few still give the No. 2 spot in the order to an offensive zeroe. One manager, however, has not gotten that memo, and Chunichi Dragons fans know who I’m talking about.

Manager Kazuyoshi Tatsunami’s Dragons are one of two teams with absurdly poor production from the No. 2 spot this year, and it’s worse than that. The Dragons are the only team that absolutely either PLANNED to have crappy production there or based their higher expectations on wishful thinking.

Thanks to Delta Graphs, we know that through Saturday, Dragons’ No. 2 hitters have generated a .266 wOBP this season, the Rakuten Eagles’ .267. But if you look at who has batted there and their current career wOBAs, you can separate intent from results.

To look at what each team could reasonably expect from the guys they chose, I looked at the career wOBA for each guy and prorate it for their plate appearances in the No. 2 spot this year.

If I wanted to REALLY get into it, I’d weight each player’s career wOBA using the league average, but I’m not going THAT far today.

I used two players for Hiroshima, since all but two PAs went to Ryosuki Kikuchi and Takashi Uemoto, but seven for Nippon Ham, drawing the cutoff at 10 plate appearances, and leaving out the other 13 players to get plate appearances in the No. 2 for Tsuyoshi Shinjo.

Here are the 12 teams ranked by expected wOBP from their principle No. 2 hitters in 2022:

TeamExpected wOBA

A few comments are in order. Hawks manager Hiroshi Fujimoto has shown himself to be a huge adherent of the sacrifice, and his expected .298 wOBA is just a tick above the PL average this year for non-pitchers, .297. Lions manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji, I think had higher expectations for Brian O’Grady than league average, which this study assigns him.

The Yakult Swallows are kind of the opposite of that. If Shingo Takatsu thought Norichika Aoki was going to deliver his career wOBA at the age of 40, then he might need to be institutionalized. Likewise, if you know Tsuyoshi Shinjo has a plan, please report it to someone and collect your reward money.

Now here are the actual wOBAs from each team’s No. 2 hitters through May 29, 2022:

TeamNo. 2 spot wOBA

I am left to conclude that the Hawks’ offense is working despite manager Fujimoto’s best efforts to pigeon-hole it into a traditional model. The Swallows, Giants, and BayStars have tried to get good production from their No. 2 spot, and have succeeded, while the Dragons’ planned to be bad, and are executing that strategy magnificently.

To be fair, the Dragons’ offense has sucked for other bigger reasons. Since I’m going on about Chunichi, let’s get a look at the production Tatsunami should have expected from the players he’s used, and what they’ve actually done.

Batting OrderExpected wOBAActual wOBA

The Dragons’ lineup spots that have done as well or poorly as expected have been: Nos. 1, 2, 5, 7, and 8. The sixth spot, mostly Takaya Ishikawa has had their most production, while Nos. 3 and 4 have been disaster areas.

But a look at what Tatsunami SHOULD have expected, by putting guys like Taiki Mitsumata and Yuki Okabayashi in the No. 2 spot tells you that he’s channeling more of his former manager Senichi Hoshino than the former skipper’s bad temper. Tatsunami has opted for an offensive style in vogue when he was a rookie under Hoshino in 1988.

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