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White Sox Tue Aug 14 2012

Sox Should Shake Up Batting Order

Baseball players are weird creatures of habit. We hear stories of their various quirks and superstitions all the time; scores of articles have been written about the ritualistic ballplayer. They even have their own Wikipedia entry.

This even extends to the batting order. Players like to find their spot in the lineup and stay there. Statistics and analytics determine which batting order work and can figure out the optimal lineup, sure, but part of it is just players' comfort of hitting in his certain spot. What manager wants to anger his players by disrupting their routine?

Having said all that, the White Sox should move A.J. Pierzynski up in the batting order, and drop Adam Dunn down in it, at least for the time being. Simply put, A.J.'s hot bat is being underutilized, and it's worth the risk to mix up the lineup.

Pierzynski has been a juggernaut in the second half. Since July 13, he is hitting .351 with seven home runs and 18 RBIs. His OPS is a robust 1.068. And, his hits have come in big spots - on Sunday, his two run shot kick-started a five-run rally to break a 1-1 tie in the sixth, he hit a ninth inning RBI single to make Wednesday's game interesting, and a ninth-inning blast of his won a game two weeks ago. But in general, Pierzynski has been finding ways to drill a homer or plate a run in almost every opportunity he has gotten for the last few weeks.

Dunn, meanwhile, has been running cold. In the second half, he is hitting .189 with a .665 OPS. His average, at .203, is now closer than ever to the Mendoza Line. Dunn, though, still can make things happen when he makes contact (he has six home runs and 15 RBIs in that time frame) and even when he doesn't, sometimes (14 walks drawn, compared to one walk for Pierzynski).

The big stat for me is this: Since that July 13 game in Kansas City, Dunn has averaged 4.36 plate appearances per start, while Pierzynski has been getting only 4.00 plate appearances in his starts (the games A.J. pinch-hit did not factor into it). Over three games, Dunn is likely to come to the plate one more time than Pierzynski; over thirty games, Dunn would get ten more chances to hit than Pierzynski.

Of course, this is because Dunn bats third just about every game he is in, while Pierzynski bats fifth now (up from sixth in the order as recently as last week). Dunn reaps those extra plate appearances when the game ends between the third and fifth/sixth hitter - that happened twice just this past week.

The Sox offense isn't exactly sputtering, but they aren't as sharp as they need to be. Since the break, Chicago is in the bottom half of the American League in team batting average, runs scored, RBIs, walks, on-base percentage and OPS. And with Paul Konerko out with a concussion, Dayan Viciedo and Gordon Beckham's struggling (batting .232 and .181, respectively) and with guys like Ray Olmedo and Dewayne Wise getting spot starts, the Sox can afford to make a swap in the lineup.

Pierzynski can move up to third while Dunn is dropped to fifth. Or, Dunn can move to the clean-up spot if manager Robin Ventura is fine with lefties batting consecutively. Maybe even Alex Rios can move up to second, Kevin Youkilis drops to third (he has seven homers since the all-star game), Pierzynski hits clean-up and Dunn hits fifth. When Konerko returns, he can still hit fourth while A.J., then Dunn, bookend him. Whatever the case is, the Sox should at least try a lineup flip-flop, just to get Pierzynski's bat in the game more often than Dunn's.

And if it messes with anyone's pregame routine, then so be it.

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