Is the positionless lineup becoming a thing in baseball?

On the first day of July, Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly batted Cameron Maybin in the cleanup spot. That is usually a spot in the lineup where the most power is produced and Maybin has just as many career home runs as Giancarlo Stanton smashed just in last season.

The reason why he did that was to have another right-handed batter bat behind catcher JT Realmuto as a means of providing protection.

“Cam has been a lot more successful against lefties this year,” Mattingly said.

The Marlins lost 5-2 against the New York Mets but the strategy worked. Realmuto went 2-for-4 and Maybin hit his first home run of the season in the eighth inning.

Realmuto is one of the Marlins best hitters. Batting .310 with a .899 OPS and 13 home runs and 50 RBI this season, he has been one of the best catchers in the National League. Derek Dietrich had one of the best Junes in baseball and is hitting .286 with 13 home runs. Both of them, along with Starlin Castro, usually reside in the top three spots on the lineup.

But this trend goes beyond the Marlins, even though they participated in it the previous year when they had real sluggers on the team like Giancalo Stanton. In 2017, Stanton spent much of the season hitting in the No. 2 spot in the lineup behind Dee Gordon.

Justin Bour, the traditional cleanup hitter still has the most games from that spot in the lineup but Maybin has 6 games in the cleanup spot behind Castro and Anderson, and just as many home runs as the two of them.

“We see a trend more for the 2 than the 1,” Mattingly said. “I dont think there’s a true trend for us to put Justin Bour in the leadoff spot.”

There’s some truth to that. Other than Stanton last season, Aaron Judge is the primary No. 2 hitter for the New York Yankees and is slashing .286/.398/.550 with 26 home runs 61 RBI. In Philadelphia, Rhys Hoskins is a clear cleanup hitter but 14 of his 20 home runs came just behind the leadoff hitter in the lineup. Same goes for Max Muncy with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Another thing these sluggers have in common is that they are on potential playoff teams.

“What you have seen is the No. 3 hitter has moved up to the No. 2 spot in a lot of lineups,” Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsel said. “From my perspective, I think every team’s personnel is a little bit different so that kind of dictates a lot of it.”

The Brewers, in contention for the playoffs, went with right fielder Eric Thames in the leadoff spot. A year ago he the first baseman that led the team in home runs. Next to outfielder Lorenzo Cain, Thames has the second most at-bats in the leadoff spot for the Brewers this season with 90.

“There’s more of an emphasis on your good offensive players getting a lot of at-bats,” Counsel said. “In Eric’s case, we feel like he’s really a good offensive player. There’s an on-base component to that in support of him at the top of the order. The power is kind of the icing on the cake. It’s not bad that he hits home runs but I think it was some old way where we decided that it was bad for the leadoff guy to hit home runs.”

The poster child of all of this is Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo. For two years now, he has called himself the “Greatest leadoff hitter of all time”. Yet with a .426 batting average and 1.228 OPS in 13 games in the leadoff spot for the first place Cubs, it’s a wonder why he’s not permanently there.


About: Tony Capobianco


Sports Kave senior writer and podcast host

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