MANAGERS SOMETIMES SPEND HOURS trying to concoct the consummate batting order. Then they try again the next day. Such is the difficulty of finding the optimum lineup when no team has hitters ideally suited for every spot. But what if you could pick nine batters from among all the players in the big leagues? Sure, you'd choose the best player at each position, as in an All-Star Game, and it wouldn't matter in what order they hit. But what if you had to pick your players based not on their position in the field but on the batting order spot in which each one hit most often last season? You'd want a hitter who best fit the ideal profile for each spot. For instance, you wouldn't find an All-Star at the bottom of the order, but you would find a player adept at getting on base to set up the hitters at the top. And what would your lineup look like then? It would look something like this.
BA: Batting average
OBP: On-base percentage
SLG: Slugging percentage
RISP: Runners in scoring position
All stats are overall 2004 season numbers unless otherwise noted.
1 Ichiro Suzuki
STOLEN BASES: 36
TIMES ON BASE: 315
No one is better at getting on base with the speed to distract pitchers and defenses. He's also so adept at hitting with runners on that he led the AL in intentional walks (19).
2 Mark Loretta
PLATE APPEARANCES/STRIKEOUT: 15.7
The second hitter's main job is to get on base, and Loretta excelled in that role last year while using the whole field. Only four players in the majors were tougher to fan.
3 Albert Pujols
BA WITH RISP: .343
Put your best hitter third. Pujols hits for average and power and doesn't strike out often, which helps in getting runners home: He was tops in this spot in RBIs (123).
4 Barry Bonds
HOME RUNS: 45
BA WITH RISP: .394
Assuming he's healthy, he's simply the game's most productive hitter. Bonds's slugging and on-base (.609) marks show he's a one-man rally every time he comes to bat.
5 Jim Edmonds
OBP LEADING OFF INNING: .375
A power hitter who drives in runs, Edmonds also gets on base often, which is important because only the number 1 hitter leads off more innings than the number 5 man.
6 Erubiel Durazo
BA WITH RISP: .321
He gets the nod over the Yankees' Hideki Matsui because of his .417 OBP and league-high 67 RBIs out of this spot. The A's promoted him to the number 3 position this year.
7 Reggie Sanders
HOME RUNS: 22
BA WITH RISP: .280
Power in this slot--Sanders hit a major league--best 14 homers here--lengthens a lineup, presenting a danger to pitchers even as they enter the bottom third.
8 Alex Cora
BA WITH RISP: .294
OBP HITTING EIGHTH: .402
His exceptional OBP in this spot fills a need in the NL: get on base to avoid pitchers leading off the next inning. He also hit .364 with runners on base and two outs.
9 Miguel Cairo
OBP WITH NO OUTS, NONE ON: .422
OBP HITTING NINTH: .368
In the AL this hitter is considered a second leadoff man. As a Yankee last year Cairo was fourth in the AL in OBP batting ninth and was 11 for 11 in steal tries from the 9 hole.