OK so we know Griffery will bat 3rd, Phillips 4th and Dunn 5th... What else do we know?
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Dusty Baker can't win. I mean, his record as a manager -- which is, after all, what all of these guys are ultimately judged on -- isn't bad at all. He's guided his teams to the playoffs a handful of times. He took the Giants to the World Series in 2002. He was a few outs away from getting the Cubs there in 2003.
He has a lifetime winning percentage of .527. That's behind Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, Mike Scioscia and Joe Torre. But it's ahead of Lou Piniella, Terry Francona, Jim Leyland and every other manager in the game. You have to admit, Baker must be doing something right.
But every time the man talks strategy, every time he starts in on his disdain for slow-footed sluggers who "clog the bases" with walks, every time he goes to the bullpen early -- heck, every time he fills out a lineup card -- he becomes an easy target for stats-crunching critics everywhere. The decidedly old-school skipper simply can't win, even when it looks like he's doing something new-school.
A current example: Baker, who is taking over the Reds this season, is planning on sticking second baseman Brandon Phillips into the cleanup spot. Phillips took the majority of his at-bats there last season, though he never put in any real time in the middle of the lineup before that. In fact, before former Reds manager Jerry Narron wrote him in at cleanup last season, Phillips had all of two plate appearances there.
This is, seemingly, something different for Baker. Phillips -- 6-feet tall, and certainly no more than 195 pounds or so, and a man with plenty of speed -- may be the most unlikely looking cleanup hitter in the game. He's not the player that you'd typically think that Baker would want swinging the big lumber.
Yet, in many ways, this is exactly what Baker would do, and it's easy to see why he's doing it. Despite his lack of size, Phillips cranked 30 home runs last season. He drove in 94 runs. And -- this is important -- Phillips provides a nice right-handed compliment to stick between the two big lefty swingers in the lineup, Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn.
"The best place for him, eventually, would be third," Baker admits, finishing up his breakfast in his office one recent morning here. "But Brandon can bat leadoff, second. He could bat all over that lineup. Fifth. Just for our team, right now, the best spot is where he is."
The problem with Phillips as a cleanup hitter -- and this is, statistically speaking, hard to argue -- is that he's miserably miscast. Yeah, he had a lot of home runs and a lot of RBIs last year. You'd kind of expect that from that position in the lineup.
But, overall, Phillips didn't get as much out of that spot as even an average cleanup hitter would have. Among cleanup hitters with at least 350 plate appearances, Phillips (who had 364 as a No. 4 hitter) put up one of the lowest slugging percentages (.493) and one of the worst on-base percentages (.352) in baseball last season.
Knocking in runners? Phillips drove in somewhere between 13-14 percent of the runs he had a chance to knock in (not counting himself, with home runs), which ranks deep in the bottom half of all hitters in the league. (The best player in the league least year at converting on his RBI opportunities was Detroit's Magglio Ordonez, who drove in nearly 22 percent of the runners that were on base for him.)
So far this spring, Phillips has one walk so far and a .267 on-base percentage. He does have a couple of homers, and he's driven in a team-high 11 runs.
Still, Baker's standing by his man.
"He can get a lot better. He's gonna get better," Baker says of Phillips. "He's just now learning how to hit. He's just now learning pitch selection. Those numbers will go up big time. What'd he walk? Thirty times. [In almost 700 plate appearances, Phillips walked just 33 times, among the worst in baseball for that number of PAs.] So, right now, they can still trick him some times."
Baker wouldn't mind if Phillips walked a little more, especially considering he isn't a "base clogger"; he stole 32 bases last season. But getting on base -- especially getting on base by a walk -- is clearly secondary to Baker. He wants Phillips to be aggressive. Baker wants him to swing the bat.
"If you're supposed to be up there driving in runs ... a run producer, he ain't up there to get his on-base percentage up. He's in there to drive in runs," says Baker. "If you're passing it on to the next hitter, a lot of times, he's not as good of a hitter as you. Otherwise ... he'd be hitting ahead of you."
For his part, Phillips admits he's not your typical cleanup hitter -- "not even close," he says -- but he's fine hitting anywhere from 1-7 in the lineup. "I go up there trying to hit the ball hard. That's my No. 1 goal. Just put a good swing on the ball," Phillips says. "I like to swing the bat, that's what I like to do. I'm a swinger."
Analysts can give you some great arguments that hitting order, as a whole, is vastly overrated anyway, an argument that might let Baker off the hook in his latest run-in with the stats guys. But don't tell that to Baker, though.
"I heard this thing today, man: The lineup really doesn't matter. That's [poppycock]," Baker says. "I love stat guys, but statheads have gotten way, way out there."
Reds' odds and ends
Don't be surprised if Baker pushes to get young right-hander Johnny Cueto into the rotation at the beginning of the season. Cueto, 22, has thrown nine innings and given up one run this spring. He has, by far, been the most impressive of Reds' throwers this camp. Given the fact that lefty Jeremy Affeldt has struggled -- 19 hits in 11 2/3 innings -- and may be thrown back into the bullpen, Cueto's chances of making the rotation look that much better.
The Reds will have to keep careful tabs on him, though. He threw more than 161 innings in three levels of ball last season, ending with 22 innings at Class AAA Louisville.
The Reds' other young stud pitcher, Homer Bailey, is not as assured of a spot. He's been unremarkable in the camp so far, with six strikeouts and six walks in 7 1/3 innings.
If Affeldt moves back to the 'pen, the Reds will have an all-righty rotation, whoever ends up there.
A couple of other youngsters, Jay Bruce and Joey Votto, both are expected to make the big-league roster. Bruce still has a very good chance of being the Opening Day center fielder, and Votto could start at first. Neither is having a great spring so far. But it is spring.