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DNVR Exclusive: Bud Black's unique batting lineups offer insight on something much larger for Rockies

Patrick Lyons Avatar
August 15, 2021

The prototypical batting lineup probably looks the same for most folks when they dream up a perfect team.

The speediest player on the roster – center fielder or shortstop – has traditionally batted first. (Of course, having a player with the best on-base percentage leading off may take some precedence in the modern age of sabermetrics, but the position is nondescript.)

In the middle of the lineup batting third, fourth and fifth are the corner infielders and corner outfielders followed by a catcher or possibly second baseman batting eighth. When envisioning a National League squad the pitcher hits ninth, unless you’re St. Louis Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright and your manager is Tony La Russa. (Waino batted 8th on 60 different occasions from 2007-10, but that was more about TLR turning over the lineup than the pitcher’s hitting abilities.)

There are always exceptions to these standards, but in the 150 years of professional major league baseball, strange lineup constructions stand out like a sore thumb… or a 6’7” right fielder batting second like New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge.)

In this season of transition for the 2021 Colorado Rockies, manager Bud Black has had to use every player at his disposal in some unique batting orders rarely seen in 29-year history of the franchise.

“We’re giving players opportunities to show what they can do at multiple positions and what they can do if they’re inserted into the lineup and certain spots,” the fifth-year skipper said. “That’s all a player really asks for is that chance. And we think this year we’ve given a lot of guys chances to prove themselves.”

Excluding Charlie Blackmon and Trevor Story, this season has been most about the opportunity for the next generation of big leaguers to develop and stake their claim for a spot on the 2022 roster, regardless of where they’ll hit in the lineup.

Connor Joe, 1B, batting leadoff

The 28-year-old rookie has been a refreshing injection of life for fans around the Rocky Mountain Region after overcoming testicular cancer and slugging his first career home run exactly one year after a cancer-free diagnosis. Joe has bounced between left field and first base, batting either first or second nearly half the time thanks to reaching base safely in 22 of 24 starts. 

Black praised the fan-favorite saying, “He’s deserving of playing time based on what he’s done with the bat. We’re always looking for offense.”

Joe’s calm approach and keen eye for pitches outside the strike zone saw Black insert him as the leadoff hitter on August 11 as Raimel Tapia has been out of action with a strain in his right big toe. Joe also started at first base, becoming the first player in team history to bat first and play first since Ian Desmond on April 30, 2018. Before that, only Mike Kingery had ever been 1-1, doing so on two occasions in 1995.

Aug 11, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Colorado Rockies second baseman Ryan McMahon (24) celebrates first baseman Connor Joe (9) run against the Houston Astros in the first inning at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Historically, a first baseman leading off is incredibly rare. Lu Blue (1921-33) actually did it over 900 times with Joe Judge (1915-34) the only other to do it more than 300 times. By comparison, 10 different first baseman batted fourth over 1,000 times, including three Hall of Famers. (Over 100 eclipsed the 300-times mark.)

As such, it may come as no surprise that the top two men to bat cleanup for the Rockies were both first basemen: Todd Helton (508 games) and Andres Galarraga (465). 

Brendan Rodgers, 2B, batting cleanup

The record for most home runs by a second baseman is Jeff Kent with 377 during his 17-year career. Only New York Mets Robinson Cano, currently on the restricted list and out for all of 2021 following his second violation of MLB’s joint drug agreement, has ever hit more than 300 while manning the keystone.

Rodgers isn’t unfairly expected to fill those kind of shoes during his time with Colorado, but the 25-year-old is starting to flash the kind of power rarely seen from his position.

“When you see a swing like Brendan’s, it’s built for success,” Black said of the pseudo-rookie with service time of more than a year despite just 32 games in MLB entering this season. He’s making up for lost time, batting .289/.349/.483 entering Saturday’s contest with the San Francisco Giants.

When Ryan McMahon batted cleanup eight times while playing second base earlier this season – not to mention once in 2019 – he became the first to do it on more than one occasion. Rodgers is stuck at one appearance batting cleanup from the July 3 game against the Cards, but it ties him for second-most in club history with Todd Walker and DJ LeMahieu, and there’s reason to believe there will be more opportunities in his future. 

Elias Díaz, C, batting cleanup

The record for backstops batting fourth for the organization is none other than the Baby Bull, Wilin Rosario. He did it 54 times during his brief five-year stint with the Rockies. It’s happened only 16 other times by eight other players, most notably Ramon Hernández (5). 

It’s strange to think Rosario was born in 1989 and Díaz in 1990, partially because Díaz appears in the prime of his career while Rosario hasn’t played a game in the majors in six years.

Hot off a stretch when he hit homers in four consecutive games and batted .328 with eight long balls in a month, Díaz batted fourth on July 28, something he’d actually done 14 times while with Pittsburgh throughout the 2018 season.

Garrett Hampson, 3B, batting leadoff

It seems like Hampson can do it all, just about everywhere. 

He was taken as a shortstop out of Long Beach State, transitioned to second base and has somehow played more games in the outfield. Add third base to the repertoire now.

“I think with Hampson as an example, it’d be great to know that we feel comfortable with him anywhere in the infield, probably with the exception of first and anywhere in the outfield.”

After over 600 games as a professional since reporting to the Boise Hawks following the 2016 MLB Draft, Hampson played third base for the first time this season, entering a game on August 1 as a defensive replacement. A few days later on August 7, he started at the hot corner and became the first to bat leadoff at the position since Rafael Ynoa in 2014.

Though DJ LeMahieu has started at third base and batted first for the New York Yankees 69 times since joining the club in 2019, he did so only once with Colorado during his second season with the organization. 

The player at the top of the list in this category for the Rockies: Chris Stynes, who led off and played third base 10 times, all during the 2003 season. 

With 45 games remaining on the schedule for Colorado, there could be some more unique lineup constructions as planning for the next 162 games in 2022 becomes the focal point.


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