Carlos Ruiz’s undervalued .371 on-base average would play better higher in the Phillies’ order, especially in the likely Opening Day model.
According to an MLB.com report, Howard has taken another step in his recovery by getting the green light to begin exercising, part of an update that also included positive updates for Placido Polanco (double sports hernia), Hunter Pence (sports hernia) and Cole Hamels (elbow). Howard’s Opening Day readiness is still considered doubtful, so he’s on the sidelines for this particular exercise.
Two days ago, Jim Salisbury was asked to step inside Charlie Manuel’s brain and pencil in his Opening Day lineup card and it went as follows: Rollins SS, Polanco 3B, Utley 2B, Pence RF, Victorino CF, Mayberry 1B, Nix LF, Ruiz C, Halladay P. Knowing Cholly’s tendencies for "honoring" traditions, particularly in a dignified event like Opening Day, it’s a highly predictable arrangement.
It’s also a pretty good one, when you run the numbers. According to the lineup analysis calculator on Baseball Musings, using last season’s on-base and slugging percentages, Cholly’s lineup would yield 4.608 runs-per-game over 162 games, which is pretty good and not far off their “best” lineup, which is usually some scrambled combination no manager would ever attempt, with the pitcher hitting sixth, for example. (BTW, if the Phils can tally 4.608 R/G they'll cruise to another division title).
In this scenario, the Baseball Musings’ “best” calculated lineup isn’t completely bat-crap crazy. It looks like this: Ruiz, Pence, Utley, Victorino, Mayberry, Rollins, Polanco, Nix, Halladay. From Pence down, it’s fathomable. The biggest leap of faith is shifting Chooch to the top spot, something that’s been discussed but never attempted. Each of the top 30 combinations lists Chooch first, Pence second. These happen to be the Phils' highest on-base earners by a considerable margin. Everyone else, aside from Nix and the pitcher, is in that .340 range.
Is that to say Cholly should set the table with Chooch? Not exactly; there are valid reasons not to. He’s probably the slowest hitter in the lineup. However, it’s time to start looking at his consistently high on-base as an asset and move him from the bottom permanently. In fact, Chooch bats eighth in 14 of the very worst lineup calculations (Nix and Halladay bat 1-2 in those).
Cholly may already be thinking that way; Chooch hit sixth in 118 plate appearances last season and seventh in 206. He was primarily a seven-hole hitter.
Other thoughts: Cholly needs to stop throwing away the two-hole by sticking poor producers like Michael Martinez there; I worry he might tinker with something like Nix hitting second. Nix should bat last. A healthy Polanco in a contract year will give the Phils better than a .335/.339. Remember, Polly was probably the Phils’ most complete hitter early in 2011. So hitting Polanco in his standard two-spot could be a great play despite the obviousness. ... Finally, there's been some talk about batting Utley first, but what makes his .344 on-base so special?