Long-time leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins batted in the top third of the Phillies' lineup in every game he started last year. Citing not only his decline, but strategic purposes as well, it's time to consider moving him down.
Next season's projected batting order features five left-handed hitters out of eight regulars — six if you include switch-hitting Rollins against righties. Ryne Sandberg is in the unenviable position of trying to wring as much production out of that dried-up lineup as he can.
To do it, he's really going to need to spread out the lefties. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard can't simply be trotted out as your everyday No. 3 and 4 hitters anymore. Not considering their recent platoon splits — Utley hit 67 points lowers vs. lefties last year (.245 to .302 vs. RHP), and Howard's split saw a 129-point difference (.173 to .302). Both were well below their career averages.
Perhaps plug Marlon Byrd into the cleanup spot and bump Howard down to fifth? That wouldn't necessarily help either, because then you'd have Howard and Domonic Brown (.252 vs. LHP; .281 vs. RHP) hitting back-to-back. And they're definitely not putting their most productive bat in Brown in the No. 7 hole.
Thus, the changes should come at the top. You want a healthy Howard hitting fourth and Brown batting fifth — or vice versa — so Chase Utley, by default, should move up to the second spot, allowing Byrd to slip into the No. 3 hole.
But Sandberg enjoyed batting Rollins second last season — he hit his shortstop there in every game he started in September. That changes, however, when Howard and Ben Revere, their likely leadoff hitter, return next season. Sandberg didn't manage with either player after taking over for Charlie Manuel last year.
A potential lineup would look like this: Revere-Utley-Byrd-Howard-Brown-Ruiz-Rollins-Asche-SP. Rollins, who has hit outside of the top third of the lineup just 98 times in his career, probably wouldn't be in favor of the move.
If Sandberg wanted to employ more outside-the-box thinking, he could consider leading off with Utley and moving Revere to eighth (or ninth) to allow Rollins to continue batting second. Utley's team-high .348 on-base percentage in 2013 paired with his smart baserunning skills make him a very viable leadoff option.
Moreover, it would allow Sandberg to move Brown up to the third spot and slip Byrd in between him and Howard. Such a lineup would look like this: Utley-Rollins-Brown-Byrd-Howard-Ruiz-Asche-Revere-SP.
In that case, there would only be two true left-handed bats — Asche and Revere at seventh and eighth — hitting back-to-back.
But if last season was any indication, it's unlikely Sandberg would consider batting Utley in the leadoff spot since he never hit him there in 2013 despite all of his lineup experiments.