WASHINGTON — Grant Paulsen now has clarity on Dusty Baker’s lineup construction after questioning the manager in person about his decision to place Anthony Rendon sixth in the Nationals lineup.
Paulsen and Danny Rouhier, his 106.7 The Fan co-host, have openly, and loudly, stumped all season for Rendon — who’s slashing .315/.422/.584 with 20 homers, 66 RBI and 52 runs scored — to bat higher in the order.
Baker, especially since losing Adam Eaton, Jayson Werth and Trea Turner to injuries for long stretches, has mostly elected to fill the second spot in the order by committee — a combination of Brian Goodwin, Wilmer Difo, Ryan Raburn and Chris Heisey.
On Wednesday, Mike Rizzo spoke up on his manager’s behalf, explaining to The Sports Junkies that Baker prefers Rendon lower in the order to protect Daniel Murphy, adding, “He likes Rendon in a run-producing position instead of a run-scoring position.”
“I think Rendon’s more comfortable hitting there,” Rizzo said. “Which I think has something to do with it, and also that I think there’s a better balance, a better flow in the lineup, when Rendon hits down in the run-producing part of the lineup.”
Later Wednesday, Paulsen hoofed over to Nationals Park, prior to the club’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers, to speak with Baker personally.
“Dusty, from a lineup construction standpoint, it’s not that common that a guy who’s top-five in OPS, like Anthony Rendon, hits as low as he does,” Paulsen said in a room full of reporters. “Do you still think about moving him up at all, or are you content now with where he’s hitting?”
“Okay, so… where should he move to?” Baker said.
“Well, you could move everybody up a slot, if you wanted to,” Paulsen said. “Do you believe in the philosophy that your best hitters should hit the highest in the order to get the most at-bats.”
The rest of their conversation is below.
Baker: Yeah, but is he our best hitter?
Paulsen: Maybe not, but I would say he’s a better hitter than Wilmer Difo or Chris Heisey.
Baker: He hasn’t batted below those guys.
Paulsen: He hit second most nights.
Baker: Yeah. But see, the thing about it is, I batted him second last year. He’s been so productive. Who’s going to hit behind Murph?
Indeed, Rendon has hit far better out of the sixth spot in 2017 (.323/.437/.667, 17 home runs, 49 RBI, 42 runs in 56 games) than he did batting second last season (.236/.323/.329, two home runs, six RBI, 24 runs in 36 games).
He is, to Paulsen’s point, seeing less plate appearances batting lower in the order, averaging 4.12 appearances per game out of the sixth spot in 2017, against 4.38 appearances per game batting second in 2016.
Paulsen: Well, it could still be Rendon if you moved everybody up one spot.
Baker: Okay, well… when you’re the manager, you can make out the lineup.
Paulsen: But I’m asking you… you know more about baseball than I do. I want you to coach me up philosophically. Do you believe in, over the course of a season, maybe 30 at-bats different every spot down. If you move Rendon up to second, he might be able to impact your club 50 more times.
Baker: Who’s going to hit behind Murphy?
Paulsen: Is that more important, the bottom of your lineup, than getting more Anthony Rendon?
“Well… hitting behind Murphy is, because Murphy, over the last couple of years, has been our best hitter,” Baker said. “I mean, not to take anything away from [Bryce] Harper, but Murphy’s been… and if you don’t have some protection behind Murphy, then they’re not going to pitch to Murphy, and then you’d lose Murphy. You know what I mean?”
“And our problem really hasn’t been runs,” he said. “Anthony Rendon’s been one of our primary clutch hitters, and plus, batting behind Murphy, they’re going to bring in a lefty every chance they get and Rendon’s one of the top hitters against lefties in the league.
“I mean, you can’t have everything. If you do, you’ve got the Yankees of yesteryear. So you try to do the best you can, and try to protect this guy, try to put some speed up there, try to put some on-base percentage up there.”
“No, Difo and Goodwin would not be batting 1-2 in a normal lineup,” he said. “My normal lineup is Trea Turner and Jayson Werth, but I don’t have a normal lineup, so you’re going to have a hole somewhere. It’s kind of like, you try to fill that dike. You’re going to have a hole somewhere, and I don’t want the hole behind Murphy.”