Baseball by the Numbers: Hitting second is where it’s at these days

No. 2 hitters are on the rise in Major League Baseball, but the Cubs and White Sox find themselves at different points.

Led by Willson Contreras, Cubs second-spot hitters have a .795 OPS through Sunday, topping all positions in the lineup.

That’s right in line with trends in the majors. Second-place hitters lead baseball with a .776 OPS, while also leading in batting average (.266), on-base percentage (.339) and slugging percentage (.437).

Ten of the 30 major-league teams have their highest OPS at No. 2. That includes the Yankees (Aaron Judge has a 1.043 OPS and 22 of his majors-leading 25 home runs batting second) and the Angels (Mike Trout has a 1.143 OPS and 18 of his 21 homers hitting second).

Since moving into the second spot, Contreras has a .951 OPS in 142 plate appearances and eight of his 12 homers.

The injury-laden Sox have had to use a mix of No. 2 hitters, with Andrew Vaughn the best and most frequent, followed by Luis Robert and Yoan Moncada. The second-spot collection has a .670 OPS, fourth among Sox lineup spots.

Vaughn has hit well in the second spot with an .871 OPS in 122 plate appearances. Robert is at .727 in 70 plate appearances and Moncada at .458 in 52 plate appearances.

Since 2000, OPS by No. 2 hitters has been among the top three in the majors only six times before this season. All have been since 2015. Second-spot hitters were third with a .786 OPS in 2015, slid to fifth at .757 in 2016 and were third (.786) in 2017, third (.769) in 2018, second (.820) in 2019, third (.786) in 2020 and third (.776) last season.

In 2000-14, however, No. 2 hitters were fourth in OPS twice, fifth six times and sixth seven times.

Through most of baseball history, no one has worried much about power from the No. 2 spot. Conventional wisdom said second hitters were contact hitters who could advance a runner from second to third by hitting to the right side and could be counted on to get the bat on the ball and protect runners in a hit-and-run.

Nellie Fox, the American League Most Valuable Player for the pennant-winning 1959 Sox, was a classic No. 2 hitter with a career .288 batting average and .348 on-base percentage. No one fretted that he slugged only .363 for a .710 OPS.

Glenn Beckert of the 1960s Cubs had the traditional bat-on-ball skills with a .283 batting average, but his .663 OPS wouldn’t make him a No. 2 hitter in most modern lineups.

Except for the late innings of close games, giving up outs to move runners along is less valued than it was years ago. Runs matrices have shown us the result is fewer runs, with a better chance of scoring one run but a decreased chance of a multirun inning.

No. 2 hitters get the second-most plate appearances, behind leadoff men. Increasingly, teams are concluding it makes sense to give the extra plate appearances to high-production hitters.

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