The recent phenomenon of Marlon Byrd hitting in the #5 spot in the lineup has caused a fair amount of discussion, and I decided to take a closer look at it.
It is worth noting that there have been only three players who have gotten significant time in the #5 spot -- Hank Blalock, Marlon Byrd, and David Murphy. Blalock hit 5th until his injury, and since that time, it has pretty much been either Murphy or Byrd hitting there. Every other Ranger, combined, has a total of 37 ABs in the #5 spot, with only Jason Botts hitting double figures.
And I do think the outcry about Byrd hitting there is indicative of a certain double standard that exists in regards to our pair of 4th outfielder/platoon outfielder/pick your label but probably shouldn't be playing every day COFs. Murphy has logged 61% of the ABs in the #5 spot this season, after all, and there hasn't been much of a hue and cry about him being slotted there.
What's particularly weird about this is that Byrd was a folk hero of sorts in the second half of last season, but Murphy's emergence this year, and Byrd's horrid start, has turned Byrd into a whipping boy of sorts for much of 2008.
But since coming off the d.l. in mid-May, Byrd has posted a .275/.346/.427 line. Murphy, meanwhile, has posted a .272/.316/.464 line. That's about even, in terms of production. But in reading the boards, the attitude seems to be that one of these guys should be lumped in with Evan Longoria for ROY consideration, while the other guy is waiver-wire fodder whom the Rangers should give away to make room for Nelson Cruz (and who the Rangers should have traded for the .109 hitting Matt Murton this spring).
Anyway. The bigger problem here is that, as has been the case for the past several years, the Rangers don't have a real good solution to the problem of who should hit in the #5 slot. Neither Murphy nor Byrd are guys who should be hitting 5th in a lineup as strong as the Rangers' lineup is.
The problem is, there is no real good option for the #5 slot in the lineup, at least the way the Ranger lineup is currently structured. Ron Washington is committed to going Kinsler-Young-Hamilton-Bradley in the first 4 slots, and the question is how to structure things after that.
The problem is, the best options for the #5 slot right now -- Blalock or Davis -- are both lefty hitters. With the lefty hitting Hamilton hitting 3rd, and the switch-hitting Braldey cleanup, you are inviting the opposition to bring in a LHP to face the meat of the order. You'd really prefer to have a righty hitting after Bradley, and before Blalock or Davis.
Unfortunately, there isn't a quality righty option to slot in there. And my guess is that Byrd is being put in the 5th slot at this point to get separation between Hamilton and whichever lefty you want to put in the 6th slot, although that still leaves you with a clumping of lefty hitters together.
Now, against a lefty starter, I think it makes a certain amount of sense to put Byrd in the 5th slot. Neither Blalock nor Murphy -- the two hitters who have been getting most of the non-Byrd 5th spot ABs -- can hit lefties to save their lives, so you don't want either of them there.
I'd just as soon see Chris Davis there...he's had some issues with hitting lefties in the minors, and has looked foolish in certain ABs against them since coming up, but has still posted a great OPS against them (albeit in a limited sample size) so far in the majors, and seems to have fewer issues dealing with lefties than Blalock or Murphy do.
Or you could play both Boggs and Byrd against lefties, sit Murphy, and let one of them hit 5th and the other 7th, with Davis in between them and Blalock hitting 8th and the catcher 9th. In fact, now that I think about it, I think that makes the most sense against left-handed starters.
But against righthanders, I don't see the point of having Byrd hitting that high. Let one of your lefty bats hit in that slot, let Byrd or a catcher hit 6th and the other 8th, and put your other lefty bats in the 7th and 9th spots.
Really, against RHPs, the ideal scenario would be to have one of your lefty bats hit leadoff, with Kinsler second, Hamilton third, Bradley fourth, and Young 5th. The problem is that none of the lefty bats the Rangers have are really a good fit for the leadoff slot. I guess you could put Blalock there, let Davis hit after Young, put Byrd 7th, Murphy 8th, and the catcher 9th. But I don't think Blalock is a real good fit in the leadoff spot, either.
So...there we are. The reality is, there's no real good permanent option, against lefties and righties both, for the #5 spot in the lineup. Having either Byrd or Murphy hit there everyday isn't a good option, but all the other choices are flawed, as well.