Albert Pujols: The Three Hole Dilemma


Like Christmas Dinner, Classic Rock and Old School Hip Hop,  Baseball has long been deeply rooted in tradition. There is a defined order – a blue print – a certain way to do things.  We serve ham or prime rib on December 25th,  rock fans hold their breath in anticipation of the guitar solo and hip hop heads salivate when they hear a scratch chorus like Albert Pujols when he sees a hanging curve ball. Speaking of Pujols… One long standing tradition in baseball is for the teams best pure hitter to bat in the number three position in the lineup. The logic has long been lead-off guy gets on – second batter gets him over and then the number three hitter drives him in.

But hold your horses! What happens when the first two hitters make outs?

Given the very nature of baseball the probability slants heavily toward the first two batters in any particular inning making consecutive outs.  This is a game where even the best only reach base safely about 40 percent of the time.  What this means is that by hitting their best hitter in the three hole teams are essentially putting that player in the most unenviable situation in baseball – two outs and no one on base.

This entire post originated from a rare offline debate I had with some fellow Angels fans about the appropriate spot in the lineup for one  Jose Albert Pujols (yea dudes given first name is Jose).  It appears at the moment that Mike Scioscia is going with the traditional approach saying that he feels like Pujols should bat third telling the LA Times:

"There are two ways to protect Pujols, who will bat third.“One is to get guys on base in front of him,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “The other is to have depth behind him, guys who will take advantage when they walk him.”"

Initially I was on board with Jose hitting third, I mean I like Prime Rib and scratch chorus’ as much as the next guy but after some thought I’m not so sure. While Pujols hitting third aligns with the traditional approach it also means that he will get more at bats over the course of the season which is certainly good for business. However what’s troublesome is that to date the Angels lack the high OBP guys that would potentially set the table for Pujols and I’m not sure I’m ok with the $240 million dollar man coming up with the bases empty so often. A better approach may be to hit Pujols fourth behind a 1-3 of  Bourjos,  Aybar, and Kendrick. This could help to extend the lineup should Kendrys Morales not return to form for some time and also increase the probability that Pujols actually hits with men on base. Unfortunately for the Angels a true solidified lineup again hinges on the health of  the artist formerly known as Kendry. With a healthy and productive Morales the Angels have a lethal 3-4 combo (in any order) that has the potential to rival any in baseball.  Without the potential impact of Morales’ bat the club is left searching for lineup continuity and the debate will likely wage on.

Where should the Angels bat Albert Pujols? Its a dilemma.