Reds lineup a continual work in progress

Where Joey Votto lands in the Reds lineup is still a question facing manager Bryan Price.

Ross D. Franklin/AP

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Want to start a bar room brawl? Start talking baseball lineups. Who bats where from leadoff to No. 8 in the order is an easy way to get the fur standing on edge.

Everyone’s got an opinion on what gives a team its best chance to score as many runs as possible. When it comes to the Reds, whether Joey Votto hits second or third and where Brandon Phillips’ name shows up on the lineup sheet are hot-button topics.

How much does a particular lineup matter? The basic goal is the same for every batter: get on base somehow. Don’t make an out. That’s a goal the Reds weren’t very good at last season. They were next-to-last in the National League when it came to getting on base. They did so less than 30 percent of the time (.296).

For all the discussion that goes on about on-base percentage vs. RBI, what’s the more important stat, the fact is if no one is on base, no one can be driven in. These things go hand-in-hand.

While the Reds are well set on who their everyday eight players are going to be, where they will be batting in the order is not set as spring training comes to a close. Manager Bryan Price has even used normal leadoff hitter Billy Hamilton down the order at No. 7 this final week of Cactus League play.

It’s all experimentation.

"A lineup is ever-evolving," said Price. "We’re trying to be the most productive and the changes that have taken place beyond having Marlon (Byrd) is the fact that at this moment we have a healthy club that has two players, in particular, that took dramatic steps forward as far as their offensive contributions — that being (Todd) Frazier and (Devin) Mesoraco — and trying to fit everybody in a position where they are most effective in a lineup."

Hamilton still figures to bat leadoff -€“ he did so 136 times last season – but the idea of Hamilton batting further down the order at some point in the regular season isn’t out of the question. It’s why Price has done so twice this week.

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"I’ve moved everybody else this spring, and even at points in time last year," said Price. "I’ve had guys all over the board, so having Billy hit further down in the lineup is just another option and just another look for us to see where we’re best suited. It’s not a shot at Billy. It’s a shot at seeing if we have a way at being more productive offensively."

Votto will hit either in the No. 2 or No. 3 spot. Even though he missed 99 games last season due to injury, no player has gotten on base more than Votto has since he entered MLB in 2007. He also has the second-highest batting average, third-highest average hitting with runners in scoring position and the fifth-highest slugging percentage in that time.  

While Phillips’ offensive stats have decreased each of the last three seasons, including career-lows in on-base percentage (.306) and slugging (.372) in 2014, Price has still had Phillips batting extensively in the top four of the order this spring.

For the guy on the barstool or with a laptop it’s easy to say Phillips should bat down in the order. The guy who is actually making the decision is going to make sure he has all the information – tangible and intangible -€“ at his disposal before filling out a game card.  

Price used a lineup made up of what is expected to be the Reds’ regular position players on Monday against San Diego with the exception of Mesoraco, who was out after suffering a cramp in his left quad the previous day. They had seven base runners against Padres starter Ian Kennedy but didn’t score off of him in six innings.

The manager wasn’t concerned about runners left on base by the starters. It’s spring training and there will be such games. The starters with the exceptions of Phillips and Mesoraco were in the lineup again on Tuesday against Milwaukee and produced eight runs in six innings.

"It’s moving pieces and trying to come to some conclusion of what our best order is to start the season," said Price earlier this spring. It’s a mantra he hasn’t moved from even with Opening Day drawing closer. "Trying to figure out where everyone is best suited is going to be a challenge and it may have to be something that we progress to where we get to what you’d call a set lineup or a set order in the lineup. We know who’s going to be playing if they’re healthy. How they’re sequenced is yet to be determined."