In 2022, the Dodgers had as much stability at the top of the lineup as they’ve had in a long time. After Mookie Betts returned from his fractured rib in early July, LA manager Dave Roberts was able to pencil in the same three names at the top of the order almost every day: Betts, Trea Turner, and Freddie Freeman.
Turner, of course, is no longer with the team, having departed for Philadelphia on a lucrative new contract. So what will the top of the Los Angeles lineup look like in 2023? And more specifically, who will bat second? Let’s look at some of the options.
Freddie Freeman makes a lot of sense as the number two hitter. He actually batted second in more than half of his games in 2022, including each of the first 77 games of the season. For his career, he has posted a .917 OPS in 905 plate appearances out of the two-hole, his best numbers of any batting order position with at least 50 PA.
The main downside to having Freeman bat second is more at-bats with no one on base. Freeman hit a league-leading 47 doubles last year, so the more often he can come up with someone on base, the better, and batting third probably gets him a couple dozen more ABs with at least one runner on.
Will Smith is another option to bat second. Smith spent most of his time batting cleanup last year, but he is generally pretty good at getting on base (career .356 OBP) and hitting the ball hard. He’s not a prototypical two-hitter, especially because while he runs well for a catcher, he doesn’t run well overall, so he’s less likely to score from first on a Freeman double than Trea would have been.
Max Muncy has actually batted second more than any other spot in his career, and he’s done pretty well in that spot, posting an .899 OPS in 801 PA. Muncy runs about the same speed as Smith, although his speed is more likely to last because he’s not squatting behind the plate 150 times a game. Muncy gets on base and could fit well between Betts and Freeman.
Gavin Lux is a less obvious option, but if we’re talking about the speed to score from first on a double, you have to at least consider the fastest guy on the team (now that Trea is gone). Lux had an on-base percentage of .373 last year before his neck injury slowed him down, and if that version of Lux shows up in 2023, he could combine with Betts for a formidable 1-2 punch.
If Jason Heyward makes the team, he’s a decent option to bat second. He’s spent more time in that lineup slot than anywhere else, with 1,475 career PA in the two-hole. Heyward doesn’t strike out much, which is something you look for in a two hitter, but he also doesn’t walk much. If the goal is to maximize the chances of Freeman coming up with at least one runner on base, Heyward might not be the answer.
Miguel Vargas batted .304 with a .404 OBP in Triple-A last year, with nearly as many walks as strikeouts. If he put up those numbers in the big leagues, he’d be the ideal number-two hitter. Of course, he likely won’t be quite that good for LA this year, but he’s likely to be quite a bit better than he was in his brief time in the big leagues last year. I wouldn’t expect him to start the season batting second, but he might play his way into that spot.
Realistically, Freeman still probably makes the most sense. The second spot in the lineup is where the best hitter on the team belongs, especially on a team with a lot of good hitters. Freeman coming up with runners on base fewer times might be made up for by having more good hitters behind him to drive him in after one of those doubles. Smith, Muncy, and Martinez can follow with the pop, with Vargas, Lux, and whoever’s playing left and center filling out the lineup.
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