Earlier this spring, I asked Charlie Manuel if he'd be surprised if at some point in the near future Shane Victorino rattles off a season in which he hits 20, 25 home runs.
"I wouldn't be surprised at all," he responded, "because he has that kind of strength."
Look, nobody will ever confuse Victorino with Albert Pujols. And the Phillies would gladly take a season in which he hits .300 and reaches base in 36 percent of his plate appearances over a season in which he hits .250 with 25 home runs. But Victorino also isn't your typical diminuitive, speedy, contact-hitting, gold-glove center fielder. He's listed at 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, but he has a thick lower base, and is almost all muscle.
Problem is, over the last couple of seasons, he has been hitting in a spot in the line-up where making contact and reaching base and hitting to the proper side of the field are far more important than driving in runs. Which is part of the reason why the Phillies went out and signed Placido Polanco this offseason. Sure, Polanco is expected to significantly upgrade the two-hole. But Victorino's upgrade of the No. 6 or No. 7 hole could be just as important.
I broke down some numbers yesterday, comparing Victorino's production when hitting sixth or seventh compared with his production hitting first or second.
First, though, a few qualifiers:
1) Victorino is expected to enter the season hitting seventh, after Raul Ibanez and before Carlos Ruiz. But I wouldn't be surprised if he and Ibanez eventually flip-flop those spots. Victorino has plenty of experience hitting sixth, and it actually might make more sense to have Ibanez's power in the seven hole and Victorino's speed in the six-hole. That would present the possibility of Ibanez coming to the plate with two adept baserunners on in Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino.
2) I noted earlier that it wouldn't be a surprise to see Victorino spend some time leading off this season. This, of course, depends on how Jimmy Rollins performed. We broke this scenario down further in a previous blog post, so feel free to look back on that. Victorino went 3-for-3 yesterday in the leadoff spot. But Rollins has had a very good spring.
Anyway, here are Victorino's numbers when hitting first or second (top), compared with his numbers when hitting sixth or seventh (bottom):
So over the course of his career, Victorino hits home runs twice as frequently when hitting at the bottom of the line-up as he does when hitting at the top.
The numbers also back up the Phillies' belief that a move down in the order will result in Victorino being placed into situations that are more suited to his skill set. Rather than worrying about moving Jimmy Rollins from first-to-third, or reaching base for Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, the Phillies think he will find himself in more situations where he is asked to drive in players like Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez.
In an attempt to compare the situations faced by a normal Phillies No. 2 hitter and a normal Phillies No. 7 hitter, I looked at Pedro Feliz's numbers from last year, and compared them to Victorino's. The initial plan is for Victorino to replace Feliz at No. 7.
Anyway, here are those numbers.
Overall Plate Apperances
PAs w/ runners in scoring position
PAs w/ bases empty
PAs leading off an inning
A slightly higher percentage of Feliz's total PAs came with runners in scoring positions and leading off an inning.
Of course, Victorino will likely have fewer plate appearances than he would have had when batting second. So, to a certain extent, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.