For most of baseball’s history, constructing a lineup has remained relatively stable. Nine slots, with each tending to have a type of player associated with it -- sluggers hitting third or in the cleanup spot, high on-base guys at leadoff and less productive players further down in the order. Even with newly discussed numbers that have altered views of the No. 2 hitter, overall, not much has changed. We don’t expect guys to move around in the batting order too much.
This week’s Research Inbox is a deep dive based on a question about batting orders, which came from @gf212121 on Twitter. He asked:
“I know of three Mets [Tsuyoshi Shinjo, Benny Agbayani, Brandon Nimmo] who started at least one game in every position in the batting order 1-9. Is this a similar number to other teams?”
Indeed, the only three players to do this over the course of their Mets careers were Agbayani (1998-2001), Shinjo (2001, 2003) and Nimmo (2016-present). But that total pales in comparison to some others. The most for any team is 43 by the Twins. It’s worth noting that the Twins have also played with a designated hitter since 1973, meaning it’d be a lot easier for a player to achieve that feat. That’s something the Mets did not have daily until 2020, and they didn't have one at all in regular-season games until Interleague Play began in 1997.
That question led to a handful more, outlined below, thanks to some assistance from MLB.com’s manager of baseball research & development Jason Bernard and the Elias Sports Bureau.
Who has started in all nine spots in a season?
One player did so in 2020, with the addition of the universal DH in a shortened 60-game season. That was the Dodgers’ AJ Pollock, who started 13 games batting sixth, 10 at fifth, six each at third and seventh, four in the cleanup spot, three each at leadoff and eighth and one apiece batting second and ninth.
Pollock’s 2020 season was the 77th time in the Modern Era (since 1900) that a player had a start at each batting-order spot in a season. Of those 77 instances, 76 have come since 1973 -- the first year of the DH in the American League.
The only player to do it in a season prior to 1973 was shortstop Rabbit Robinson for the 1904 Tigers. He primarily hit third and fourth, starting 30 and 29 games in each of those spots, respectively. He made 10 starts batting sixth, and then five or fewer at each other slot in the order -- including a single start batting ninth against the Boston Americans on July 14, when pitcher Ed Killian hit eighth. (There were 72 instances of a non-pitcher starting and batting ninth in 1904, and 45 of them were for the Tigers)
After Robinson’s 1904 campaign, no player started at all nine batting-order spots in a season until Kurt Bevacqua did it for the Royals in 1973. In 2019, 12 players did it, the most in a single season in the Modern Era. Eleven of those 12 players spent the majority, if not all, of their seasons on AL clubs. The 12th player was Enrique Hernández of the Dodgers, who made two starts batting ninth, both in games at AL stadiums -- at the Rays on May 22 and against the Angels on June 10.
Hernández also started at every batting-order spot in 2017 and ’18, and those three seasons are the most by anyone in the Modern Era. Only three other players have done it twice: Josh Reddick (2017, ’19), Robbie Grossman (2017-18) and Dave Bergman (1988-89).
The most games a player in the Modern Era has started at every spot in the same season is four, and it’s been done just once: John Castino in 1980 for the Twins. He started 43 games batting ninth, 30 batting second, 23 batting eighth, 16 batting seventh, 11 batting fifth, nine at sixth, six at third and four each at leadoff and cleanup.
What about in a career?
There are 10 players who have made at least 50 starts at each slot in the order in their careers: Melky Cabrera, Mike Cameron, Yunel Escobar, Dwight Evans, Carlos Gómez, Alex Gordon, Howard Johnson, B.J. Upton, Frank White and Robin Yount.
That’s nine notable names and a Hall of Famer in Yount. Of course, the Brewers were an AL team during Yount’s 20-year career, meaning the ninth spot was a more readily available option. All of his 86 career starts batting ninth came in the first two years of his career in 1974-75. He actually made fewer career starts in one spot: sixth (72).
What about homers from all 9 slots?
Evans, who hit 385 career home runs from 1972-91 (mostly with the Red Sox), is the only player in the Modern Era with at least 10 homers from each slot in the order. He hit 99 batting second, 69 batting sixth, 47 batting fifth, 46 batting seventh, 42 batting eighth, 29 batting third, 25 at leadoff, and 14 each at cleanup and ninth. For homers, we’re considering any long ball hit in that slot -- regardless of whether it was as a starter, a pinch-hitter or a defensive replacement.
If we broaden it to at least five homers from each slot, another 22 players join the list along with Evans. The players on that list within the past three seasons are Carlos Gómez, Matt Joyce, Alex Gordon, Matt Kemp, Brandon Phillips, Curtis Granderson, B.J. Upton, Melky Cabrera, Chris Young, Asdrúbal Cabrera and Rougned Odor.
And one final question: What about players who've hit at least one homer from each spot in the order in a season? There have been three: Brian Goodwin (2019), Ian Happ (2017) and Steve Finley (2003). Goodwin did it with the Angels, but Happ (Cubs) and Finley (D-backs) accomplished the feat with NL clubs. Happ’s one homer in the ninth spot came in the top of the eighth vs. the D-backs on Aug. 13, when he hit a pinch-hit solo homer to extend a Cubs lead. Finley’s was on Sept. 19 against the Brewers, a go-ahead solo homer in the top of the ninth. Finley had entered the game in the bottom of the seventh to play center field after Alex Cintron pinch-hit for Randy Johnson in the top of the inning.
There’s the answer for which team has had the most players bat in all spots in the order ... and then some. If you have a question you’d like to see explored in this way, tweet it to @SlangsOnSports on Twitter, and include the hashtag #ResearchInbox.