Not the man you want batting second.
It's well-established that a team should bat its five best hitters in the #1 through #5 spots - but not in descending order of quality. Ideally, a team's three best hitters should be somewhere in the #1, #2 and #4 spots. Then a team's fourth and fifth best hitters should occupy the #3 and #5 spots, respectively. (Realistically, if a manager puts his five best hitters in whatever order among the top five spots, the run difference from an "optimal" lineup is usually negligible.) For the #6 through #9 spots, the remaining hitters should bat in descending order of quality.
There are some nuances to how one defines the "best" hitters - attributes such as walk rate, power, speed, contact, handedness, double play propensity, among others, factor in to the rankings. And without a rather complex lineup simulator that takes in all these factors, determining the "correct" lineup order is neither easy nor necessarily intuitive. But we don't need to get into all that other stuff to conclude that Brent Morel isn't among the best White Sox hitters.
I'm not going to pretend that it's a simple choice for Robin Ventura. The White Sox have an orthodox leadoff hitter type in Alejandro De Aza and one can certainly construct an argument that supports De Aza as one of the team's best three (or five) hitters. Paul Konerko is the team's best hitter and a typical middle of the order hitter. If you believe Adam Dunn is more 2010 than 2011, he's also among the team's best hitters and also a a typical middle of the order hitter. After that, though, things get a little murky.Early in spring training, Ventura floated floated A.J. Pierzynski as his #2 hitter. Setting aside for a moment whether he's among the team's best three hitters (spoiler alert: he's not), this notion became a non-starter with De Aza hitting first and, particularly, when Ventura decided Dunn would bat third. Three lefties in a row is just inviting trouble from opposing teams.
So then Ventura looked at the remaining candidates - Alex Rios, Gordon Beckham, Alexei Ramirez, Morel and Dayan Viciedo. Rios doesn't strike out much, which, contrary to popular belief, is actually a (comparatively) less then relevant attribute to have for this spot. When your #2 hitter makes outs, because he often hits with a guy on first, you'd prefer a strikeout to a ground ball out due to the double play. And when Rios does make contact, he hits a decent amount of ground balls (often weakly). And then there's the small matter of him hitting like he's a terrible baseball player.
Beckham is similar. You kind of want him to be a #2 hitter. But he also sucks.
Ramirez is a decent enough offensive player (setting aside his usual early season slumps). But he's been tried in the #2 spot and showed a propensity for double plays. And a team should be able to do better than "decent enough" for the guy to whom they give the second most chances at the plate.
So Ventura settled on Morel. While perhaps having a reputation as a "bat handler", he's just about the last guy you'd want to bat second. When this whimsy was tried last season, Jim went over all the things that were wrong with it then. It didn't get any better with age.
Morel (historically) doesn't strike out much, which is nice but hardly the dispositive skill it's made out to be for the #2 hitter. His career ground ball rate is rather high at 49%, which you'd expect to lead to double plays. He doesn't hit a lot of home runs (a home run from the #2 spot averages the 3rd highest run value of a home run hit from anywhere in the batting order). He doesn't take a lot of walks (a non-intentional walk averages the 2nd highest run value of a walk from anywhere in the order). And, even setting aside what he's done so far this season, he has the track record of a generally poor offensive player. You really, really don't want him getting the second most plate appearances on your team.
So, elaborating on the modest proposal I made in my podcast appearance last Thursday, I nominate Viciedo as the #2 hitter. This would certainly deviate from orthodox thinking - watching Viciedo attempt to bunt would be both amusing and aggravating and the Cuban sure looks like a guy you'd want batting in a traditional run producing spot. And he doesn't necessarily fit in with the sabermetric thinking, either - he doesn't take a lot of walks.
But teams are rarely constructed so that there are nine hitters perfectly suited to each batting order position - whether that's from the orthodox or sabermetric perspective. Simply put, Viciedo is one of the team's five best hitters. Heck, he may well be one of the team's three best hitters. He needs to be batting somewhere in the first five spots. He certainly should not be batting 7th or 8th, as he has so far this season. While he may arguably be better suited to the #5 spot, it's not unreasonable to bat the lefty Pierzynski #5 and that pretty much leaves just the #2 spot vacant in Ventura's lineup.
Whether or not Ventura decides to go with Viciedo, he certainly needs to put someone else in the #2 spot. Morel is not one of the team's best hitters. Morel is one of the team's worst hitters. Handing him more plate appearances than just about anyone else is an awful idea.
For those of you interested in getting further into the theory of lineup construction, you should check out The Book, which was an invaluable resource for this article.