Ivan Rodriguez continues defy the odds. At the age of 38, few thought he would be a productive everyday player in the majors in 2010. However out of the gates Rodriguez is leading the majors in hitting, and despite speculation of an upcoming fall to reality, he has kept on hitting. Entering Friday's game he is batting .405/.432/.514. While that kind of production is likely unsustainable, the Nationals need to try and take more advantage of it while it's here.
What Rodriguez has done 2010 to help spark his resurgence is create a new approach at the plate.
With 305 career home runs, he is one of the all-time best power hitting catchers. However, after failing to hit 15 homers or more home runs in any season since 2004, he realized that it is no longer part of his game. As a result we have seen a Ivan Rodriguez more focused on making strong contact and swinging for singles, not the fences. This can be reflected in his .108 ISO which is the lowest he's posted since 1992.
Without swinging for the fences, Rodriguez has been able to cut his strikeout percentage to 12.2, the lowest it's been since 1996. This has helped his increased batting average as he is no longer trying to drive pitches but trying to place them. The result has been simple, he's gotten on base better than any player on the Nationals.
Despite his outstanding output, Rodriguez hasn't been able to produce it into runs produced. Combining to drive-in and score 22 runs, he ranks only fifth on the Nationals line-up in producing runs. Often batting in the sixth slot, he's getting on base in front of people who are not hitting well enough to drive him in, and while he's hitting behind some very good hitters, he's not driving the ball well enough to hit in the big boppers.
The Nationals should try to take advantage of their catcher hitting over .400 by moving him to the second spot in the lineup. While he may not be driving the ball well enough to hit in other players consistently, he is getting on base better than just about anyone in baseball right now. If the club puts him in front of Zimmerman, Dunn, and Willingham, instead of behind, they're bound to score more runs, and take greater advantage of this huge asset they have.
Besides, Rodriguez is no stranger to the number two spot in the line up. In fact he's has his best performance in that spot throughout his career:
Batting 2nd: 494 G, 2092 AB, .313/.349/.507, 373 R
Batting 3rd: 488 G, 1944 AB, .317.359/.502, 294 R
Batting 6th: 545 G, 2076 AB, .287/.316/.449, 260 R
Now obviously his numbers are slightly better while batting second and third because he hit there when he was in the prime of his career. However with his new found bat control and his ability to get on base, there's no reason the Nationals should hesitate to put him in the second spot. Hitting in front of three good hitters will allow him to see more fastballs and continue his strong hitting, while his OBP will be better served.
Hitting him second will also help the Nationals capitalize on Morgan's speed at the leadoff spot. Guzman is unpredictable with what he will do at the plate, where Rodriguez is a player who will hit the ball the opposite way and not chase bad pitches. It has to be hard to steal second base when a pitcher can get away with any throw he wants during an at bat against Guzman. Rodriguez will keep opposing pitchers honest and will put the ball in play in a positive way.
Besides, the pure fact that Guzman is getting on base at .301. Why not put runners in front of Zimmerman, Willingham, and Dunn who will get on base.