I admit I chuckled a bit over the weekend when I saw the Houston Astros were hitting second baseman Jeff Keppinger in the No. 3 spot in the lineup. Sure, this isn't a team scoring a ton of runs or winning much, but still, Jeff Keppinger, really? He entered this season a .281 hitter with little power, speed or, let's face it, job security. Now he's hitting third for a big league team ... and he has officially earned a middle-infield spot for me in a head-to-head league.
Look, I have, shall we say, a few doubts that Keppinger can keep producing lofty numbers in the Astros' prime hitting slot at this level, but enjoy it while it lasts, right? Keppinger leads all big leaguers with a minimum 25 at-bats in the No. 3 spot with his .441 batting average -- Buster Posey, Michael Cuddyer and Corey Hart are next -- and this past weekend certainly helped. Keppinger homered Saturday and Sunday, doubled twice, knocked in four runs and scored four times.
I was looking for some batting average help in that league and Keppinger becomes a nice fit. I don't think the power continues, but I've joked for years that you can stick anyone in a team's Nos. 3-4 spots in a batting order and at the least they'd knock in runs. Some might knock in 100 runs. It's not like the Astros are bereft at the top of the order; Michael Bourn has a .351 on-base percentage and a pace for 102 runs. Jason Bourgeois has been terrific when healthy. I could do without Clint Barmes or Angel Sanchez hitting second, but then again, this is a team on its way to 100 losses. Who bats second seems to be the least of their problems.
Keppinger is available in all but 2.5 percent of ESPN's standard (10-team) leagues, and the only reason to add him in the shallow formats is if you're desperate for batting average, but with Adam Dunn, Dan Uggla and myriad others hitting worse than .200, I'm guessing a lot of you do need batting average help. Keppinger is capable of hitting .300. He hammers left-handed pitching (.421 batting average, 1.137 OPS) for those in daily leagues looking to spot-start him. And, for those of you in points leagues that count hitter's strikeouts, it's worth noting that Keppinger has more walks than strikeouts in his career. He's not doing much of either this season; over 42 games and 165 plate appearances, Keppinger has four walks and six strikeouts. That's an incredible rate, a throwback to the 1950s when hitters went to the plate hacking, a one-true-outcome player. Consider if you're in a strikeout league for hitters the difference between Keppinger and Dunn. It's Bondsian!
Here are a few other players with terrific statistics in the No. 3 lineup spot. I don't fully buy into the correlation, but these are human beings, and perhaps it matters to Keppinger, Cuddyer and others, such as ...
Coco Crisp, OF, Oakland Athletics: I was skeptical of Oakland's decision to place a potential leadoff hitter third in the lineup, but unlike the Astros (Hunter Pence, Carlos Lee), they lacked great alternatives. Crisp is hitting .308 with more walks than strikeouts and six stolen bases in 65 at-bats there. When I asked him a few months ago on the Baseball Today podcast where he liked to hit in the order, he said it doesn't matter. Well, he's hitting .263 overall, so perhaps it does matter.
Todd Helton, 1B, Colorado Rockies: He's still got it. Helton is hitting .364 over 140 at-bats as the No. 3 hitter -- as opposed to a mediocre .264 batting average hitting fifth! -- and while in an earlier blog I noted that Casey Kotchman can't keep up his hollow batting average, Helton does have five home runs in the role. And his career achievements are a bit different than Kotchman's, of course. Interestingly enough, it's not just Helton; Jason Giambi sports a 1.067 OPS as Colorado's No. 3 hitter.
Brennan Boesch, OF, Detroit Tigers: Miguel Cabrera, the AL version of Albert Pujols for consistent, high-level and safe first base production has hit fourth in all but one start this season (as opposed to Pujols, who hits third). That helps the guy in front of Cabrera, and this season Boesch is hitting .341 with 10 home runs and a .949 OPS in the three-spot. And when he's not hitting there: .243 batting average, three home runs. If/when unproductive Magglio Ordonez gets hurt again and manager Jim Leyland, who I'm sure keeps up with this blog, moves Boesch directly ahead of Cabrera, then fantasy owners should act.
By the way, not everyone thrives in the No. 3 lineup slot. Adam Dunn has struggled everywhere, but a .174 batting average and only four home runs in 138 at-bats in the role is brutal. Aubrey Huff is hitting .199 in the No. 3 spot, and .259 elsewhere. Hanley Ramirez is raking in the cleanup spot (.378 batting average, 1.092 OPS) but was awful hitting third (.207, .590). What in the name of Jeff Keppinger is going on here? Some of it is just unexplainable, but enjoy the good and avoid the bad while you follow the trends.
By the way, I'll be chatting Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET. See you there!