Brewers’ 3-4-5 hitters? Braun, Fielder, and…Gross?

In our series on the 2008 Milwaukee Brewers’ batting order–at least the one that skipper Ned Yost should test at the start of Cactus League play–we’ve already determined the first two spots in the batting order:
1. Rickie Weeks, 2B
2. Corey Hart, RF
The criteria for the #3 and #4 hitters are usually pretty much standard–the #3 hitter is typically your best overall contact hitter…the guy with the best batting average and who also gets a fair percentage of extra base hits. The #4 hitter is typically the guy on the team that hits the most home runs.
In the Brewers’ case, the #3 and #4 spots should be relatively easy to decide, right? Ryan Braun is easily the best overall contact hitter on the Brewers, while Prince Fielder led the Brewers and the NL in home runs in ’07.
But waaaaaaaaaaait a minute! Ned Yost has already gone on record as saying that he wants Braun to bat afterFielder, fearing that Braun will single, steal second, and Fielder will then be intentionally walked.
If so, then Yost could, theoretically, be considering either:
1. Having Fielder bat third, with Braun batting fourth; or
2. Having Fielder bat fourth, with Braun batting fifth
Now, both cases make more sense when facing a right-handed starter, as Fielder bats left-handed, and does a lot better vs. righties than lefties, whereas Braun crushes southpaws, but is less effective versus righties, as he bats right-handed:
OBP vs. RHP: Fielder, .414; Braun, .319
OBP vs. LHP: Braun, .516; Fielder, .355
My first thought, then, is to bat Fielder ahead of Braun versus righties, and Braun ahead of Fielder versus lefties…something certainly worth testing in Maryvale.
But wait! Merely having Fielder hit ahead of Braun doesn’t answer the question, “who should hit third and who should hit fourth?” If Fielder bats fourth, and Braun is to hit fifth, then the Brewers need to come up with a #3 hitter.
So, now we’re up to 4 possibilities:
a) Braun, Fielder, TBD
b) Fielder, Braun, TBD
c) TBD, Braun, Fielder
d) TBD, Fielder, Braun
*** I’m not even going to begin to worry about the pre-Cameron versus post-Cameron variations right now.
Now, this issue gets a bit clearer if either J.J. Hardy becomes the contact hitter that he was during the first half of 2007, or if Bill Hall becomes the power hitter that he was in 2006.
Assuming that Yost, Fielder, and Braun are all comfortable with one batting order against righties, and another against lefties, then the batting order against lefties is clear: Braun should remain the #3 hitter, while Fielder bats clean-up, and Bill Hall should eek out J.J. Hardy for the #5 spot, based on his power numbers from 2006.
Versus righties, however, becomes more problematic–is Yost’s desire to have more base stealing opportunities for Braun by having him bat after Fielder take top priority? If so, does Fielder bat third, and Braun clean-up…or does Fielder remain clean-up and Braun bats 5th? Having anyone other than Fielder or Braun batting in the #3 spot makes little sense, as they are far and away the best hitters on the club; therefore, Fielder would hit #3 against righties, while Braun would assume the role of clean-up hitter. As for the #5 hitter against righties, the winner should be the one with the highest OPS against righties among Hall, Hardy, Gwynn, Gross, Kendall, and Cameron: Those numbers from ’07, in order from highest to lowest:
1. Gabe Gross, .788
2. Jason Kendall, .733 {NL mark}
3. J.J. Hardy, .729
4. Bill Hall, .713
5. Mike Cameron, .700
6. Tony Gwynn, Jr., .639
Wow. Gross should be the front-runner, then, heading into Maryvale…a bit subjective, perhaps, especially when you consider Gross wasn’t an everyday player last year…but he sure hits righties. In fact, the first four here would seem to be a good starting point for the line-up against righties, pre-Cameron…so the Brewers’ 2008 line-up against righties before Cameron and to be tested in Maryvale is/should be/could be:
1. Rickie Weeks, 2B
2. Corey Hart, RF
3. Prince Fielder, 1B
4. Ryan Braun, LF
5. Gabe Gross, CF
6. Jason Kendall, C
7. J.J. Hardy, SS
8. Bill Hall, 3B
9. Ben Sheets, P
I know, I know…we all want Hardy and Hall to be higher…and Maryvale stats will be weighed in before opening day. At any rate, this is my second line-up that I’d like to see Yost experiment with versus righties. I reserve the right to change my mind as I delve into the 6-7-8 hitters next week.