Time to Move McGehee Down?

Last season, Casey McGehee was one of the main beneficiaries of teams pitching around Prince Fielder. With Rickie Weeks and Ryan Braun also hitting ahead of him, it always seemed like McGehee had a runner in scoring position. More often than not, McGehee came through, hitting .324/.372/.571 with runners in scoring position. With many people complaining about Fielder’s inability to drive in runs in 2010, McGehee seemed like a great fit in the 5th spot in the order.

This year’s been a different story, though.

There’s always going to be a fluctuation in year-to-year RISP numbers, as we’ve seen with Fielder and others, but McGehee has struggled in the handful of opportunities he’s had this year. Through May (71 plate appearances), McGehee is hitting just .254/.310/.381 with RISP. That’s a 252-point drop in OPS in an admittedly tiny sample size.

If this was Braun or Fielder, I wouldn’t bother with worrying about these numbers. We know they’re elite hitters, and even if they’re struggling in short spurts, they’ll more than likely turn it around. Things are a little different for guys like McGehee. They have a much shorter track record of success and were never highly-regarded as hitters, and as a result, aren’t always going to get that benefit of the doubt.

The “Casey McGehee is bound to regress” meme has become a bit of a running joke after he’s put up two very solid seasons in Milwaukee, and there’s enough evidence there to think he’s mechanically a different hitter than he was in the Cubs’ minor league system. I’m willing to believe that, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still get concerned about what he’s done 1/3 of the way through the year.

Since coming to Milwaukee, McGehee has seen his Line Drive% and Fly Ball% drop every year, while his Ground Ball% has climbed. Through two months this year (again, small sample), McGehee has hit the ball on the ground 54.5% of the time. Factor in his glacial foot speed and the fact that Fielder is frequently on base ahead of him, it isn’t any wonder how he’s grounded into 7 double plays already this season.

Do not get me wrong — there’s plenty of time for McGehee to get his 2011 numbers up. We haven’t seen a real, prolonged hot streak out of him yet this year, and he typically finishes the season strong. But at this point, it might benefit the Brewers if Ron Roenicke starts thinking about moving McGehee out of the 5th spot in the order until he can figure things out.

The problem, of course, is who do you move into that spot?

Jonathan Lucroy continues to swing the bat well and could potentially cash in on more scoring opportunities than McGehee has. Like McGehee, though, he’s prone to the double play — likely one reason why Roenicke was reluctant to move him up to 2nd in the order a few weeks ago when that debate was going on. With Nyjer Morgan back, Roenicke could also bat him 2nd and move Corey Hart down to the 5th spot in the order. Hart would provide a bit more pop than McGehee in that spot and won’t hit as many ground balls, but Hart has hit so well in the 2nd spot that again, Roenicke might be reluctant to move him.

Like most lineup debates, it’s easy to say “move McGehee out of the 5th spot,” just like it was easy to say “move Carlos Gomez out of the 2nd spot.” When it comes to answering the question of who you DO put in that spot, the answer can’t just be “anyone is better” — that’s how you end up with Mark Kotsay hitting 2nd or Yuniesky Betancourt hitting 5th.

In the end, swapping McGehee and Lucroy in the order might not do much in terms of run production, but it wouldn’t be a terrible idea, either. Open question: if you had a say, who would you bat 5th?