Monday, March 13, 2017

Leadoff Candidate Conundrum

Photo Credit: Brad Mills, USA Today
Recent years have seen a shift in the evolution of the leadoff hitter. Gone are the days of needing a speedy player to swipe bases in front of the power hitting middle of the order. Teams are more focused on players getting on base to start an inning.

Last year's World Series clubs, the Cubs and the Indians, are slated to start Kyle Schwarber and Carlos Santana in the lead-off spot. Both of these players don't exactly scream speed. However, they do get on base and can be a threat out of the leadoff spot.

Minnesota is also trying to decipher which player should be featured at the top of the order. Here are four candidates to consider:

Byron Buxton, CF
Minnesota's speedy outfielder has many of the tools to be a weapon out of the leadoff spot. Buxton is one of the fastest players in baseball. As recently as the 2013 season, Buxton stole 55 bases while primarily being used as a leadoff hitter. It's an interesting situation because Buxton could end up being used in multiple line-up spots throughout his career.

Joe Mauer told the Pioneer Press, "Buck’s so talented he could hit anywhere in the order and probably do pretty good. It’s fun to have that type of speed at the top of the lineup." Molitor will likely start the season with Buxton as the number nine hitter so he can be a "second leadoff hitter." This will also put less pressure on the budding star in his sophomore season.

Brian Dozier, 2B
Dozier seems like the most likely candidate to start the year in the leadoff spot. Last year, he hit 27 of his 42 home runs as the first batter in the order. He did this in 73 starts. For his career, he has hit .250/.317/.496 with home runs in 23% of his games. Dozier's career batting average of .246 doesn't exactly scream leadoff hitter but he has gotten on base over 32% of the time.

Dozier also adds in the ability to steal bases. Over the last two seasons, he has averaged 17 steals per season. "I just love the leadoff spot," Dozier said. "Just like Mollie, I like to ignite, get things going." Throughout his career, Dozier has been a very streaky hitter. If Dozier is in the midst of a cold spell, other hitters might be given the opportunity to take over the leadoff spot.

Joe Mauer, 1B
With a new analytic baseball operations department, Mauer could take over the leadoff spot. He is the most experienced hitter in the Twins line-up and he posted a .363 OBP last year. Derek Falvey's former team, the Indians, used Carlos Santana in the leadoff spot for over half of their games last season. Mauer batted leadoff on eight occasions last year while going 5-for-32 (.156 BA) with 10 to 4 strikeout to walk ratio.

It might make the most sense to have Mauer be the leadoff hitter against right-handed pitching. I made the argument that it might be time to use a platoon system with Mauer so he is getting the majority of his at-bats against righties. This would allow right-handed hitters like Kennys Vargas and/or Byungho Park to see more at-bats against lefties.

Robbie Grossman, OF
Grossman might be a sleeper pick to be the lead-off hitter. With a Rosario-Buxton-Kepler projected outfield, Grossman will likely make the team as a fourth outfielder. One injury to a starting player and his role will quickly become more important. If Dozier goes cold or Buxton slumps, Grossman might find himself at the top of the pile.

Last year, he posted a .386 OBP which was almost 40 points higher than his career total. Grossman's defense was so poor in the outfield that the new front office might search for different candidates. It also seems likely for him to regress closer towards his career totals for getting on base.

Who do you want to see get the majority of the leadoff at-bats? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

1 comment:

TT said...

As I understand the data, there is quite a gap between how often players score once on base. Apparently the base running skill set is just as important to how often someone scores as getting on base. In other words, a good runner who gets on base less often than a guy who is just adequate on the base paths may score just as often. I haven't seen any data on the impact of base cloggers on the guys behind them's ability to score.