I’ve written this many times over the years, so forgive me if you’ve seen this before, but the old-time conception of the batting order is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. There have been great leadoff men who were high-volume basestealers (Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines) and great leadoff men who were not (Wade Boggs, Pete Rose, Lou Whitaker). The batting order doesn’t does a little to stimulate interactions between batters or set up sequences that lead to runs, but it’s more properly viewed as a machine to distribute playing time. The player who bats first every day is going to have the most plate appearances on your team, the player who bats second is going to have the second-most, all the way down to the number nine hitter, who might bat 150 times less than the guy in the leadoff spot.
When a manager lists a player somewhere on the lineup card, he is saying, “I think you should play today.” When he lists that player in the leadoff spot, he is saying, “I think you should play more often than anyone else.” It’s a qualitative judgment that has traditionally been reduced to speed, but consider playing time and ask yourself: if each player is at his best, who is a more productive leadoff man, Michael Bourn or Derek Jeter? Sure, Bourn is more likely to steal a base, but his career on-base percentage is .339, Jeter’s is .382. Who is more likely to open a game with a double? Who is more likely to lead off with a home run? Who is more likely to take a walk?
Again, Jeter may not be the same Jeter next year, so I’m not insisting that the leadoff man has to be him. I’m suggesting that to sign Bourn and elevate him to the top of the lineup based purely on his great speed (which is different than being a great percentage base-stealer—he’s not) will probably fractionally retard run creation rather than enhance it. Bourn’s value is in giving his team a little bit of offense and a whole lot of defense. He would be a worthy signing (assuming the price and length are right), especially if that meant keeping Gardner in left field and pushing Curtis Granderson to right field. That would probably be the best defensive Yankees outfield of my lifetime.
As far as hitting at the top of the order, though, Nick Swisher would make a better leadoff man.
Posted: November 05, 2012 at 09:30 PM | 11 comment(s)
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