Andre Ethier should bat leadoff

Idea: In road games against right-handed pitchers, as the Dodgers have today in their National League Division Series opener at Atlanta against Kris Medlen, start Andre Ethier and bat him leadoff. If he gets on, pinch-run with Dee Gordon. In either case, substitute Skip Schumaker in center field in the bottom of the first.

It guarantees Ethier will get his at-bat against a righty and not a lefty, against which he’s at a much greater disadvantage. In fact, Ethier is the Dodgers’ top on-base percentage man against right-handed pitching – what better way to begin a game.

It guarantees Gordon’s spot on the roster is not wasted in this game. Yes, it’s at the cost of perhaps using him to pinch-run for Adrian Gonzalez in a crucial late-inning situation, but only if you know that you’ve already gotten the opportunity to use Gordon. And runs in the first are as crucial as runs in the ninth.

Starting Ethier also basically puts Schumaker 10th in the batting order, which is pretty nifty. That’s not a slam against Schumaker, who might well become one of those unsung postseason heroes you always need. But it’s a good place to begin.

Below is the Dodgers’ official NLDS roster, announced this morning. Chris Capuano made it as the 11th pitcher, while Gordon and Scott Van Slyke were chosen over Jerry Hairston Jr., as was to be expected.

Hairston becomes the rare player who spent the entire season on the active roster – no trips to the disabled list – without making the playoff roster. However, if any Dodger suffers a series-ending injury, the team is allowed to replace him.

Starting pitchers (4): Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Ricky Nolasco

Relief pitchers (11): Kenley Jansen, Brian Wilson, Paco Rodriguez, Ronald Belisario, J.P. Howell, Chris Withrow, Chris Capuano

Catchers (2): A.J. Ellis, Tim Federowicz

Infielders (7): Adrian Gonzalez, Mark Ellis, Hanley Ramirez, Juan Uribe, Nick Punto, Michael Young, Dee Gordon

Outfielders (5): Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig, Skip Schumaker, Andre Ethier, Scott Van Slyke

Update: As J.T. Dutch points out on Twitter, the Dodgers could simply just use Schumaker to pinch-run for Ethier if he reached base in the first inning under my plan.

  • gus2327

    GENIUS!

    • SaMoDodger

      Or LaGenius, in any case. I like the idea, but it’s far too unconventional for any manager to try. Plus it means you can’t use Ethier as a pinch-hitter late in the game with runners on base or in some other key situation. Batting him leadoff essentially prevents him from driving in runs other than himself.

      If I were going to do this, I’d have kept Hairston on the roster as an extra pinch-hitter, rather than Capuano, who is unlikely to see action at all.

      • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

        Why is Ethier less valuable ahead of the Dodgers’ leading run producers than, in the most likely scenario, batting behind Skip Schumaker against a left-handed reliever?

        • SaMoDodger

          In the most likely scenario, Schumaker or somebody Ellis would be on base, giving Ethier an opportunity to drive him in. –I know, Schumaker being on base and “likely” don’t often appear in the same sentence, but still– And he’d be hitting in the place of a weak-hitting pitcher But yes, against a lefty most likely. On the other hand, if it got Medlen out of the game early, that might also be a plus. On the other other hand, if Ethier is batting for the pitcher early, it means the Dodger starter would also be coming out early.

          Too many other hands. But I think most managers will be afraid to burn half of their bench before throwing a single pitch.

  • Seymour Semah

    It’s a great idea and brilliant if it works, but when managers make moves like that they risk their jobs if they don’t work out. If they don’t score in that first inning scenario and then you have a close game in the 8th or 9th and you don’t have your ph or pr available, you get shambled for thinking too far outside the box!

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    I’m under no illusion this will happen. I’m just saying that’s what I would do.

  • Kurt Lindgren

    Just win game one.

  • WinnipegDave

    Wow Jon – you blew my mind with this one. I had to read it through twice to be sure I understood the brilliance of this strategy.
    My sense this morning is that our starting pitching, batting ninth, will out hit Atlanta’s starting pitching – and those key at bats will be crucial run scoring opportunities that make a big difference in the series.

  • WinnipegDave

    I know that this topic has been beaten to a pulp already – but seeing the outfielders listed in that order made me sad.

  • http://underdog.typepad.com/ underdog

    I like it Jon! Get him out of the way, and on base, vs a righty. It won’t happen alas, but clever idea.

    Alas (again), he’ll be neutralized by a LH reliever, sigh. I hope he makes miraculous recovery and can actually start one of these games. Maybe if it goes 4-5 games.

  • Table

    I love the progressive thinking!!!

  • Holmania

    Following similar thinking, I think the best bet would be to bat Ethier 3rd (Schumaker’s batting 12th) and pinch run with Schu, who isn’t a stolen base threat but isn’t slow, saving Dee for later running or as that one last pinch-hitter on the roster.

    • SaMoDodger

      Not bad, but then you’ve got Schu screwing up the batting order for the rest of the game.

      You don’t often see “Dee Gordon” and “hitter” in the same sentence either.

      • PismoBruce

        Not likely to see his name linked to “defender” either.

    • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

      Yes on pinch-running with Skip, but if you don’t bat Ethier leadoff, you have a much higher GIDP risk. Wouldn’t be as worth it to me.

  • PismoBruce

    Rule 7 Alert: Very Most Brilliant Manager Ever Tony LaRussa-esque

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    There is an argument that someone made on Twitter that saving Ethier for Kimbrel makes sense. But that assumes there’s a spot to use him in the ninth, and also assumes your team is losing – which to me is an argument that maybe you should have used Ethier sooner.

  • Jon_Wymore

    It’d be worth it just to put his name in the starting lineup in Game 1 just to see the reaction on twitter, etc.

    • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

      Yeah :)

      • Adam Luther

        I like this strategy – PH/PR early in the game, and that one run might be all that Kershaw or Greinke needs…

  • Jack Dawkins

    Capuano instead of Marmol is the one surprise to me. I would have thought Nolasco could be the long man.

    • Adam Luther

      At age 34, Cap is the veteran on the team, and has never appeared in post-season play. Nolasco probably figures to be the emergency starter, and Withrow covers Marmol’s absence.

      • btimmer

        Nolasco is penciled in as the Game 4 starter and if that comes around, he will likely make it, unless the Dodgers are down 2-0 and Kershaw is knocked out early today.

    • foul tip

      Cap allows versatility: a 3rd lefty, long man, regular reliever.

      I expect the team was concerned about a Marmol meltdown, or better, walkathon.

  • foul tip

    Don’t think this has been here. Uggla, Maholm not on Braves roster.

    Uggla is Atlanta’s highest-paid player.

    http://mlb.si.com/2013/10/02/braves-drop-dan-uggla-paul-maholm-from-roster-for-division-series/

  • foul tip

    Evidently the Dodgers think Ethier is well enough at this point to make it from home to first before deferring to Gordon.

  • danpartridge

    Okay, you’re going to burn 2 bench players on a pretty physically fragile team in the first inning? I understand that it’s inventive, but so is chocolate and cheese. Doesn’t make either a good idea.

    • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

      So fondue is out?

      What’s the difference between burning them in the first inning and the eighth inning, if neither is going to play more than half an inning? But as someone pointed out, you don’t need to burn Gordon early anyway.

      Saving Ethier for late does not mediate the physical fragility of the team. Same with Gordon, who is essentially the fourth-string shortstop at this point.

      • danpartridge

        You pour both pots together? Do you throw the meat in the chocolate too?

        This kind of brave thinking is what more losing teams need. Four guys on the bench in a late-inning situation, instead of the usual six. Any slight injury to a bunch of creaky players means even less flexibility. I guess you’ve gotta be glad to have Grienke for pinch-hitting duties, because you’ve just started the game with a bench thinner than Dee.

        • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

          I really didn’t think you’d take my fondue reply so seriously.

          You still haven’t explained how saving Gordon and Ethier makes the team less fragile in the field. Neither player is expected to play much defensively, if at all, in the first two games of this series.

          Anyway, the strategy doesn’t depend on using Gordon in the first – as others have pointed out, you can pinch-run with Schumaker. The only risk is losing the possibility of Ethier batting against Kimbrel or a lefty.

          • steve

            Would you prefer Adrian Gonzalez on 2nd base with two outs in the 9th or Dee Gordon.?

          • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

            Gordon. But you’re throwing a big maybe out there against a definite.

            And again, we’ve established that if you want, you can save Gordon even if you start Ethier leadoff.

  • http://farinella.com/ David Farinella

    Oh, I don’t care! I just want to see some Dodgers baseball! Feels like it’s been weeks since we’ve seen meaningful games.

  • Quasimodo

    Jon, I think you might want to reconsider the ‘Ethier lead-off’ idea. For one reason it could be killing two birds with one stone in a single out. I would surely rather have Gordon on base when Ethier pinch hits and batting Ethier lead-off won’t allow that. Its easier for me to see so many situations that may, or may not, arise that are surely to come in one form or another in later innings.

    • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

      How is Gordon going to get on base ahead of Ethier in the late innings?

      • Quasimodo

        Pinch run

        • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

          For whom? Can’t be Schumaker, unless you want to lose your CF. Probably not A.J. Ellis, leaving only Fed to catch. Could be Gonzalez, but Gonzalez bats five spots ahead of Ethier’s likely spot in the order.

          And if Ethier gets on, you know they need a pinch-runner for him. Who’s that gonna be?

          • Quasimodo

            In ANY case, I’d rather have Ethier and Gordon as a card to play in situations that could arise. I’m sure Braves would love to get Ethier and Gordon out of the way so early.

          • Quasimodo

            Even at the cost of one run.

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    NPUT