By Jon Weisman
“It’s still wide-open,” Dave Roberts said, according to Bill Plunkett of the Register. “It might change but I don’t foresee a designated leadoff guy – versus left, versus right, versus any type of pitcher – because any day is different, any pitcher is different. So whatever I feel is the best, which makes the most sense for that night or day, we’ll do.”
For some reason, this seems to get under the skin of some fans, who correlate a consistent presence atop the order with winning. And to be sure, if you’ve got guy who posts a .400 on-base percentage against all pitching and doesn’t have redwoods for legs, that’s a good head start toward victory.
But you’re not doomed if you don’t have that person, and it doesn’t serve anyone to pretend that you do. Whatever advantage might be derived from stubbornly batting the same player in the same batting slot, regardless of who the opposing pitcher is, is surely bettered by creating the best matchups.
Let’s look at the Dodgers’ potential leadoff hitters, casting a wide net …
- Carl Crawford: Injuries all but crippled him in 2015, but he had a .339 OBP in 2014. Unexpectedly, he has a higher OBP against left-handed pitching the past two years. Also the Dodgers’ leading returning basestealer.
- Andre Ethier: Has never batted leadoff in his 10-year MLB career, but mentioned only because of his .383 OBP against righties last year.
- Kiké Hernandez: As you might know by now, Hernandez led big-league hitters with a .471 OBP and 1.215 OPS against southpaws in 2015 — and claims his skill against righties is underrated.
- Howie Kendrick: If you wanted an everyday leadoff hitter, Kendrick might be your guy, if only because his numbers against righties and lefties have been fairly similar. Doesn’t walk a whole lot.
- Joc Pederson: Able to draw walks even when slumping. When he isn’t slumping, he’s a dynamic presence.
- Yasiel Puig: Has started 45 career games at leadoff, and even with last year’s struggles, the Wild Horse has a career .371 OBP.
- Corey Seager: Obviously an exciting bat, and might emerge with the best strike-zone judgment on team. He’ll have his rookie struggles at some point, no doubt.
- Trayce Thompson: OBPed .363 in 135 plate appearances while making his debut in 2015 — virtually equal against right- and left-handers.
- Justin Turner: Let’s get him in a game first, but once that happens, you’ve got a right-handed batter with a .396 OBP against same-side pitching, even if he won’t run much. Has started at leadoff five times as a Dodger, with a .500 OBP and two homers in 22 plate appearances.
A riddle for the Dodgers is whether to move a potential power hitter from the heart of the lineup to the top. Turner, for example, batted in the Nos. 3-5 spots 86 times last year, but if Seager slides into the middle with Ethier, Puig, Adrian Gonzalez and Yasmani Grandal, you could move Turner up and give yourself something of a one-size-fits-all leadoff man.
In any case, there’s no reason the Dodgers should feel compelled to decide in March who’s going to bat leadoff for the following six months. Even though Rickey Henderson isn’t walking through that door (not that I know of — though I wouldn’t put anything past him), the Dodgers have several enticing options for their lineup.