Dodger Thoughts

Jon Weisman's outlet for dealing psychologically with the Los Angeles Dodgers, baseball and life

Are Dodgers dodging the leadoff inquisition?

Just seeing if you're paying attention. (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

Just seeing if you’re paying attention. (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

Dodgers at A’s, 12:05 p.m.
Carl Crawford, LF
Kiké Hernandez, SS
Chase Utley, 2B
Scott Van Slyke, 1B
Andre Ethier, DH
A.J. Ellis, C
Trayce Thompson, CF
Charlie Culberson, 3B
Rico Noel, RF
(Kenta Maeda, P)

By Jon Weisman

Earlier this week,, the Times, the Register, True Blue L.A. and all wrote about how the Dodgers don’t expect to have a full-time leadoff hitter in 2016.

“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.


In case you missed it: Lighting up the scoreboard


In case you missed it: Dodgers avoid singles scene


  1. Years ago, Lindsey Nelson, the great Mets announcer, was doing an interview with the last great Dodger manager, Walter Alston. He asked Walt how much it matters who you put at the top of the order and Alston replied that, as he thought about it, after the first inning, it doesn’t mean a thing, since you don’t get to start over again unless it just happens to come out that way.

  2. Unfortunately, the best option we’ve had in years is leading off for Florida! Way to go, Friedman!

    • Yep, going to miss a guy who gets thrown out 25% of the time he tries stealing.

      • If you subtract his CS his OBP drops from .359 to .322.

      • Exactly. One of the most overrated players right now. Juan Pierre clone as far as offense goes.

        • Jon Weisman

          His defensive improvement alone elevates him from Juan Pierre status. There’s no doubt that Gordon is talented — it’s the idea that the Dodgers are sunk without him that I’d question.

      • Agree he’s better defensively. Frankly stolen bases to me are only good if your successful 85%. What’s more important is being smart on the base baths and taken the extra base when you can. Not sure why Lopes and to a degree Wills couldn’t get through the players about that, maybe the new coaching staff will be able to.

      • Love me some Dee, miss him and kudos for a super year. Thankfully we got a haul for him.

  3. I happen to agree with Dave Roberts when you have such a diverse team and mixture of veterans and young players in your line up. If it was up to me I would use the position as a challenge for each player. How does a player thrive at doing better ? By setting challenges for himself, even in this case. ” Lead off Hitter ” is a role each player should be willing to except. To Lead into battle and others to support that effort without remorse and to do so under the banner of Team Work. Kurt Gibson turned to Mr Lasorda and stated he wanted to give it a shot. Not because he thought he was better then any other player but because Mr. Gibson felt it in his heart and Mr. Lasorda gave him that opportunity because he too felt it in his heart. We all know the outcome of one of the biggest games. Luck ? I don’t think it much more of that then a player saying to himself, ” This is what I have worked towards in my career and all be dammed not to give 110 % percent.

  4. Data on taking the extra base is provided by Baseball Reference. It provides a percentage of when a player does that, though it is a raw number that doesn’t take into account things like location or type of ball in ball. The NL league average in 2015 was 40% and most clubs are close to that. The Cubs are highest at 45%, while the Dodgers check in at 37%, which is next to last. Dee is at 48%. The best is the aptly named Scooter Gennett at 72%. The top guys are in the 60% range and include Venerable, Polanco, Hamilton and Maybib. Puig was also 48%, but Howie was at 55%.

    • Interesting. Again I think this where the Didgers need to improve, not necessarily stealing bases.

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