Who should lead off?
This offseason the Indians have filled a lot of holes on the team. They added pitching, power, and guys who can hit from the right side. In order to pick up some of this help, they had to part with their best leadoff hitter Shin-Soo Choo. Choo was an excellent guy in the leadoff spot who managed to be an on-base machine with the added bonus of some power.
The question now is how do the Indians fill this void.
There are a few ways to look at how this void should be filled, and I am going to profile these approaches. In many ways the best part about this question is there is not really a true correct answer. It all comes down to what your belief is that a leadoff hitter should do. Do you think he needs to steal bases, see a lot of pitches, or just get on base?
The more traditional school of thought would be to put the guy who can steal the most bases in the leadoff spot. The player on the Indians who stole the most bases last year would be Jason Kipnis, but if you looked at a three-year average then that player would be Drew Stubbs. Kipnis stole one more base than Stubbs last year (31 to 30), but over the last three years Stubbs has averaged 33 stolen bases a year, so it's pretty close either way. To break this near tie, one way would be to look at how successful the runners are by looking at how often they were thrown out. Yet both Kipnis and Stubbs were thrown out the same number of times (7) all of last year. So it's basically a dead heat, and by the more traditional approach either Stubbs or Kipnis would be the choice.
The second school of thought is that since the leadoff hitter gets the most at bats on the team that you want to put your best hitter there so he will come to the plate the most. The most common ways to judge total offensive production are OPS and WAR. The player with the best OPS on the Indians would be Nick Swisher, and the player with the highest offensive WAR would be Asdrubal Cabrera. Either one would give you a switch hitter at the top of the lineup, who would give you top production. This would also ensure that your best hitter gets as many at bats as possible. In a situation like this I would prefer Cabrera to Swisher in the leadoff spot, just because Swisher has more power and I would like to see him further down the line up.
The third school of thought would be to put a guy at the top of the lineup who sees the most pitches. The reasoning is that by placing the guys who see the most pitches in the leadoff spot they will tire out the starter and get to the pen quicker. The Indians actually have three of the best hitters in all of baseball in this respect in Carlos Santana, Mark Reynolds, and Nick Swisher. Santana and Reynolds were the 5th best hitters in all of baseball in terms of pitches per at bat, and Swisher was nearly as good as he was the 9th best in all of baseball. This would not be ideal for the Indians though because those three guys are the top three power bats the Indians have.
The final school of thought would be that the player that leads off is not necessarily the best hitter, but the guy who can get on base the most. The strategy here is rather obvious as he should be able to get on base and set the table for the power hitters behind him. The top guys in on-base percentage would be Carlos Santana and Nick Swisher with a .365 OBP and .364 OBP respectively.
The problem with these two is that they are the Indians' primary power guys, so it would be counterproductive to have them bat leadoff. I mean what is the point of having a guy set the table for the power hitters, if he is the power hitter. The next guy on the team in on-base percentage would be Michael Brantley with a .348 OBP, so he would be the ideal guy in this model since he has the best on-base percentage of any non-power hitter. His on-base percentage is well above the league average as well, and profiles him out as a solid leadoff hitter.
In the end, I would personally use the final school of thought and make Brantley the leadoff hitter. He might not steal many bases as based on numbers he actually should not even try and steal any bases as he is caught as many times as he succeeds. But I am fine with this because he gets on base and adds excellent doubles power. He finished last season with 37 doubles which means he often doesn't need to steal a base because he is already on second base. He has good speed and combined with his other skills makes him the ideal leadoff hitter among the Indians projected starters.
Who do you think should lead off?
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Thome or Hafner
If Brantley is in the mind set to lead off (and the lineup I like better because I want Kipnis in the middle) then I would use this lineup.
Thome or Hafner
I think it provides everyone with good protection and gives the lineup some versatility.
If we do sign Hafner or a similar player, I guess you would slot him at 6 ahead of Brantley.
No matter how you slice it, looks a LOT better than trying to find a place to put Kotchman, Cunningham, and Hannahan. If Chisenhall realizes his potential, this could be a really above-average lineup.
1st: .267/.314/.364 (879 PA)
2nd: .200/.232/.246 (69 PA)
3rd: .238/.304/.429 (23 PA)
4th: .222/.300/.289 (100 PA)
5th: .307/.365/.429 (266 PA)
6th: .333/.413/.530 (75 PA)
7th: .294/.355/.400 (93 PA)
8th: .545/.615/.545 (13 PA)
9th: .250/.344/.321 (33 PA)
Obviously he has mostly led off in the past.....but the numbers are subpar. As you can see, he really struggles at the top of the lineup but seems to do better down more to the middle end hitting 5th-8th. He settled in and became a solid contributor last year because he settled into the 5th-6th slot, and really, I think he should probably be hitting there in the 6th-7th spot this year.
that way you have speed at numbers 1,2, &9 and i like three switch hitters back to back kipnis is smart player so the 2 hole is excellent for him. I do think astrubel will hit for better avg surrounded with more talent. he wont feel as if he has to carry the load himself. michael has really never had a set place in the batting order to call his own but in the minors he led off so i believe he is capable and maybe flash some more speed and learn to read pitchers better he should have better percentage than he has. if lofton is in camp as instructor he may be able to help michael.
Santana works better in the two hole because of the number of walks he takes. You don't want to bat him first b/c of his power, but after the first inning you'll have the speed of both Stubbs and Brantley in front of him. I bat Reynolds third b/c he is good at taking a walk (no less than 73 in the last 4 years, thereby putting two guys in front of Swisher who take walks regularly) and also because (before last year) he is much more likely to strike out than hit into that inning ending double play that plagued us so much last year.
Then you follow those guys up with the power of Swisher/Cabrera/Chisenhall/Kipnis. I think this maximizes you're on base guys in front of the power we do have.