I Guess Someone Has To Hit Leadoff, Don’t They?

hanley_on_baseI’ve been trying to avoid this topic for a while, simply because it’s so frustrating, but… at some point, we’re going to have to seriously talk about who’s going to hit leadoff for the Dodgers in 2013, right? It’s that seemingly unanswerable question which made all the “hey, let’s trade Andre Ethier and sign Michael Bourn!” rosterbation seem so appealing, even though the extreme amount of moving pieces made it difficult to see happening.

While Bourn hasn’t yet signed, it’s less likely than ever that he’s really going to land with the Dodgers, so the solution is almost certainly going to have to come internally. “Solution” is probably not even the right word, because there’s really no right answer here. Last season’s Dodger leadoff men hit a mere .226/.281/.302, barely ahead of Cincinnati for the worst in the bigs, and while that was largely due to the failures of Dee Gordon, it’s not like Shane Victorino, Tony Gwynn, or Mark Ellis — each of whom started at least 20 times at the top — did much to contribute either.

There’s no shortage of reasons why the 2012 Dodger offense seemed to continually sputter, be it injuries or lack of “gelling” or whatever else you want to attribute it to, but it’s impossible to ignore the simple fact that the top of the order failed at their singular goal, which was to simply get on base. Unfortunately, none of the various moves the Dodgers have made since then have come close to solving this problem.

Or as Don Mattingly said to Ken Gurnick yesterday…

“Not having a true leadoff guy,” he said, “we’ll have to work on that in the spring. Mark Ellis was really good against lefties. Skip Schumaker, Nick Punto. There are different combinations we could hit on top.”

…so you can see how bad of a situation this is.

Ideally, you’d have a leadoff hitter who can get on base regularly and be a plus on the bases after doing so. The Dodgers would settle for someone who could be even passable at doing just one of those things, but that’s easier said than done. Either way, let’s be honest with ourselves and admit that Mattingly values speed at the top more than anything else; after all, it’s the only possible reason to let Gordon lead off so many times.

Let’s start with the process of elimination, shall we? Ethier, Adrian Gonzalez, & Luis Cruz clearly aren’t going to hit atop the order, nor should they. Neither will Matt Kemp, though I bet I could make an interesting case that it’d be fun to have his on-base skills and speed there, nor sadly will A.J. Ellis, simply because we’ve gone over that one a billion times and Mattingly just would never let it happen.

As for Carl Crawford, he’d like you to know that reports that he doesn’t like hitting leadoff are false:

Mattingly said Crawford is willing to bat in the No. 1 spot, even though there is a generally accepted belief in the game that Crawford prefers the No. 2 hole.

“He said he didn’t know where that came from,” the manager said. “He said he heard that on ESPN. He said he would do whatever we want him to do. That said, he’s had his most success in the two-hole.”

Even so, he hasn’t done it regularly since 2005 and even if he could hit lefty pitching, he can’t be counted on to play every day or to contribute until he proves otherwise. Though I could see him being a very imperfect fix to a large hole, he’s much more likely to hit second.

That leaves Mark Ellis, who will be 36 in June and hit an abysmal .228/.313/.299 against righties last year… and Hanley Ramirez, who spent his time with the Dodgers hitting 4th & 5th. Ramirez was once a star leadoff man for the Marlins, starting 403 games there (second-most behind 415 starts hitting third), but he hasn’t done so on a regular basis since 2008 and that leads to some misleading splits. “But he has a career .309/.385/.536 line leading off!”, people like to say. Well, sure. But that was the young Ramirez, the one stealing 50 bases a season and challenging for batting titles.

vs LHP?
vs RHP?
SS
Ramirez
SS
Ramirez
2B
M.Ellis
LF
Crawford
CF
Kemp
CF
Kemp
1B
Gonzalez
1B
Gonzalez
LF
Hairston?
RF
Ethier
3B
Cruz
3B
Cruz
RF
NOT Ethier
2B
Skip?
C
A.Ellis
C
A.Ellis
P
—-
P
—-

The current Hanley doesn’t run like that, and he certainly doesn’t hit like that; though he retains good power for a middle infielder, he’s coming off a career-low walk rate and a career-high strikeout rate — hardly what you want to see from your leadoff man, and his .326 OBP over the last two seasons doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

Still, .326 looks pretty good when compared to what we saw last year, and while Ramirez isn’t going to steal 51 bases again, he’s hardly lead-footed, either. So I’ll take Hanley as a flawed, though acceptable solution. But that causes another problem, if you look to the prospective lineups at right: by taking Ramirez out of the middle of the lineup, things get a bit thin behind Kemp & Gonzalez. (For the purpose of this conversation, I’m showing LF & 2B as strict platoons, though I doubt either will really be that way in practice.)

That’s perhaps not such a big deal against righties, where Ethier fits nicely into the #5 hole — though I did enjoy seeing him hit #2 there late last year — but it really does expose how vulnerable the team could be against lefties, especially in the corner outfield. That’s not news, of course, but the lack of a righty alternative for Ethier is still such a glaring hole that this winter just can’t be considered complete until something is done there — and the options are dwindling.

I don’t think anyone would say they don’t prefer this lineup over the one that prepared to head into last season featuring Gordon, James Loney, Juan Uribe, & Juan Rivera. Still, this is a lineup that has more than a few questions marks, beginning right at the top. If you can’t sort that out, everything else is at a disadvantage.

617 comments
Professor Towel
Professor Towel

That lineup vs. LHP is sad. We really should be going after Scott Hairston. Apparently he's only looking for $8m/2 years...

Tommy Lasordid
Tommy Lasordid

What I find most interesting about this piece is the total dismissal of Dee Gordon as a candidate. Is he really that terrible/ill-prepared? Yes, his overall stats sucked last year and his fielding (throwing) was pretty atrocious. But I seem to recall he was actually starting to show signs of life last year until he hurt himself with that ill-advised headfirst slide into third base. And he got off to a decent start in winter ball this year.

 

The upside of a halfway decent Dee Gordon in the lead-off spot would be tremendous. The rest of the lineup sets up nicely. Plus, it moves Hanley to third where he is less of a defensive liability and strengthens the bench with Cruz.. Unless he is a downright disaster in spring training, I say put Gordon in the lead-off spot and give him a month. Is this out of the question?

jml2279
jml2279

Why not just platoon Crawford and Ellis to start the season at leadoff?

DodgerRob
DodgerRob

Can't tell if flu, or recurrence of malaria. 

wvento
wvento

Wow, Mike is on espn.com! Big baller!

EephusBlue
EephusBlue moderator

As a great man named Vin often says, "Goodnight everybody!"

EephusBlue
EephusBlue moderator

Thinking on it, try as I might, I do not have an AL team. I cannot bring myself to care about any team but the Dodgers

Paulstralia
Paulstralia

"What's that? Oh, you didn't get the player you wanted? All your leverage is completely gone? I don't know. We really like Ethier a lot. Oh Kyle Seager and Felix Hernandez? They're okay I guess. Only if you eat Ethier's salary though." 

DeucesWild
DeucesWild

Have any of you guys watched the movie Hit and Run yet?

EephusBlue
EephusBlue moderator

I am really hoping shits gonna pick up on the Ethier front now that Upton isn't going to Seattle. Makes some sense that the previous trade with SEA fell thru if they thought they could get Upton

Shawn D
Shawn D

 @Tommy Lasordid I agree completely and wonder why Dee Gordon has been left for dead by so many people after last season.  With his speed, if he can find a way to recapture his play from 2011, there's no reason to believe he isn't a viable option.

 

I'm hoping he has a strong spring, making the choice obvious, and allowing the Dodgers to move Hanley to 3B and taking care of multiple problems with one player.

organicallyrude
organicallyrude

That's what I suggest. Crawford leading off vs. RHP and Ellis vs.LHP. If Crawford isn't 100%, then we'd have to use Hanley.

DBrim
DBrim moderator

@jml2279 I'd be okay with that.

DBrim
DBrim moderator

@EephusBlue For me, it's the Red Sox but I still think it's funny when they lose.

Cochito Commish
Cochito Commish

 @EephusBlue The only reason the Mariners are my team is because I lived in Seattle for about 2 years, Safeco Field is absolutely beautiful and Felix is my favorite pitcher other than Kershaw. 

EephusBlue
EephusBlue moderator

 @The_Real_Paul I do like that SEA put all their eggs in the Upton basket and blew it. They underestimated how much people dont want to go to the perennial shit fest that are the Mariners.  What are their options now besides Ethier? Overpay for Morse? They can't afford Bourn.

Shawn D
Shawn D

 @Tommy Lasordid I'd also like to see the Dodgers sign Scott Hairston for a potential platoon with Etihier.  I have to believve that he'd consider the Dodgers with his brother already on the team.

EephusBlue
EephusBlue moderator

 @SCruzOptimusDamus meh. Cant really care. As a baseball fan I can appreciate. But not to the level of passion I feel for the Dodgers. Just not the same.

BlueSteelhead
BlueSteelhead

 @Antonio_G  @DeucesWild I agree that Dax guy is an ass. I played poker with him one time at some house party, and he went on and on about how he should be a bigger star and how great he is.

DeucesWild
DeucesWild

 @Antonio_G I don't even care about the movie anymore, I'm in love with the Lincoln he drives

I Digesti
I Digesti

 @EephusBlue  @Antonio_G And LOOGYs are where Ethier's numbers are particularly skewed - especially in 2012.  Ethier actually held his own with a .753 OPS against LH starters.  If he could do that against all of them, we wouldn't have these conversations.

EephusBlue
EephusBlue moderator

 @Antonio_G Haha me too. Whenever I get down with the whole lead off issue and Ethier + LOOGY = :----( I stop and think about Greinke and Ryu and feel way better

EephusBlue
EephusBlue moderator

 @Antonio_G  @The_Real_Paul Aw sorry man. Hate to break it to you but they are gonna have a tough go of it with the Rangers and Angels in an arms race and Oakland billybeaning their way into contention. At least you have the Astros to harass 

DeucesWild
DeucesWild

 @EephusBlue  I think I'm going to see that tomorrow, tough to go wrong with Tarantino 

DeucesWild
DeucesWild

 @Antonio_G My buddies and I have discussed this and we define man crush as a dude you would want to be if you could switch places