Batting Evan Longoria First | The Process Report

Batting Evan Longoria First

I’m not going to spend too much time on this, but Evan Longoria is batting leadoff again today. The Rays offense has some issues. They have a collective .310 on-base percentage (league average is .320), yet score more runs per game than the league-average, albeit barely (4.22 versus 4.18) because of a confluence of variables—they hit more home runs, they run the bases well, they don’t tend to giveaway outs and so on.

Longoria does not have the archetypal leadoff skills. He is a good baserunner and an efficient basestealer, but isn’t fast. He can reach base, but he also hits for power. Ideal world: You want him batting with at least one runner on or with fewer than two outs (which is why I wanted him batting fourth all along). Batting him leadoff means he bats behind the lower half of the lineup, which tends to be weak.

Still, the first, second, and fourth lineup slots are the most important. Batting Longoria leadoff might be better for the offense than batting him third, while batting Johnny Damon and Matt Joyce at the second and fourth slots gives the Rays solid-to-good hitters at each spot. At this point, there really are only three alternatives to Longoria batting first:

1) You bat Ben Zobrist there.
2) You bat B.J. Upton there.
3) You platoon Upton or Zobrist and John Jaso or Sam Fuld there.

Since 2008, only Joyce, Damon, and Zobrist have higher on-base percentages than Longoria. It’s not a coincidence that those four are at the top of the lineup. The next highest Ray is Upton. After that, you have to give in to small sample sizes (Jaso), stereotypical skill sets (Fuld), or flashes in the pan to find a worthwhile alternative. You don’t drill a hole in your skull when you have a headache because that’s what they used to do, so why would you bat your sixth- or seventh-best hitter at the top just because of tradition?

Is batting Longoria first the most optimal usage of his skill set? Probably not, as you’d like to see his power leveraged with men on base, but it isn’t a waste either. Yeah, he may hit more home runs or doubles than the average leadoff guy, but he still has players who can get on base or, at worst, drive him in with a single or double of their own. Give Joe Maddon credit for eschewing tradition here, but in terms of getting on base, Longoria might not be the Rays best option.

Then again, it’s not like having Longoria bat more often is a bad thing, either.



One Comment

  1. […] someone from the middle of the lineup to the top of the lineup on a full-time basis. Joe Maddon liked to do it for a game or two to reset a player’s focus at the plate, but this is a full-time promotion. […]

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