Leading Off | The Process Report

Leading Off

By R.J. Anderson //

When the American League playoffs open in a few days, the Rays might possess the best leadoff hitter this side of the bracket. The catch is in the singular form of the word “hitter”. The Rays, of course, actually use a strict, yet conventional platoon approach with two players who are anything but conventional leadoff men. John Jaso is a catcher who leads off versus righties and B.J. Upton is a strikeout threat who does the job versus lefties. Combined, they really might be the best leadoff hitter in the playoffs by a wide margin:

Player		2010 OBP	Three-Year
Derek Jeter	.338		.369
Elvis Andrus	.342		.336
Denard Span	.335		.368
*John Jaso	.383		.377
**B.J. Upton 	.381		.366			

*Versus righties
**Versus lefties

The other three leadoff hitters have the burden of doing so daily. Depending on your perspective, that’s either a good or bad thing. Consistency discussions usually overstate its importance. Teams with one great option to leadoff usually are consistent as are teams with no worthwhile options – because someone has to bat there, and it may as well be the guy who hurts you the least. Besides, it’s not as if the Rays flip a coin before each game before dispatching the lineup card. It’s well-established what the top of the lineup looks like on any given day based on who the opposing pitcher is.

To further solidify how little consistency at the top of the lineup seems to mean to run-scoring, just look at the Rays’ history. This is not the first season that they have used four different players at the top of the lineup 10-plus times each, but it is the first time they will break the 800 runs scored mark. Why? Because the players being used are better. In fact, the Rays’ first hitters should set a club record for the best on-base percentage.

Year	OBP	RS	Players with 10+ starts
2010	.355	795	Four
2009	.351	803	Two
2008	.352	774	One
2007	.324	782	Three
2006	.341	689	Three
2005	.337	750	Four
2004	.338	714	Two
2003	.299	715	Four
2002	.337	673	Four
2001	.320	672	Four
2000	.309	773	Two
1999	.338	772	Four
1998	.327	620	Three

The only season in which the Rays used one leadoff hitter through and through came in 2008 with Akinori Iwamura. Otherwise, it’s always been a juggling affair to some degree. It didn’t work then because the players were horrible. It works now because they aren’t. In a perfect world, Desmond Jennings becomes Rickey Henderson, In a more realistic world, the Rays Jaso/Upton platoon might turn into Jaso/Jennings or Zobrist/Jennings as time progresses.

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