Because the centerfielder has to leadoff

by billfer on February 19, 2010 · 46 comments

in 2010 Season,Spring Training

Scott Sizemore and Javair Gillette

With spring training underway there has been a flood of news bubbling up from Lakeland (and of course there are those pesky Johnny Damon rumors). But one that caught my eye was Jim Leyland’s dismissal of Scott Sizemore as the number two hitter. Somewhat understandably I suppose he doesn’t want rookies batting in the top two spots . But why pencil in Austin Jackson as the leadoff hitter in the first place?

Jackson certainly has a number of tools and is deservedly ranked on many top 100 prospect lists. Plate discipline hasn’t been one of those strengths though. He has a respectable .356 OBP as a minor leaguer, but he also fanned 2.3 times for every walk he took.

Sizemore’s greatest asset is his bat. He has maintained a .383 OBP throughout his minor league career supported by a .305 batting average and drawing walks in 13% of his plate appearances. His K/BB ratio is 1.3.

I won’t pretend to know who will have the better season and who will adjust quicker to big league pitching.  But based on all the available data it would point to Sizemore having the better chance at putting up at least a league average on base percentage. The difference though in Jim Leyland’s mind is that Jackson plays center and accordingly he should hit leadoff so he can make things happen.

I couch this all in the fact that I don’t really believe lineups make that big of a difference, and Leyland’s quotes on pitcher and catcher reporting day probably mean even less. But it a suspicious thought process where Jackson has the leadoff spot to lose while Sizemore is pushed to the lower rungs of the lineup.

Photo Credit: Roger DeWitt (hueytaxi on Flickr)

 
 

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TSE February 19, 2010 at 10:46 am

I think you underestimate the value of having a logical lineup. The advantage to having a logical lineup versus a terrible lineup is a negligible amount for any given single game, but over the long run of 162 games if you make a logical lineup, your best logical lineup, and you do it consistently over 162 games, then a team like the Tigers can easily shift 2 games from the Loss column to the Win column over the course of a season similar to last year’s season. That’s a MASSIVE amount of games for doing nothing other than doing your job right. I look at it at like the Olympics. If you have a perfect run but make one minor mistake along the way, then you just take a tiny deduction along the way. How long until these deductions start adding up? My opinion is that a ML Manager’s job is to avoid all the opportunities for deductions that are optional. A manager should be able to go 162 games without making a lineup error, if he does, then that is an unnecessary and voluntary deduction. And even if the difference isn’t noticeable to the naked eye for any given game, the hidden tiny percentage reduction in the probability of winning that game is the important thing that is lost that is relevant, very relevant, especially when it’s only a realized penalty when you are overly incompetent and irresponsible at managing your team’s resources.

Andre in Chi February 19, 2010 at 11:03 am

Couldn’t you just have said: “sometimes the little things add up”?

TSE February 19, 2010 at 11:16 am

I suppose.

Chasbo February 19, 2010 at 2:09 pm

I do think that lineups are over-thought by fans, but am also frustrated by managers who always put the “speed” guys at 1 and the “power” guy at 4. I wish Leyland had the guts (or foresight) to put Miggy at 2 (or even leadoff!). He is clearly their best bat, so you want him to bat as often as possible. The only reason not to put him at 1 is you want someone on base, ideally – put the next best OBP guy there – even if he is slow (Damon if he signs, or Ordonez, Guillen next most likely). Why have Miggy on-deck when you lose a game by a run? It won’t happen, but I dare to dream.

TSE February 19, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Yeah fans go nuts with lineups but fans don’t understand the complexities of lineups either. I have yet to read any material in any place or format whether formal or informal by any baseball expert that adequately covers the science and logic behind all the elements of lineup design theory. Bilfer should do a post on it, it would make for a great subject to explore. Nobody else has fully covered it that I have seen.

Andre in Chi February 19, 2010 at 5:22 pm

“I have yet to read any material in any place or format whether formal or informal by any baseball expert that adequately covers the science and logic behind all the elements of lineup design theory.”

Since you seem to grasp all the science and logic, why not write something up yourself? Isn’t it your responsibility to share this knowledge? For the good of the team man!

TSE February 19, 2010 at 6:02 pm

Well I could do a lot of things that would make for great segments, but I don’t have my own blog and wouldn’t want to make a sub-blog out of somebody else’s blog.

Andre in Chi February 19, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Billfer,

Any chance you allow TSE here a guest post? I mean come on, the chance to, once and for all, have all the elements of proper line-up construction laid out in a clear and logical way, who wants to pass that up?

Adam February 20, 2010 at 2:03 am

Dude, all he said was that he wants to read something like that. Not write it.

I’m sensing awkward hostility.

Andre in Chi February 20, 2010 at 10:56 am

Adam,

I’m guessing you’re unaware of TSE’s track record; in short its a lot of him saying that other people’s measurement systems / management approaches are flawed, and that he knows way better than anyone. This would be very interesting, if not for the fact that he’s yet to show or back-up his statements in any meaningful way. The canned response is usually something along the lines of “i would but i don’t have a blog” or “i’d show you but i’m waiting to show MLB executives”.

Also, I take offense to your characterization of the awkwardness I create as hostile, its more playful than anything.

Jeff Molby February 19, 2010 at 11:24 pm
Rob R February 19, 2010 at 10:57 am

Why not have Sizemore lead off? On paper he seems similar to Granderson, other than the position.

Keith February 20, 2010 at 5:46 am

Rob,

Uhm what?!

Comparing Sizemore to Granderson and and they saying you want Sizemore to lead off is completely backwards. Granderson is not an ideal leadoff man. Besides speed what makes him a good leadoff guy? His walk rate is way too low and his strikeout rate way too high. Also, his power (30 HR guy) would be much more of an asset lower down in the lineup. If Sizemore is like Granderson (I have no idea if he is) then please don’t hit him #1 or #2.

BigMax February 19, 2010 at 11:12 am

Second basemen can lead off. See, e.g. Whitaker, Lou.

It would be a lot of pressure on Sizemore, and I’d rather have someone else at the beginning of the year, but he is the most logical candidate on the present roster (other than Magglio, who has the high OBP, but does not fit the leadoff “mold”).

Keith February 20, 2010 at 5:47 am

The heading is sarcastic!

He’s making fun of Leyland needing to always put CF 1st in the lineup!

Wow.

David G February 19, 2010 at 11:32 am

Did anyone happen to see the Sporting News baseball preview? They picked Jackson as AL ROY. Quite surprising predicting, IMO.

Keith February 20, 2010 at 5:53 am

It’s because he’s one of the few non-pitching rookies who should play all year.
If he gets a 3 month head start to accumulate stats over other rookies then he should win ROY.

Jackson has a couple of huge advantages over other rookies. 1. He’s not a pitcher so he won’t have an IP cap. 2. He is supposed to start all year, play a non-physically demanding position (compared to catcher, MI, and 3rd) and hit leadoff which means a lot more at bats then other rookies. And 3. He plays on a team that isn’t a bottom dweller so his teammates will help him out stats wise (Runs and RBIs) but it’s also not an elite team where he might get demoted or benched if he’s struggling for a month.

Mark L February 19, 2010 at 11:47 am

Why does everyone always want low strikeouts in a leadoff hitter? Of course, lowering strikeouts for any position in the lineup is good, but why so important for leadoff?
The leadoff hitter will bat with noone on base more often than anyone else (because of the first inning, and, presumably, the low OBP of the 8 and 9 hitters batting in front of him in later innings). So an out is an out is an out.
And actually, a K is preferable to GIDP if there are men on base. Where the K kills you is when there are men in scoring position, less than two outs.
That being said, maybe Magglio would be the best choice. Then, who bats third or fifth?
Really, our problem is pathetic hitting from all spots in the lineup except #4. Get used to BB-Cabrera, Tigers fans.

Kathy February 19, 2010 at 12:06 pm

He’s supposed to be the tablesetter, I guess. Have speed and be able to bunt, too.

Keith February 20, 2010 at 5:56 am

Uhm, so when Cabrera and the “big hitters” come up they have somebody on base to drive in! Remember 2 years ago when Detroit hit tons of HR but they were all 1 run HR? If you have a guy who hits ahead of Cabrera and Maggs (when he’s hitting well) that gets on base the number of runs scores skyrockets and a HR doubles the runs scored.

Nate Silver at Baseball Prospectus proved that runs scored increases exponentially.

Andre in Chi February 19, 2010 at 12:14 pm

“And actually, a K is preferable to GIDP if there are men on base. Where the K kills you is when there are men in scoring position, less than two outs.”

So you understand that Ks aren’t always bad, like when men are on base, but then don’t see why you’d prefer your leadoff (somebody who you point out rarely hits with men on) to not be a K-machine? Odd.

Yes, tons of Ks wouldn’t matter if Jackson had a higher OBP than Sizemore…but he doesn’t, so they do.

Lee Panas February 19, 2010 at 1:31 pm

If a batter isn’t going to have a high OBP, then he isn’t an ideal leadoff hitter, strikeouts or not. Srikeouts are bad no matter where you bat but I don’t think they are any worse for a leadoff hitter than any other hitter.

I think billfer brought up Jackson’s k/bb ratio not because he thinks strikeouts are bad for a leadoff hitter, but because he thought it was an indicator that Jackson might not be ready to be a high obp guy in the majors.

Lee

billfer February 19, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Exactly Lee. Sizemore also strikes out a fair amount, but he also walks quite a bit. My issue is less with Jackson’s strikeouts as outs and more about his ability to master the strikezone at the big league level.

Mark L February 20, 2010 at 10:12 pm

That’s the kind of answer I was looking for. It’s not the Ks themselves, it’s that they portend an inability to achieve a high obp, which is the most important thing for the leadoff hitter. Thanks.

Keith February 20, 2010 at 6:01 am

Yes, groundballs are worse then k’s when men are on base but when you leadoff the game nobody is on base!

I know you know that and you’re talking about later in games but that’s why managers often put speedy hitters at the 8th and 9th slot. That way a groundball only gets 1 out not 2.

Ks are never good for a hitter. When a ball is hit in play there is a chance (around 30%) that the hitter will safely make it to a base. When there is a K there is 0% (okay maybe 0.2% with drop 3rd strikes) that a baserunner will get to a base.

Bob February 19, 2010 at 1:42 pm

A leadoff hitter should have a high OBP not only for the first inning, but also because they bat before the best hitters in the lineup (2,3,4) so they need to be on base to hopefully score runs. However, they also should be quick and able to steal a base so that they can move into scoring position after a single or walk. Lastly, they don’t really need to hit for power, because that is what the guys behind them do.

Jackson is the better leadoff candidate for the last 2 reasons. He is faster and steals more bases than Sizemore but he has less power, at least right now. It makes sense to put Sizemore at 6/7/8 where he can use his power to drive in some runs.

Guillen has the best stats to leadoff. Ignoring his 2009 first half stats where is obviously hurt, his OBP is very high (.390), he runs the bases well, and does not strike out or GDP often. However, he also typically hits for power so is better suited to 5 or 6. If Guillen’s power does not return and Jackson struggles, don’t be surprised to see Carlos leading off and Jackson 8 or 9.

Keith February 20, 2010 at 6:17 am

1. Having power shouldn’t be a negative from leading off. If I had a 40 SB LF who also hits 15 HR (Crawford) I wouldn’t tell him to hit less HR.
2. Stealing bases before power hitters is risky and often dumb. Getting caught stealing not only gives your team an out but it also takes a potential run off the board when power guys come to the plate. Also, most hitters can score from 1st on a double and if the the batter hits a homerun it doesn’t matter if they were at 1st or 2nd! While I’m not endorsing moving a really slow hitter to leadoff (Maggs) I’m saying your speedstar can hit 8 or 9 and steal and be more effective. All you need at leadoff is someone fast enough to run out some double plays and score from 1st on a double (and in Detroit that’s easier with how deep the walls are).
3. IMO leadoff is the most important stat for a leadoff guy (2nd is k rate) and Jackson’s is lower than Sizemore. You said that the leadoff guy needs to be on base for hitters 2, 3 and 4. OBP is that stat. Doesn’t your reasoning prove OBP is the most important?
4. This is different then the leadoff points but I just thought I’d add it here since I mentioned it above. Having a 40 SB threat hitting 8 or 9 (in the AL) makes more sense to me then having them hit first. Stealing can get you caught and you hurt your team a lot more when the guy who’s on deck is your #3/4 hitter and not your #9/1 guy. In addition to the increased damage to your team, stealing when power hitters are up makes no sense. HRs clear the bases. You don’t need to be at 2nd to score on a HR. But you do need to be at 2nd to score on a single. And who hits singles? Bottom and top of the lineup hitters. So doesn’t a SB increase in value when you have a non-power guy behind you in the lineup? Finally, when a player attempts to steal a base the batter must often take the pitch. I don’t want Cabrera to have to sit on amazing fastball because the leadoff guy is trying to take 2nd. I’d much rather have a double or HR. Power guys also often have a smaller contact % with pitches so I don’t want them to start with any more strikes then they need. 8,9, 1 and 2 hitters often have better contact rates so going down 1 or even 2 strikes isn’t as big of a deal.

I think an ideal lineup would include a high OBP leadoff man, the best hitter hitting 3rd (like Pujols does), and a top tier SB guy hitting 9th.

scotsw February 22, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Keith, I don’t think anyone argues power is a negative for a lead-off hitter. You have to believe the thinking is, power is more important elsewhere, and teams always have some players who don’t hit for power. There’s also the overall trend that high-power guys have a tendency to swing hard and therefore tend to have higher Ks and thus, lower OBP. Players who hit for average, OBP AND power are called Albert Pujols and/or Alex Rodriguez. And you’d be a fool not to bat a guy like that 3 or 4.

billfer February 20, 2010 at 8:02 am

I agree with Guillen as a candidate. I’d like to see him hitting in one of the top two spots of the lineup as well.

Mark in Chicago February 19, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Off topic, but did anyone see the article from ESPN using PECOTA to project each division?

http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/insider/news/story?id=4924710

it’s insider content, but the funny part is that PECOTA projects the White Sox, Tigers, and Twins all to finish with identical 80-82 records. Talk about a nightmare scenario.

Keith February 20, 2010 at 6:22 am

Just an FYI but PECOTA isn’t ESPN’s property. It is owned by baseball prospectus and they came out with the numbers about a month ago.

PECOTA is so frugal that sometimes they are dead on (projected TB to win the AL-East 2 years ago) and sometimes they are way off (projecting the Tigers to finish 4th in the Central last year). PECOTA would work if baseball had no luck and every player’s value projected exactly the same on the field. I think of PECOTA as a what should happen projection. As we know though, often the projections don’t work out. Otherwise we’d have won the WS after getting Cabrera.

Mark in Chicago February 20, 2010 at 10:13 am

I am aware that PECOTA is not ESPN’s property. I was just pointing out the unique prediction for the AL Central.

Lee Panas February 19, 2010 at 1:57 pm

I don’t think they have determined that Jackson will leadoff yet. I believe they ultimately see him as a leadoff hitter in the future but I think right now they just want to give him as many at bats as possible to determine his readiness. Batting him leadoff will give him the maximum number of at bats this spring.

Lee

Vince in MN February 19, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Here’s the Leyland quote from Beck’s blog:
“I’d like Jackson to lead off, if I could,” Leyland said. “I’m really kind of looking for a two hitter. But I think Jackson — if he’s here, and you’re going to play him some — he’s probably got to lead off. Probably, as we stand right now. But I don’t know that for a fact. We’ll find out.”

Translation:
“?”

Keith (Mr. X) February 19, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Jackson just might get out of the gate hot. He was very much a streaky hitter last year in AAA.
In April he had a .371 avg and .444 OBP
In May he had a .339 avg and .419 OBP
In Sept he had a .364 avg and .426 OBP
In the other 3 months he was crap, kind of like how Granderson was all last year.

Spike February 19, 2010 at 8:53 pm

When I first read that Leyland quote it gave me the impression that he was trying to protect Sizemore while putting Jackson in a sink-or-swim situation. Could Leyland have doubts about the Granderson trade? Could this be his way of saying, “Well, if you’re good enough to trade our lead off hitter for, you’d better show that you can be our leadoff hitter?

Andre in Chi February 19, 2010 at 10:36 pm

Except for the part where Jackson wasn’t responsible for the trade. You could say that if it were directed at DD though, but not a rookie.

Vince in MN February 20, 2010 at 1:00 am

It’s just the usual vague, non-commital, early ST talk. The lineup has more holes in it than swiss cheese and there are no obvious in-house fixes at this point. When somebody ask him “Hey Jimbo, who’s your leadoff hitter?”, the honest answer would be “I don’t know”, but that doesn’t sound so hot, so you instead get a long version of not much, ending in “We’ll find out”.

Here’s what he said about Bonderman’s health today:
“I think he is OK,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “We’ll find out. He’s throwing the ball very, very well. I’m excited about that. We all know about his competitive side. Hopefully, his physical side is fine and he’s back to being Jeremy Bonderman.”

Seriously though, what can he really say at this point?

Spike February 20, 2010 at 12:27 pm

You’re right. There’s not much for them to say, but that doesn’t stop us from parsing every meaningless word. :)

Kathy February 20, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Here’s Johnny!!!!

TSE February 21, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Yay Carlos Guillen moves to SS!!! ;) ;)

Mark L February 20, 2010 at 10:20 pm

Maybe JL wants to protect Sizemore in the lineup because there are no other options at 2b. But there are others in CF.

Kirk February 21, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Leyland is not a good baseball strategist. He’s already said he doesn’t respect OBP. The game has passed him by, and he hasn’t evolved or embraced the realities of modern baseball.

In Leyland’s warped view of thinking, the speediest guy should always lead off. That’s why he had Granderson batting lead off, when it was clear to most that he fit the Tigers’ lineup better as a middle-of-the-order power bat than a lead off man. So, of course he would prefer Jackson hitting higher in the order than Sizemore, a player who is much more likely to get on base.

The only hope is that Damon signing means he will bat lead off and Sizemore will bat second. I believe his bat is more MLB-ready than Jackson’s. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jackson sent back to AAA for more seasoning. His poor K:BB ratio and lack of power in AAA point to the fact that he could struggle against major league pitching.

Keith (Mr. X) February 25, 2010 at 12:08 am

IMO, Granderson batting in the middle of the order is a bad strategy since he can’t hit lefties. If he were to bat 5th, behind Cabrera when a Lefty was pitching, then Cabrera would have been pitched around nearly every AB. Same thing late in the game. Cabrera will get walked, then in comes a LOOGY to pitch to Granderson and the inning is over. It’s an easy strategic decision not to bat Grandy behind your best right handed power hitters.

Where does he bat for the Yankees? It certainly won’t be behind AROD. My guess is that Girardi is going to have the same line-up headaches of where to bat Granderson that Leyland had. It’s probably best for the Yankees to platoon him in LF with Thames and bat him 8th or 9th. I’m glad he’s Girardi’s problem now.

Coach Jim February 24, 2010 at 10:00 pm

I missed the big chunk of lineup discussion, but let me add a few of MY OPINIONS:
1. Speed from a leadoff hitter is a luxury, not a requirement. Also, if a team is power-laden, caught stealing can be a huge detriment. Case in point, one of my favorite leadoff hitters of all time: Tony Phillips. The ONLY real requirement of a leadoff hitter is OBP.
2. If your team is not power-laden, and you choose to manage an old-timer, or NL type of game, then speed becomes more important because it assumes you will be bunting, hitting to RF, and tagging up a lot.
3. I want low strikeouts from my #2 hitter. It’s not that I want him to hit in more double plays, it’s that I want the ball in play so the runner has a chance to advance. The more speed the leadoff hitter has, the more important this is. If Magglio were to bat first, then any whiff-machine can bat second and it wouldn’t matter much TO ME.
4. Logical lineups can indeed create more runs. Extra base hits with runners on is ideal. I say, put the guy with the best extra base power 4th and the 3 best OBP ahead of him. I had this exact thing happen to me back in the early 90s when I was playing semi… I was always a leadoff hitter, good speed, no power. There was another guy pretty much like me on the team who batted 2nd. Then we had a guy who was a GREAT hitter…better than either of us two. Usually he batted 3rd. One day we show up and the manager switches me and the #3 hitter. Of course he leads off the game with a triple. #2 guy hits a single, then I hit a single. From 1B I yell out to Skip “hey, if you had the normal lineup, we’d have 2 runs now.” The next game we were back to normal.

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