What are the main jobs of a leadoff hitter?
A leadoff hitter is supposed to be someone who gets on base a high percentage of the time, has some speed so he can steal a bag or move into scoring positions on well-placed base hits or outs, and put themselves in scoring position so that the “run producers” behind them can drive them home.
That is what a leadoff hitter is supposed to do.
This year, the Phillies leadoff hitters have been failing at their jobs.
Through 42 games, the Phillies lead-off hitters have a combined on-base percentage of .283. That’s 26th out of 30 MLB teams. Only the White Sox, Marlins, Mets and Twins have gotten less production from their leadoff hitters.
Ben Revere, who opened this season at the top of the lineup, has had a horrific season at the plate, hitting .237/.286/.263 for an OPS of .548. He has scored just 13 runs in 36 games, with 7 steals in 10 attempts. He has since been dropped down to 8th in the lineup, and is losing playing time to John Mayberry in center.
Jimmy Rollins, the Phils’ long-time leadoff hitter, has fared only marginally better, hitting .256/.305/.400 for an OPS of .705. He has scored 18 runs in 42 games, with just 4 steals in 6 attempts.
Clearly, the Phillies are not getting enough production out of the top of the lineup. And while it has been assumed that Revere or Rollins were the only viable options in the leadoff spot, perhaps there is one other person who could do the job.
Michael Young has done the best job at consistently getting on base on the Phillies this year. After drawing three more walks in Friday night’s 5-3 win over the Reds, Young now has walked 22 times in 41 games. Last year, he drew only 33 free passes in 156 games. His walk rate this year has skyrocketed to 13.9%, up from last year’s 5.1%. His career high walk rate is 7.9%, last done in 2009.
Young has never come anywhere close to being the kind of disciplined hitter he has been so far this year.
As a result, Young’s on-base percentage is .399, aided by a .301 batting average and a .360 BABIP. Still, Young has been getting on base far greater than any other member of the lineup.
That, of course, would be an extremely valuable tool to have batting first right now.
But what about his lack of speed, you may ask? Certainly Young cannot be expected to steal bases and create havoc with his legs.
Well, Rollins has only stolen four bags and made just six attempts so far this year. Revere is just 7 for 10. Neither speedster has utilized their speed all that much, mainly because they haven’t been getting on base enough to do it. So would the Phils really be losing anything by putting Young’s legs at the top of the order?
Or, to say it in a better way, doesn’t Young’s suddenly outstanding on-base skills trump the superior speed of people who don’t even get on base?
There’s also the matter of Young’s propensity to hit into double plays, already a league-leading 10 so far this year. But as a leadoff hitter, Young would have at least one guaranteed inning every day in which there would be no possibility of him creating two outs with one swing.
And Young hasn’t been getting many extra base hits, either. He is slugging .397, while Rollins is actually slightly better with a .400 slugging percentage. Removing a light hitter our of an area in the lineup in which slugging is more highly valued, and replacing him with a player with more extra-base hit potential – like Rollins – would also seem to make sense.
Don’t get me wrong, Young is not the ideal option for a leadoff hitter. But if the most important aspect of the job is getting on base, he is currently the team’s best candidate.
And that is not something anyone would have thought before this season began.