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Changes atop the lineup

In the past week or so, we have seen three well-established leadoff hitters dropped in their teams' batting orders for the upcoming season -- which, by virtue of the journalism Rule of Three, means we have ourselves an honest-to-goodness trend here. Let's examine the three situations:

*Indians: Grady Sizemore is out as leadoff hitter, dropped to the No. 2 slot, with Asdrubal Cabrera taking over in the leadoff spot. The reason: Indians Manager Manny Acta feels he doesn't have the luxury of keeping a hitter with Sizemore's power in the leadoff spot, given the lack of depth in their lineup. Key quote: "We need to lengthen our lineup," Acta said.

*Mets: Manager Jerry Manuel is experimenting with longtime leadoff man Jose Reyes hitting in the No. 3 spot until the return of Carlos Beltran from injury, though Manuel left open the possibility of keeping Reyes there. For now, either Angel Pagan or Luis Castillo will bat leadfoff. The reason: Lack of run-production in the middle of the order with Beltran out. Key quote: "Reyes should be at the period in his evolution that he could be a No. 3 hitter on a good team," Manuel said.

*Cubs: After dropping Alfonso Soriano to the sixth spot last summer, Manager Lou Piniella says Soriano is staying there for good. Either Kosuke Fukudome or Ryan Theriot will hit leadoff instead. The reason: Soriano's skill-set (low OBP but high SLG) is better suited to a run-producing spot. Key quote: "The sixth hole is a good place for him, a good RBI spot."

A fourth established leadoff man will also move down in the lineup in Seattle, unless those brainy Mariners numbers-crunchers can figure out a way to bat both Ichiro Suzuki and Chone Figgins in the leadoff spot.

Is there anything that connects the three situations in our "trend"? Not really. Reyes is probably the "purest" leadoff man of the three -- not that it's clear what that means anymore -- given his prolific stolen-base totals and lack of 30-homer power. Sizemore has jacked up his power numbers in recent years without sacrificing speed. And Soriano, at least in my opinion, was always ill-suited for the leadoff spot, given his lack of plate discipline and low OBPs -- something one manager after another seemed to ignore.

I suspect these are just three isolated, unconnected items -- and not, alas, a real trend. The Indians are seen as a progressive, sabermetrically advanced organization, but the Mets and Cubs certainly are not. So I doubt there is a deep, stats-based revolution taking place regarding leadoff hitters.

But it would also stand to reason that, in the post-steroids era, with more emphasis on defense, speed and athleticism, players with proven 25- to 30-homer ability will migrate from the leadoff spot to the middle of the order -- since there presumably are fewer of those types of players around -- and the slap-hitting, bunting, base-stealing, 1980s-style speedster may once again become the prototypical leadoff man.

By Dave Sheinin  |  March 2, 2010; 10:26 AM ET
 
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Comments

The Phillies should be next and drop Jimmy Rollins from the lead off spot to #6 or something. He can steal, but his OBP was awful last year. Victorino or Polanco might be better suited for leadoff than JRoll ...

Posted by: chrisduckworth | March 2, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse

The Indians need depth in their lineup? I thought they added Austin Kearns.

Posted by: seamhed | March 2, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

I forget the original source (Tango?), but I've seen several sabermetric sites say that #2 is actually a more important slot in the order than #3. They would say #1, #2, and #4 should have your best hitters, with leadoff favoring a good OBP, lower SLG player. Moving Sizemore to #2, with Cabrera's .360 OBP leadoff, probably is the type of move you'd expect Manny to make.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | March 2, 2010 2:41 PM | Report abuse

The key to the lead off man is being able to get to scoring postion more often than the next guy. The idea is to score runs, and getting to 1st is only a part of the equation. There is a big need for speed. Otherwise, Nick Johnson would be leading off for the Yanks this Spring. Milton Bradley for the M's.

Ichiro pretty much never walks, but he hits for big average, hits doubles, steals bases and he can score from Second on any ball out of the infield. So when a guy like Soriano can knock himself in 30+ times, hit a bunch of doubles and steal enough bases that he ends up on 2B a lot, then he can be successful as a lead off guy. Which is why seasoned managers of different stripes put the guy up front time after time, year after year -- the guy can score 100 runs. Might be just as hard to score that many as to knock in that many these days.

Posted by: dfh21 | March 2, 2010 11:13 PM | Report abuse

dfh21 - in 11 seasons, 10 in good offensive environments, Soriano has finished in his league's top 10 in run scored only 3 times (02-03-06), and topped 100 runs only one other time (05). I'll forgive him a bit because he can't stay on the field in Chicago, so his counting stats will suffer. He is miscast as a leadoff hitter.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | March 3, 2010 4:36 PM | Report abuse

jca -- Not being in the top 10 in runs more than 3 times in 9 years makes a guy miscast in the leadoff role? Tough standard.

The bottom line is that Soriano, despite notions of being miscast, has played the leadoff role pretty well. And might he have not hit as well as he's hit if he were a guy expected to be a pure RBI guy? Who knows.

Torre, Robinson, Showalter and Sweet Lou all plugged the guy into the 1 spot every day, they must not know much about getting players into the right roles.

Posted by: dfh21 | March 3, 2010 9:06 PM | Report abuse

I seem to recall Barry S stating in a Nats chat back when Soriano was in DC that his average with men in scoring position was much lower than his average when batting leadoff with nobody on. Have those numbers changed?

Posted by: Juan-John1 | March 4, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse

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