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.
March 2, 2010; 10:26 AM ET
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