May 29, 2010

McCutchen Should Bat Leadoff

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / May 29, 2010

This is a minor point, clearly not as important as my last post which concerned composition of the starting rotation. Putting the same players in any order will cause roughly the same results.

That being said, it's time to move Andrew McCutchen back to the leadoff spot.

McCutchen batted leadoff in every one of his 108 starts last year. After the Iwamura trade management said McCutchen would stay in the leadoff spot. Nevertheless, he batted second for most of April, then hit leadoff twice before settling into the #3 hole where he's been since April 28.

The conventional wisdom is to bat your best on base guy first, your best contact guy second, your best overall hitter third, and your best slugger fourth. Using that plan would yield a lineup of McCutchen, McCutchen, McCutchen, McCutchen. Clearly something has to give.

With 31 RBI through 49 games, Garrett Jones has done enough to stay in the cleanup spot. No one expected a repeat of the .567 slugging percentage from 2009, but Jones's slugging percentage has dropped below .400. Yet he's still on a 102 RBI pace, so I see no reason to move him.

I also like Neil Walker at #2. He's had three good games so far out of four starts. I think he should start every day at second base. As I explained earlier, there's no way to build up Iwamura's trade value because he'll have awful stats at the trade deadline even if he starts hitting .300.

That leaves #1 or #3 for McCutchen. Voters in the recently completed blog poll split the decision on where he should bat with leadoff and third each receiving 38 percent of the vote. There's an unconfirmed rumor that John Russell went to a Pitt computer lab and voted from every computer while constantly changing his mind, generating the entire results of that poll.

Other than McCutchen's two starts the Pirates have used a crapfest at leadoff this year led by Iwamura (.273 OBP) and including Delwyn Young (.284 OBP), Lastings Milledge (.326), Bobby Crosby (.333), Andy LaRoche (.331) and Ronny Cedeno (.305). Every one of those on base percentages is below league average. What reason is there to start a game with a player who feels like an automatic out?

After posting a .286/.365/.471 line last year, McCutchen has improved to .314/.380/.459 so far this season. Yet this is wasted at #3 as so many of his plate appearances come with nobody on base.

Cutch has only 13 RBI this season despite having a great hitting year so far, and that is a direct result of hitting behind the above described leadoff men. This is well below even his RBI rate as a leadoff man last year, when he drove in 54 in 108 games. Predictably he's also scored fewer runs, 28 in 48 games compared to 74 in 108 last year.

So we have our best player batting in a position where he's scoring and driving in less runs despite hitting better. And of course he's also batting less often. Nobody wins. Moreover, Cutch is getting few chances to steal. After swiping 10 bags before moving to the 3 hole, he's stolen two in May since. Third is not a basestealing spot with power hitters up.

So there's nobody suited to bat leadoff other than McCutchen. Let him hit there. Let the best hitter get the most plate appearances. He was a sparkplug last year and can continue to be one.

Batting third should be Ryan Doumit. He's at .279/.365/.476 right now, credible numbers for a #3 hitter, and second on the team in both OBP and slugging. Doumit is an offensive catcher who's a defensive liability, so at least get him as many at bats as possible while he's in there. This order would put our best four hitters one through four.

Wouldn't it be better to open a game with McCutchen, Walker, Doumit, Jones rather than our most common lineup of Iwamura, LaRoche, McCutchen, Jones? Of course it would. It's time to make it happen.

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree with you on the batting order, however I would be surprised if they weren't going to bring up Tabata soon, and at that point, Tabata is probably going to bat leadoff.