Mets Leadoff Hitter, Is It Really A Debate?

Over at Mets Today Joe Janish tries to answer the question of who should be the Mets leadoff hitter now that Jose Reyes and Angel Pagan are gone.

He looks at the players ability to get on base and their ability to maneuver around the base paths, and comes to the conclusion that the Mets might be best to go ths unconventional route and use Jason Bay because of the lack of other options. It is a very difficult question to answer and an even more compelling solution so I wanted to give my own outlook on the situation.

I took a look at the career numbers of every player who hit leadoff during the MLB games from July 1st-3rd, 2011. There was no real rhyme or reason for the dates I picked, but I wound up with the numbers of 41 different players to compare the Mets projected starting eight with.

I was actually shocked with how low the overall OBP the 41 leadoff men had.

.328 is a pretty low number on-base percentage for a leadoff hitter and as the graph shows only one of the Mets projected starters is below that number. The ironic part is that Andres Torres has the most leadoff experience of anyone on the Mets. His career OBP is only .318, but this number was greatly effected by his 2011 season where he batted only .221 with a .312 OBP. In 2009 and 2010 he posted an OBP of .343. I am going to come back to this point later on.

I also wanted to go a little new school at take a look at a sabermetric stat that theoretically is just as important to look at for a leadoff hitter as OBP is.

According to Tom Tango the average hitter should have a .340 wOBA, but the leadoff hitters from the sample averaged just a .319 wOBA. Ruben Tejada and Josh Thole were the only two Mets to fall below that number and both happened to be listed as finalists by Janish for the leadoff spot.

With wOBA as with OBP,  David Wright and Jason Bay are right at the top of the list. Janish’s proposal to use an unconventional leadoff hitter looks extremely plausible with these numbers. Both have been the Mets best and most efficient hitters at getting on base over their career and both have respectable speed. After all, as kids the best hitter always bats first and their power would not be a complete waste because they are only guaranteed to come up with the bases empty once a game.

Alden Gonzalez recently tried to point out all eight teams that made the playoffs last year had unconventional leadoff men, but looking at the list the only Corey Hart and Ian Kinsler (and maybe Derek Jeter) are truly unconventional leadoff hitters in my opinion. With that said, those two actually have a relatively similar offensive skill set to Bay and Wright. I would be lying if I said the idea didn’t intrigue me at all.

It is that only other player I’ve really mentioned in this article that I think makes that intriguing idea obsolete.

Neither Bay or Wright have experience at hitting leadoff. For me that is a big deal. It is not so easy to spontaneously change the approach you have used your whole career and start setting the tone at the beginning of a game by watching more pitches than you are used to instead of jumping on the first good pitch you see. Add in the fact that you have two veteran players who have been shaky (to put it kindly) the last few years and I think this is the type of change that can only do more harm than good.

The only player who really has logged a significant amount of  hitting leadoff in the majors is the guy who the Mets got back for Angel Pagan—Andres Torres.

As I spoke about earlier Torres’s OBP dropped by .030 points last year fueled by a .050 point drop off in his batting average. The cause for the drop off in his average? Well looking at the numbers it seems like his achilles injury could have had a big part to do with it.

For his career his numbers have been equal hitting from either side of the plate. When he injured his left foot (his plant foot) in 2011 his numbers from the right side dropped off dramatically, while from the left side he only had a marginally small drop off in power. The injury looks to have caused him an inability to drive the ball with authority, which is why his line drive rate fell and consequently his BABIP.

Normally I am not a huge believer in BABIP being a tremendously reliable stat to look at, but Torres slightly improved his walk rate in 2011 and didn’t have any significant increase in strikeouts, so other than the injury being a contributing factor to a lack of power I do not see an obvious reason for his poor season.

Without Reyes the Mets have no perfect leadoff man. What they do have is a man who hit leadoff for a team that won the World Series. He is an aging player yes, but he has patience and is easily the fastest man in the Mets starting eight. Janish made a compelling case to go the unconventional route, but he left Torres out of his argument and that is why I don’t think is much of a debate. As long as Torres was able to heal 100 percent over the off-season and can produce in 2012 like he did in 2009 and 2010, then the leadoff position won’t be a major concern for the Mets in 2012 at least.