The Leadoff Situation

The Rangers seem to be a team without a lead-off man these days. The departure of Ian Kinsler has left a hole in the lineup that Ron Washington clearly believes no player has yet to adequately fulfill. A factor at play in this search for a lead-off hitter is that Washington believes that if a player has success batting somewhere in order (such as 8th), then he should not be moved because then he would stop being as successful. Despite my personal disagreement with this philosophy, I will only consider each player’s statistics as a lead-off hitter.

Below I will look at some of the candidates for the job to see how they statistically stack up against one another and see if we can’t come to a conclusion as to who should be batting lead-off. The stats I will use are a standard BA/OBP/OPS split for 2014 and for a player’s career, both in the lead-off position, provided that those stats are available. I will also look at their wRC+ for 2014 and their career. (wRC+ is a measure of a players Runs Created compared to the rest of the league. For example, a wRC+ of 115 means that player created 15% more runs than the league average, while a wRC+ of 85 means that player created 15% fewer runs than the league average.) The players that I have decided to examine are Shin-Soo Choo, Michael Choice, Elvis Andrus, Leonys Martin, Daniel Robertson, and Alex Rios. (I could not find the statistics for Luis Sardinas or Rougned Odor batting lead-off. Eric Nadel did mention on a broadcast that Sardinas almost always batted lead-off in the minor leagues, while Odor frequently batted second or third.)

Let’s start off by looking at Michael Choice, who has been batting lead-off recently. In 2014, which is basically his entire career, he has managed to bat .127/.226/.164 in 62 plate appearances. His wRC+ is 7, which means that he created fewer runs than 93% of the league. It feels like Washington had Choice bat leadoff for awhile just to see if he could find a groove, but that has not happened yet, and it seems like Washington is ready to look elsewhere for his lead-off man, as Leonys Martin has batted lead-off for two consecutive games (including Sunday’s game against Seattle.)

Leonys Martin, who you may be surprised to know leads the team in batting bWAR and is third in fWAR, has a small sample size in his career when it comes to batting lead-off. He has only batted lead-off in three games in 2014 (going into Sunday’s game), and for his career, he has 142 PA and has slashed .246/.308/.331 and posted a wRC+ of 73. Those are modest numbers, but certainly not good enough to indicate that he is the long-term answer as the lead-off man.

Elvis Andrus has not batted lead-off in 2014, but has considerable experience there with 820 PA. He has done slightly better than Martin by batting .269/.340/.308 with a 76 wRC+. While it would not be a bad idea to make Elvis this team’s lead-off hitter, I think most people can agree that his value batting somewhere else in the lineup is greater than batting lead-off. Personally, I would like to see him bat at the bottom of the order, sort of like a second lead-off man.

Daniel Robertson is a guy that under normal circumstances would not be on this team’s 25-man roster, and yet he has found himself batting lead-off in 8 games for the Rangers this season. In 23 plate appearances, Robertson has posted a meager .190/.261/.238 slash and 35 wRC+. While he may have the speed to be an effective base stealer (averaging over 21 steals per season over 6 minor league seasons), at this point in his young career, he is not getting on base enough to make much use of his speed.

Alex Rios is an intriguing candidate for the lead-off role. He amassed 603 PA from 2004-2008, and posted a respectable .282/.333/.487 and 111 wRC+ in the first spot. His game reminds me of Kinsler’s in the fact that Rios is aggressive on the bases and can hit his fair share of home runs. If Kinsler, with his skill set, was able to bat lead-off for this team for years, surely Rios could do so as well. However, with this team in its current state, I think it is much more important to have Rios in the heart of the lineup protecting Adrian Beltre than batting lead-off.

Finally, let’s look at Shin-Soo Choo. Texas signed him to be their lead-off man for years to come after posting ridiculous OBP numbers in the National League. Through 215 PA as the lead-off hitter in 2014, Choo has slashed .269/.409/.404 and a 128 wRC+, which FanGraphs considers to be “excellent.” For his career, Choo has 1,345 PA as the lead-off man, and has slashed .295/.413/.471 and an astounding 149 wRC+. Choo should clearly be the lead-off man for this team, but for some reason, Washington seems to be putting a lot of weight on Choo’s recent slump and, forgetting his track record, is batting him third. Choo has been great this season (getting on base 40.9% of the time he steps up to the plate, even through his recent struggles) as well as for his entire career.

Steve Busby, the Play-By-Play TV announcer for the Rangers mentioned the other day that the plan was for Choo to bat lead-off, but due to circumstances, he cannot right now. However, Busby did not give a reason as to why he cannot. The only thing that I can think of is maybe Washington feels like with Prince Fielder and Mitch Moreland gone, he needs a reliable bat hitting third in the order. Despite that being true, I feel like Choo’s value decreases if he is not batting lead-off. It seems like Washington is grasping at straws to find the answer to his lead-off situation, but is ignoring one of the best answers in all of baseball: Shin-Soo Choo, On-Base Extraordinaire.

Hayden Smith
Hayden was born and raised in the Metroplex, and is a senior at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He is on a mission to visit all of the Major League parks in the nation, and is only 10% there. He would bring back Josh Lewin, like any real fan would.

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