The Dodgers Need a Lead-off Hitter

It shouldn’t come as a shock when I tell you that the Dodgers didn’t have a good lead-off hitter last season. Times have changed in MLB. Less and less teams are using the classic prototypical lead-off guy these days. You know the type. The little speedster that gets on base a lot, steals bases (Brett Butler was the perfect lead-off hitter) and is generally a pest for opposing clubs. Normally it’s a middle infielder and the player is usually smaller in stature. Those guys are called table setters and they can be a nightmare for other clubs. The Dodgers could have used a player like that in 2015.

Nowadays as we are smack dab in the middle of the moneyball revolution, more clubs are putting middle of the order power bats at the top of the lineup instead of using the traditional little speedsters. The point is that more clubs are less afraid to place a guy at the top of the lineup with power and little speed.

The opinion is that speed isn’t as valuable anymore, or so some clubs think that way. What is most important is that the top two guys in the lineup have high on base percentages. As long as they get on base a lot then speed can become secondary. They don’t have to steal bases. They do have to get on base and score. However a little speed is always nice. I still think speed and base running counts.

The Dodgers tried both approaches. They had a power guy and an OBP/speed guy at the top of their lineup throughout the 2015 season. Unfortunately neither of those players worked out well. The Dodgers ranked dead last in all of MLB in lead-off hitting last season. Take a look at the differences from 2014-2015.

Dodgers Lead-off hitting

2014

RK Team AB R H HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP OPS
6  Dodgers 700 109 199 5 43 46 132 61 19 .284 .333 .717

2015

RK Team AB R H HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP OPS
30  Dodgers 660 93 154 26 65 74 172 11 9 .233 .319 .745

You can see that the 2014 Dodgers had much better lead-off hitters than the 2015 Dodgers did, but the 15 Dodgers had more power and drew more walks. Even so, the 14 Dodgers still had a higher OBP. The 14 Dodgers scored 16 more runs and nearly 50 points in batting. Of course the 14 club had more stolen bases and better base running. The 2014 club also had Dee Gordon stealing 60 bases and hitting .284 which helped. There was a noticeable drop-off from 2014 to 2015.

Last season the Dodgers had two players that shared the majority of the time at the lead-off spot. Joc Pederson and veteran Jimmy Rollins were the lead-off hitters for most of the year. Neither of them ended up being a good choice. Rollins didn’t get on base enough and Joc didn’t make contact consistently enough for either of them to thrive at the top of the order.

Player AB R H XBH HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP OPS
 Rollins, J 221 31 50 19 3 15 23 46 7 3 .226 .298 .646
 Pederson, J 268 34 58 26 16 31 36 91 1 4 .216 .325 .761

Oddly enough the one guy who seemed to hit well at the top of the order was Carl Crawford. He batted .293 and posted an .853 OPS in 41 at-bats there. Otherwise nobody had more than about 30 at-bats at the lead-off spot last season. Although Kike Hernandez did go 9 for 29 (.310) as a lead-off hitter.

In 2014 the Dodgers had Dee Gordon, but the one guy that the Dodgers were batting lead-off that seemed to hit very well there was Yasiel Puig. For whatever reason when Puig batted lead-off or lead off an inning he was dynamite. If there is one guy the Dodgers need to return to form, it’s Puig.

Yasiel Puig career as a lead-off hitter

Split PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
Leadoff Inn. 283 256 90 22 1 9 9 23 46 .352 .413 .551 .964
Batting 1st 198 175 20 50 9 2 8 24 3 2 20 40 .286 .369 .497 .866

Puig might be the answer to the Dodger’s lead-off woes, then again he may not be. Maybe Kike Hernandez gets some reps there, or Howie Kendrick. No matter who gets penciled in at the top, the Dodgers need to find a reliable lead-off bat that can get on base regularly. Having a solid lead-off bat would certainly help them score more runs in 2016.

Scott Andes

Scott Andes

Scott Andes: Former Co-editor of Lasorda’s Lair. Longtime writer and Dodger fanatic

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62 thoughts on “The Dodgers Need a Lead-off Hitter

  1. Scott, in my opinion this is probably the biggest problem with the Dodgers over the past few seasons.
    Followed on from yesterday’s discussion regarding Andre Ethier, I would trade him, but only if we sign Dexter Fowler to lead off and play CF.
    Joc in LF, Puig in RF & CC off the bench or subbing to rest one of the others, while saving himself, hopefully, from fatigue & injury.
    For me that would make a huge difference to this team, & would enable us to use players in the best positions in the lineup.
    Nobody’s gonna take CC so Ethier is the most expendable although he’s one of my favourites.

    Fowler CF
    Puig RF
    Agon 1B
    Kendrick 2B
    Seagar SS
    Turner 3B
    Grandal C
    Joc CF
    Kershaw P

    Bench

    SVS
    Utley
    Kiki
    Crawford

    Much better balance

  2. Easymoney (above) — block the kids? Who are the “outfield” kids?

    Fowler will be 30 in March. He could be signed for like 3 years (tops), use him in CF or LF and let him lead off.

    Back to the Kids in the outfield. Yes, Dodgers have some lower minor league guys that might be impact players in the future, but I don’t remember any at AAA that are a Corey type almost ready to bloom on their way to The Hall.

          1. No you didn’t Bum. Im trying a few more ads to increase revenue because I’m poor and need a few extra bucks. I haven’t tinkered with the settings yet, but it basically adds links. I’ll configure it so it doesn’t put the links in your comments. Sorry for that.

          2. It screwed with me too. I immediately closed and did a full scan, came back and still thought I had some unwanted program attacking AGAIN as so many times before, searched downloads and where ever and found no problems. Then I checked other sites to see if it was elsewhere before a problem became too big and making me just shut down and wait for someone to come around who’s literate with these gadgets. I can surely understand why it’s important for you to gain more advertising, but because I’m pretty dumb it also scares me. My problems with matters like this might be solved if I just use my TV to visit. It’s smart, I’m not.

          3. Hey Quasi,

            Sorry about the ads, I turned off the links in the comments so those won’t bother you guys anymore. I’m basically using two programs for ad revenue, google adsense, and infolinks. But I promise I won’t be using anything else. I’m hoping these help defray the costs a bit for me like hosting fees and stuff like that.

          4. Well thank you Scott. Even more as the issue is more on me with my inabilities of understanding the works of computer terms. They are a great tool in so many ways, but it’s on me for not getting beyond a neanderthal level.

    1. Few people would sign Ethier to a two year $36M contract or Crawford to a 2 year $40M contract but that is different than DFAing them because they cost too much. If they are better than their replacements why would you DFA them or trade them while still paying their salary.

      An Ethier/SVS platoon in RF and a Crawford/Kike’ platoon in left will give plus offense in both left and right. And that is just one of several fall back plans should Plan A go astray.

  3. This might sound crazy but when Bonds signed on as Miami’s full time hitting coach I was thinking that he would be better suited as a special assistant and wouldn’t it be nice if Maddux and Bonds were special assistants with the Dodgers.

    Maddux will help the Dodgers pitching. I don’t know that much about Ibanez.

  4. I agree that the Dodgers haven’t had a good leadoff hitter in a few years. I disagree with the Moneyball types that the only good leadoff hitters are high OBP types – remember a few years ago when some of them suggested that base-clogging AJ Ellis lead off because of his on-base skills?

    A guy like Maury Wills changes everything. He may never hit an HR and may have a .330 OBP but he changed every game he played. All of us old enough to remember saw him manufacture runs out of nothing. Speed Kills!

    Joc didn’t run the bases well last year and he doesn’t make enough contact to lead off. There isn’t really anyone obvious to do the job. If Puig is Puig this year you don’t want to waste his power with no one on. Kendrick doesn’t have much speed (or a high OBP for that matter); either does Ethier. Crawford won’t play that much. Maybe Kike?

    This is a problem without an obvious solution.

    1. I think that Howie needs to do what the front office wanted Puig to do. They didn’t want Puig to bulk up, like he did last year, to avoid injuries, and it had nothing to do with being over weight. Puig was to built up with muscle. I think Howie is to bulked to up for baseball too. I think it makes Howie to vulnerable to injuries, and effects his speed. It might help with Howie’s range on defense too.

  5. By the way, while I’m certainly in favor of Greg Maddux having as much input into what the Dodgers’ pitchers do (and who they have pitching for that matter), it’s not immediately apparent that what the teams REALLY needs is more front office guys.

  6. I don’t remember where I read it but, Puig has put up some of his best numbers leading off. With that being the case how about these lineups. Fowler has a draft choice attached and this FO won’t sign him after losing the draft choice attached Kendrick.

    Right Handed starter
    Puig RF
    Seager SS
    Turner 3B
    Agon 1B
    Utley 2B
    Grandal C
    Ethier or Crawford LF
    Pederson CF

    Left handed starter
    Puig RF
    Seager SS
    Turner 3B
    Agon 1B
    Kendrick 2B
    Ellis C
    Van Slyke or Hernandez LF
    Hernandez or Thompson if he makes the 25 man CF

  7. Good hires. I hope both have influence.

    I’m old school with leadoff. Speed, OBP and base running skills is what is needed. Get on, get over score on a single. If your leadoff guy can’t do that, he’s not a leadoff guy. Gordon had the skill set that a guy like Maury could work with. This team? Pederson is the guy. He can get on and he can run. He needs to hit at least .250 to have a chance to get on at .380. I think he can eventually get there. This year? I don’t know. Another growth year. .235 and .350. I think that might be generous.

    1. I think the traditional lead off players, will be the thing again because steroids won’t be part of the game anymore. That is why these players that only hit HRs, walk, or strike out, are not as valued anymore. The pitchers are becoming more and more dominate again, and baseball is changing because of this. I was suprised in 2014 there was so many strike outs, and most of those strike outs were Dee, because he was in that position most of the time.

    2. Maury Wills required a Ted Sizemore in the #2 hole to be able to steal as many basis as he did. The #2 hitter will get the second most at bats in a game and he should therefore be one of the best hitters on the team. Can’t have one of the best hitters on the team taking pitches to give a runner more looks at the pitcher so that he might steal a base can you?

      If the #2 hitter is really good then he needs to swing at every pitch he likes. The lead off hitter therefore should be god at getting on base but not so good at stealing bases.

      I rest my case. Tag your are it Badger.

      1. you gotta’ be kidding. Sizemore was rookie of the year in 1968! Wills set a SB record in 1962 (Junior Gilliam batted 2nd).

        1. I look at it a bit differently Bum. First things first, put the pitcher in the stretch. That done, the threat of him running makes it likely the hitter will see more fastballs. I never took tubed fastballs and I never asked my players to do it. If the pitcher throws a get me over strike 1 fastball you drive it. As for stealing, I actually prefer the running game as first option, and that is hit and run. If your guy is Wills or Coleman, you just let him do his thing. If it’s Pederson, and the rest of our current group, I would put something on. In the old days we used to bunt him over, even in the first inning, but nobody does that anymore. The idea is to score first. However you make it happen – the goal in every inning is first and third no outs. Every hitter gets strike one to make something happen. If the count gets worked, put something on. Make things happen. Keep the defense on its heels. That’s the theory anyway.

          I believe in running. I ran. My teams ran. The other teams we played knew we were going to run and they couldn’t really stop us. I love the running game but the players have to buy into it and you need to drill it over and over, and believing in the system goes a long way in making it work. “Confidence is very sexy, don’t you think?” I don’t see this Dodger team as that kind of unit, though Roberts might could make it work with the younger players. You need a team of fundamentally sound hitters and base runners. Everybody needs to work on it, even your thumpers. That hasn’t been us. Teams give us the third base line and our guys don’t take it. This team has played for the home run and hasn’t been that successful hitting with men on. Maybe it changes this year. I’d like to see it.

          1. and this is where the Saberguys hate hitters with bat control – contact hitters like Howie Kendrick who don’t walk or strike out much but who are great at the hit and run or moving runners over – and where they are wrong. If the Dodgers had a leadoff hitter, Kendrick would be fine in the 2 hole

        2. rick, that sounded negative just to be negative. Sizemore did what I said he did beginning in 1969, not 1968, and Wills hit leadoff for 5 years that Sizemore hit second. Before Sizemore, Gilliam did for Wills what Sizemore did later so what is your point?

          My point was if the leadoff hitter is a big time base stealer, they need a guy hitting second that takes lots of pitches and that same guy will get lots of at bats without the leadoff hitter being on base. I like a #2 hitter that thumps not looks.

      2. Bum the first batter gets the most at bats, and then second and third batter. All the batters in these positons, should all be good hitters. And the lead off batter, must have more then a high OBA, because a pitcher never wants to put the lead off hitter on base. That is a cardinal sin, for pitchers. A player, with only a high OBA, is not going to be walked by a pitcher. A pitcher will pitch to a lead off batter, rather then walk them, so the lead off batter, must be able to hit, and hit for a high average. And in most cases, not all, a good hitter, with a good batting average, will also have a high OBA. This is why Players, who have only a high OBA, should not lead off. Pitchers never want to put the lead off batters on base, and they would certainly not walk a player, who is not a good hitter, even if he has a good OBA.

        1. One of the things I liked about Pete Rose was that when he came to the plate with runners on and 2 outs he did a good job of driving them in. The leadoff hitter will come to the plate with the prior hitter, the pitcher, either having had made the last out of the previous inning or having made the first or second out of the present inning. If the bottom of the order finds a way of getting on base and the pitcher can bunt a player into scoring position, it is always nice if the leadoff hitter can knock that runner in.

          Pederson can be a good leadoff hitter if he continues to get walks and does a better job of hitting wrisp. He should get walks in the leadoff spot because, unlike Juan Pierre, pitchers are not willing to groove any pitches to Joc and Joc has proven to be very good at not swinging at pitches out of the strike zone.

  8. Scott, knock yourself out with ads. They don’t bother me. If everybody knows that links on words in our comments that have links on them are put there by the system and not us, I am okay with that if it makes you money. But I don’t want anybody to think I am promoting something I am not.

  9. The Disqus comment system is a plugin that is easily installed and removed on a WordPress blog. It allows us to edit our comments, like or dislike others comments, and get an email when someone replies to our comments. It allows us to add pictures and bold letters.

    Jon Wiseman used it on his Dodger Thoughts blog and it can be seen at http://linkmeister.com/dodgers/

    Adding Disqus is like adding Maddux to the front office.

  10. The only chance this lineup has is Puig regaining his rookie season form, and if he does, he will be much better served in the 2/3/4 slot as opposed to lead off.

    We need his bat to move runners, not get on base to not be moved which I would envision happening often on this team.

    Plus, Puig lacks patience, I see lead off as a bad spot for him.

    1. The “Only” chance? Not in my opinion.

      It would be nice if Puig re-gained his rookie form, but there is a lot more to the 2016 Dodgers than Puig!

      … a lot more!

    2. Mr. Hurts, Puig has not shown that he is ready to hit wrisp but does well leading off an inning. Turner, Agon, and Kendrick have shown an ability to hit wrisp. Grandal was able to do so in the first half.

      I like this lineup: Pederson, Puig, Seager, Turner, Agon, Kendrick, Ellis, Grandal

      1. I think Puig would be fine leading off, but I wouldn’t want him to lead off, because of the reason that Scott said. We don’t want Puig putting even more pressure on his legs.

      2. Bum why do you want Joc to lead off? When Joc was moved to the lead off position, that put more pressure on him, and that was when he started to go down hill. Sometimes it looks like Joc is being to patient, and takes to many pitches, instead of hitting the best pitches, and that puts him behind on the count, and a pitcher, has the advantage with two strikes. I don’t know why, but scouts have said that Joc would not be able to steal bases in the majors, like he did in AAA, but all a player has to do, is just be smart, and even a slow player, can steal a base or two.

  11. So in modern baseball the GM is comfortable with a leadoff hitter who gets on base but doesn’t have the speed to make it to 3B in a base hit? Interesting?

    1. No. That should never happen. That guy hits 8th. Lead off man must be able to score from first on a ball in the gap. We have those guys in the system, but only a couple on the 25 man. If Pederson doesn’t win that job, we don’t have a leadoff hitter, unless we go with Crawford, and his OBP isn’t what it needs to be. The other guy that could do it will be on the bench.

      1. I might add that if the #8 hitter is slow and gets sacrificed to second by the pitcher it would be good if the leadoff hitter had gap power to drive that slower runner home. That sounds like Pederson.

        Pederson, Puig, Seager, Turner, Agon, Kendrick, Ethier, Grandal

    2. How is a leadoff batter, with only a high OBA get on base, if they can’t hit for a high average? No pitcher, is going to walk the lead off batter, especially one, without a good batting average. Who cares if they have a high OBA, if they can’t hit. A pitcher will certainly pitch to this type of batter. Most pitchers don’t want to walk the lead off hitter anyways. And a lead off hitter, that can’t hit, won’t be given a base.

      1. Pederson didn’t hit for an average and still got on base. Because of his power, he was pitched cautiously and for at least part of the season he didn’t chase. I think he can learn to be a better contact hitter, without sacrificing his power or his OBP. He doesn’t have to hit it 450′, he is strong enough to hit it 370′ without coming out of his shoes. If he becomes a better 2 strike hitter he can still be our leadoff guy. He’s one of the many if’s on this team.

        Rick, I would think a good saber guy would value speed, but I don’t know that our analysts do. OBP has been important since I was in high school. My coach used to tell us “don’t make an out half the time and we will win every game”. It’s still true. Other than minor league players and high risk pitchers, I’m not sure what it is FAZ values but the two fastest guys they’ve seen here, Gordon and Peraza, were both traded. We aren’t what I would I would call a slow team, but we aren’t fast either. As its constructed now, I don’t know we will hit and run much. Maybe. Like you said, Kendrick can hit behind a runner. Turner probably can, though I don’t recall the Mattingly Dodgers doing it much. It will be interesting to see the changes that might take place. Having witnessed over 16 months of FAZology, I still anticipate more trades. Speed? Not sure where they might find it or if they are even looking for it.

        1. I think Kendrick does best in the 5th or 6th spot which is not a hit and run spot.

          It seems to me that after Kendrick and Rollins made several base running blunders each early in the season followed by something Puig did on the base paths, plus Joc getting thrown out trying to steal a couple times, plus Bundy not knowing when to send a player home or waiting too long to make a decision, the Dodgers stopped being aggressive running the bases.

          They can do better just by being a looser team and Roberts should accomplish that.

          1. Drill baby drill. Over and over, even the veterans. Do it hundreds of times and do it right. Do it until you dream about doing it. It has to become second nature.

          2. Bum you are right about Rollins and Howie being thrown out a lot at the begining, with bad base running. And Rollins was a bad example, he got thrown out, on third more then once, making the third out. Howie is to muscular. He needs to cut that down down, because it takes away from his range and his speed. Howie looked tired at the end of the season, even though he was out for that last few weeks.

        2. Badger you are right about Pederson being able to hit for a decent average, if he forgets the HR first strategy, that someone got in his head. I read that Mattingly told Pederson to cut back on his swing with two strikes, and they say that Pederson didn’t buy into it. I bet Mattingly told him that, but didn’t help to show him. Mattingly had said that at the major league level there is no more teaching the players. But now since he went to the Marlins, he wants to teach conveniently. We really don’t know if Pederson and some of the young players, are going to hit, until the year goes along. But Pederson might be a better batter, batting in the ninth position, with the pitcher batting eighth. But I am totally with you in a running type of team, and you can still get the slower players involved through hit and run, and by just suprising the other team. And like you said, the running game opens up wholes in the defense, and rattles pitchers, as well as rattle some catchers.

          1. MJ, I like Puig starting off the season hitting 2nd and I like him using one of his big assets –speed. He shouldn’t lurch at first to try to beat out a hit, just run through the bag. Oh, and slide in a way that allows us to watch.

  12. Several people have said they hope Maddux teaches Kershaw how to pitch a great change up. I want Maddux to teach the Dodger pitching staff how to pitch the one that gets called a strike but is actually 6 inches off the plate. That one makes a nice player want to spit on the umpire.

  13. There is a 16 year old Cuban prospect that will be signed soon by somebody. He might be ready in 2019 to be a right fielder. if so, that would be quite the phenom.
    http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2015/12/lazaro-armenteros-mlb-showcase-cuban-prospect.html

    If the Dodgers were to sign Armenteros, might they be able to bundle him with Alvarez, and Mantos and after maybe involving a few other teams wind up with Moncada. Moncada would be that long term second baseman the Dodgers need. Boston now has Pedroia at second base who is 32. Moncada is his heir apparent.

  14. I don’t think a hitter using a heavy bat can not take a long hard swing and expect to get around on a fastball unless he is built like McGuire. Big bat big swing unless choked up on the bat and then have to choke up for every pitch count.

  15. From March of ’15:

    http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2015/3/25/8124365/leadoff-hitters-the-book-declining-production

    Things are changing. It might be as simple as guys like Henderson and Trout are so rare, and with league wide OBP’s trending down, teams are being forced to adjust. I’m sure the older managers don’t necessarily want to adjust, they are likely being told to.

    I still maintain that that BABIP and OBP has a direct correlation with “O-swing”, which for a hitting coach goes back to the first rule of hitting – get a good pitch to hit. In conversations regarding Dee Gordon I kept insisting that given time he would become an outstanding leadoff hitter because he had so little experience yet so much raw ability and along with that was by all accounts a coachable player. He didn’t walk much because he made contact with what he swung at. He will get better at everything. He found the home he never had here. Now, where is our next Gordon? Well, we had one possibility in Peraza, but now he’s gone. Who’s next? Who knows. Maybe it’s Micah Johnson. Maybe it’s Joc Pederson. If it’s AJ I’m gonna puke.

    Barry Bonds choked up. Tony Gwynn swung a 32.5″ bat. I also just read that bats were reduced from 2.75″ barrel to 2.61 in 2010. I didn’t know that. That would change a lot of numbers.

    1. Not sure I know the significance of the smaller barrel other than reduced number of foul tips and less pop ups/weak ground balls and more foul backs. Still got to hit the ball in the middle of the barrel plus/minus something like half an inch to get the ball out of the infield.

      I have always been surprised that more players haven’t started chocking up on the bat after seeing the success Bonds had chocking up. Same thing with Furcal’s slap bunt. Why isn’t that done more especially with so many shifts being used?

      1. I want to let the Gordon thing alone but I think it was a mistake. Not because the Dodgers didn’t get enough in return so much, that’s too subjective for now. It is because Gordon was a Dodger who came up from our system, was fun to watch on the field and in the dugout. I always liked the interplay he and Kemp enjoyed.

        I have said this a few times now that I think the reason Gordon was traded was to wind up with Kendrick because they traded Kemp and needed to replace Kemp’s bat. It seems like most here are glad Kemp is gone but I am not share that thought. Kemp passed my eye test defensively.

        I think when they almost were able to trade Ethier they should have figured out a way to get that deal done and kept Kemp and Gordon. And I might add if Puig was moretradable when Kemp was traded than Puig is now, they should have traded Puig for either a great set-up reliever or starter. Might Hammels been available if Puig were offered when the Kemp trade was made?

        Kemp would have been the RFer and both Puig and Ethier would be elsewhere thus thinning out the logjam in the outfield. Gordon would be playing second and leading off.

        FAZ might be the best thing for the Dodgers in the long run but they haven’t been everything they could have been so far IMHO.

  16. I agree with all of that. No need to go into the details, suffice to say I never would have traded Gordon. We didn’t need a second baseman. And we didn’t need a leadoff hitter. What we needed was more better pitching – in the rotation and in the bullpen. It’s possible we might still need that AND a leadoff hitter.

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