Friday, April 15, 2011

The Leadoff Debate

Perhaps the most talked about position in the batting order is who to bat 1st. It's a battle that has raged throughout each manager's office, sports bar, and amongst the magical interwebs. Do you want a "prototypical" leadoff man - fast, steals bases, has some pop, and can get on base? Or do you prefer the Saber approach - seeing a lot of pitches, some speed, and the ability to get on base? Pretty similar theories, with much in common, the only issue that differs is the value of steals (which is for another time).

Within the hallowed grounds of NatsTown, we have our own debate going as to who should be the leadoff hitter; Ian Desmond or other. Many bloggers and twitter-ers have been calling for a shake-up at the top, most likely with Espinosa taking the reigns at the top of the order. Let's examine their credentials for leadoff, whether you prefer prototypical or saber.

First up, Ian Desmond - Career OBP .302 - 2011 OBP .212

We all know that Desmond has struggled to start the season, that's not news for anyone - so let's just write that off as a slump. Let's dig a little bit deeper

Career MiLB OBP .326 - His highest season OBP was in 2007 (His 3rd year at High-A Potomac) when he scored a .401 OBP in 97 games.

His stats for leading off the game are essentially all from this year, so let's take a look at his stats for when he leads off an inning - which isn't necessarily the same, but its something. When leading off an inning, Desmond reaches base at a .307 clip (152 PA) - about average performance.

He definitely has the potential to reach base better than he has in the Curly W, whether he can get there against the higher level pitching has yet to be see. Though he is definitely capable of reaching base more than he has since his call-up late in 2009.

Danny Espinosa - Career OBP .312 - 2011 OBP .405

SMALL SAMPLE SIZE. Ok, now that the disclaimer is out of the way let's take a look at his minor league numbers.

Career MiLB OBP .365 - His highest OBP season came in the short season New York Penn League (.476 in just 19 games SMALL SAMPLE SIZE), and his next best was also High-A Potomac (.375 in 133 games).

Espinosa struggled when leading off the game, but being a rookie call-up I am not going to hold it against him; in the interest of full disclosure he had .235 OBP in 18 games. So to properly compare, let's check out how he has done leading off the inning. In 40 PA leading off an inning, Espinosa has a .346 OBP - much higher than Ian Desmond's .307.

So, what I glean from this is that its time for a change. We aren't going to be a contender this year, we will be a middle-of-the-pack team (barring injury). It's time to tinker with the lineup.

A modest proposal - Try Espi at leadoff, move Desi to the 2-hole (where he has a .354 OBP), follow with Werth-Zim-LaRoche.



  1. Riggleman did mention that staff was considering Espinosa as a leadoff candidate about a week ago. I don't see why the Nationals wouldn't go ahead with it, since Desmond is struggling in the role.

  2. I'd make the switch to Espinosa now while Zimm is on the DL. Dropping Desmond to the 2nd spot would be less of a bruise to his ego because they can spin it as they want another capable bat at the top of the lineup.

  3. Desmond should be in the 2nd spot, last year he raked there in a limited sample. Go Espy and Desmond at the top and I think the Nats will be happy with the results.