Monday, May 16, 2016

More on Mauer as a leadoff hitter

A tangent I left out of Monday's print column about the Twins batting order:

Last week, when Paul Molitor unveiled his first lineup with Joe Mauer hitting leadoff, Fox Sports North studio analyst Tim Laudner hastened to assure the public that this has nothing to do with sabermetrics.

Laudner says a lot of silly things, few of them sillier than that. Of course Mauer as a leadoff hitter is sabermetrically inspired. He gets on base and he is neither fast nor a base stealer. You can probably count on the fingers of one hand the managers in the pre-Bill James era who would put such a hitter leadoff.

It's a old-school staple of long-standing: You lead off with a speedster, and you follow him with a guy who is adept at bunting and the hit-and-run. That was sensible in the deadball era, but it hung on for decades after it stopped making sense.

In the days of Johnny Evers and Joe Tinker, those moves were practically automatic; if the first batter of an inning reached base, the next at-bat would feature a steal, a bunt or a hit-and-run. Nobody bunts in the first inning nowadays, and seldom in the first seven (not counting pitchers). You might see one true hit-and-run play in a month (not counting putting the runner in motion on a 3-2 count). So why design a lineup to maximize the opportunity to use plays you're not going to use? Because that's the way Frank Chance did it? Nonsense.

It remains remarkable how many broadcasters and writers seem threatened by this kind of change. It would be understandable if Dan Gladden was; he spent his career hitting leadoff, and I doubt that would be the case in today's game, because his on-base percentages were mediocre. He was the traditional speed merchant hitting leadoff. But Laudner ... man, this evolution in the game wouldn't have affected his playing status at all.

But it certainly isn't going away. Did you notice who Terry Francona is using as the leadoff hitter for Cleveland? Carlos Santana, who is probably slower than Mauer and nowhere near as adept a baserunner (speed and savvy being two different things). Getting on base creates runs; making outs does not. That's not just "sabermetric." It's logical.

No comments:

Post a Comment