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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

 

Leading Men

I won't explain the meandering thought pattern that got me thinking about leadoff hitters. It had something to do with thoughts about the Cards lineup and a recurring thought about finding a suitable option for the #2 hole. I've often wondered about Eckstein being the #2 hitter, not that he's turning in a poor performance as our leadoff man - far from it. Eck's numbers this year in the clutch, with runners on and in scoring position, exceeded his numbers as leading hitter in an inning (see below). I guess all the talk about outfielders connected with my formative years as a baseball fan watching the Runnin' Redbirds of the 1980s, and I started thinking about the speedy, base-thieving prototypical leadoff man.

Before considering what it would be like to have another Vince "firecracker" Coleman, I thought it would be useful to take a look at what everyone's favorite Li'l Slugger produced for the Cards last season.

2005: .363 OBP, 11 SB, 8 CS, 1.32 BB/K

Somebody must have put a flag on the little guy given the caught stealing numbers, but he measures up as a leadoff man overall. Now, here's the split I referenced above.

Leading off innings: 250 AB, .244/.341/.300, 31 BB, 18 K
Runners on: 211 AB, .336/.376/.479, 14 BB, 12 K
RISP: 126 AB, .373/.420/.571, 12 BB, 7 K

That's pretty damn good. Obviously, he's not ready for the clean up spot, but the man knows there's more than one way to make an impact. He doesn't fit La Russa's mold for the #2 spot, not enough of a power threat for a manager who appreciates the demoralizing effect a homer from the second batter can have on opposing teams. In reality, Eck just can't put up the slugging percentage numbers desirable for a #2 hitter. I could see him hitting in the ninth spot in the AL though.

We can safely say that Eck's got the leadoff skeelz, even if he lacks the flashy speed. Next, I wanted to see what kind of production the Cards got out of the leadoff spot versus their NL counterparts. Below, I ran down the production each NL team got from the #1 spot. Of course, several teams lacked a regular leadoff hitter, while others just didn't have an adequate one. The runs aspect of the information below depends considerably upon the performance of the guys batting after the leadoff hitter, but the OBP is more exclusive to the individual performance of the leading men themselves.

2005 OBP and Runs for the leadoff spot by NL team, and % of total team runs scored:

PIT .368, 99, 14.6%
STL .368, 103, 12.8%
MIL .364, 104, 14.3%
ATL .356, 113, 14.7%
CIN .352, 115, 14.0%
ARI .351, 95, 13.6%
SF .351, 94, 14.5%
WAS .349, 87, 13.6%
SD .341, 97, 14.2%
LA .340, 81, 11.8%
PHI .339, 121, 15.0%
FLA .328, 107, 14.9%
HOU .317, 90, 13.0%
CHI .299, 83, 11.8%
COL .299, 96, 13.0%
NYM .294, 99, 13.6%

The Cards are tied for the top in the NL in terms of OBP from the leadoff spot, but they ranked toward the bottom in terms of the percentage of runs from the leadoff hitter as a percentage of the team's total number of runs scored. The Cubs and Dodgers, the two teams ranked lower than the Cards in percentage of runs from the #1 spot, suffered notably for the lack of a leadoff hitter. Philly, Florida, and Atlanta make up the top of the list. Each of those teams have (or had) notable speedsters at #1 and potent bats after the leadoff hitter.

As you may recall, the injuries had a notable effect on our lineup this year, taking away some of the protection from the #3 hitter, Albert Pujols, albeit slightly. Edmonds' slump and the absence of Walker and Rolen took away 3/4 of the most imposing part of the lineup that could have sent the Li'l Eck into score a few more times. I think this is the primary reason that the Cards had a lower percentage of their runs come from the leadoff spot. Please note, 103 runs is hardly cause for disappointment. If Eck were more of a base thief, that number of runs might be a little higher, but other factors might negate that line of thought too.

The bottom line, Eck is more than adequate at the leadoff spot; in fact, you can say he's pretty damn good. That's not to say a leadoff man with some speedy legs and a shift for Eck into the #2 spot would preclude success. With Rolen back, Pujols being Pujols again, and Edmonds making up a little bit of territory from last year's slump, Eck will continue to be a fine leading man, even if his performance slips just a little bit as the professional predictors are predicting. And we're right back to what comes out of the number two hole (wow, that sounds bad) as the big question for the lineup.

Tomorrow, [or you know like whenever] I'll take a comparative look at Eck against the rest of the NL's leadoff hitters.


Comments:
He'd be a good 3rd base coach after we lose Oq. to promotion.
 
I'd like to see the MLB have even more speed, like the old days.
 
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