With Bartlett back, the Rays face an interesting dilemma. Who is going to bat leadoff for the Rays going forward?
After his career 2009 season, but prior to his injury, Bartlett was the Rays' primary leadoff hitter. Since then, Rays skipper Joe Maddon has to some extent used Ben Zobrist, Sean Rodriguez, Reid Brignac, B.J. Upton, and most recently John Jaso in that lead off spot. Now that Bartlett is back who should we use going forward?
First off, I feel we should look at what we need in a leadoff hitter.
I define a leadoff hitter as someone who gets on base. Some (many, actually) will argue it has to be a fast guy who can steal bases. But I contend you can't steal first base, so unless your fast stolen base guy gets on base at a decent clip he shouldn't be leading off.
Are stolen bases a plus? Absolutely! But neither are they the sole requirement.
So we need a guy who gets on base, and it would be nice if he was fast.
What else? How about a player who sees a lot of pitches? I think that is a good requirement. Why? Well a look at one of the greatest players in the history of the game should tell us.
After coming back to the dugout at the top of every game, Dom Dimaggio (leadoff hitter for the Boston Red Sox) would often be confronted by #3 hitter Ted Williams. Williams wanted to know what the opposing pitcher was throwing that day.
It would frustrate Williams to no end if DiMaggio would get out or even on base on the first pitch, since it gave him little information about who he was about to face.
The fact is, the more pitches a leadoff hitter sees, the more information he is able to share with his teammates about how the opposing pitcher is throwing.
So with that here are the possible ways the Rays could go for lead-off with the pros and cons:
Jason Bartlett: Bartlett definitely has some speed, although it may be limited if he is still feeling the effects of his hamstring pull. On the season Bartlett is hitting .231 and getting on base at a .327 clip (.315 against right-handed pitching). That's not good for a lead-off hitter. As for pitch count, Bartlett averages 4.0 pitches per plate appearance this year.
B.J. Upton: Upton is currently hitting .239 with a slightly better .333 on base percentage (OBP). Is he fast? I would say so with over 100 stolen bases since the start of 2008. Then again, he has not been getting on base at an amazing rate lately. Plus he is drawing less than 4 pitches per plate appearance (3.8).
John Jaso: Jaso is currently hitting .283 with an amazing .404 OBP. In addition to this, he is averaging 4.0 pitches per plate appearance. The big knock on Jaso though, is that he does not have any speed - he is a "base clogger."
Sean Rodriguez/Reid Brignac: I put these two together because with Bartlett back it looks like Rodriguez and Brignac will most likely be splitting time at 2nd base. The Rays could also platoon them at leadoff. Brignac is currently hitting .302 with a .362 OBP while Rodriguez is sporting .285 batting average and a .324 on-base percentage. Both are mobile, although neither are stolen base burners. Brignac gets 4.2 pitches per PA, while Rodriguez averages 3.9.
Ben Zobrist: Zobrist is getting 4.1 pitches per plate appearance this year. He is also hitting .311 with a .379 OBP. These are clearlytsome of the best numbers of all of the options. Plus Zobrist has a built in advantage none of the others do; Zorilla is a switch-hitter. No matter what pitcher the opposing manager throws out, Ben will have the advantage, and could use up more pitchers late in a game. Plus Zobrist is no slouch on the basepaths. He is smart, gets first-to-third and 2nd-to-home well, and has 9 stolen bases this year.
I started to allude to this point with Zobrist, but you also need to look at other factors when making this decision.
If Maddon doesn't use Brignac at leadoff against right handed pitchers, he usually has him in the 9-hole. If Jaso is put lead-off in this situation, you are looking at late inning situations which would feature Brignac, Jaso, and Crawford, three straight lefties. This would allow opposing managers to maximize their bullpen by giving lefty-specialists (guys who usually will face one left-handed hitter) to go a possible full inning. Therefore putting the Rays at a disadvantage.
In order to correct this, Maddon would either have to not hit Jaso lead-off, or, if he does, make sure to put Bartlett behind Brignac in the 9 spot to break up the lefty love fest. I fear for having Rodriguez and Brignac hit lead-off because they will be platooning and thus neither would be able to get into a groove. Upton runs so hot and cold I believe he lacks the consistency to bat at the top of the order.
I honestly think the best option for the Rays is Zobrist. He works good counts, gets on base well, can run well, and is a switch-hitter.
Those are my thoughts. How about yours?