Feb/20/12 10:44 PM Filed in: Gaby Sanchez
Caught an episode of Clubhouse Confidential on MLB Network Friday. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, it takes an analytical look at the news of the day and other topics using non-traditional stats. It’s great for fans that want to familiarize themselves with sabermetric stuff.
One of the areas they covered was leadoff hitting. In addition to discussing what type of offensive player should be leading off, host Brian Kenny pointed out some guys in the game that should be batting first and others that shouldn’t. A couple of Marlins came up. Kenny’s quote: “[Gaby] Sanchez, not Jose Reyes, is a better leadoff candidate for the Marlins this year.”
Seems odd, right? Reyes after all is a prototypical leadoff man in the eyes of most baseball fans. Not so says Clubhouse Confidential because he has too much power. According to The Book: Playing the Percentage in Baseball, a leadoff man logs 36 percent of his plate appearances with the bases empty. That figure for the No. 2 hitter increase to 44 percent. For third and fourth hitters, 48 percent and 51 percent, respectively.
Based on that, teams that have a power hitter in the leadoff spot aren’t maximizing that pop. Reyes in 2011 slugged a career high .493 thanks in part to a league-leading 16 triples. He also totaled 31 doubles and seven homers. What the show didn’t mention is even after last season Reyes’ career slugging percentage is .441, which makes him a little more palatable as a leadoff man based on the aforementioned premise.
The other big stat for leadoff men is on-base percentage, a component of which is walks. Top of the order hitters come up with no outs in 48 percent of their plate appearances.The two through four spots are 33 percent, 28 percent and 34 percent, respectively. That means a walk is as good as a hit for leadoff men. Ideally, you want your leadoff man to draw a base on balls in 10 percent or better of his plate appearances.
Although Reyes had a .384 on-base percentage in 2011, his walk rate was 7.3 percent, raising his career average to 6.9 percent. Clubhouse Confidential tells us Reyes has too much power and doesn’t walk enough to hit first. Their alternative: Sanchez.
Sanchez had a .352 on-base percentage, walked in 11.2 percent of his plate appearances and slugged .427. Again, Clubhouse Confidential didn’t take into account the numbers from his 2010 rookie season (.341 on-base, .448 slugging and 8.9 percent walk rate).
One player the show did not mention was Emilio Bonifacio, who likely will bat first this season. Bonifacio had a breakout season in 2011, reaching base at a .360 clip and walking in 9.2 percent of his plate appearances. He doesn’t hit for power, plus he is a prolific base stealer, so I was surprised Clubhouse Confidential didn’t identify him as a better leadoff candidate than either Reyes or Sanchez.
From Twitter comments I’ve received, plenty of Marlins fans aren’t sold on Bonifacio. Manager Jack McKeon really got him playing with confidence last season. Bonifacio taking half a step back in 2012 wouldn’t surprise me. His batting average on balls in play last season was .372. In 2009, his BABIP was .312 and in 2010 it was .333. Anything much higher or lower than .300 suggests that player will see a regression or a rebound.
My Opening Night batting order: Bonifacio, Reyes, Ramirez, Stanton, Morrison, Sanchez, Buck, Infante, Johnson.