Should Luis Castillo Lead Off?

From the MetsToday mail bag, a reader suggests:

Can Castillo be our leadoff man?
A high OBP. Can still steal some. And not enough power for driving runners in. Perfect for when nobody is on base.

I know the argument for him at number 2 is so that he can move the runner over. But why would Reyes ever really need to be bunted over? I imagine after a few pitches he’d already be on second (or even third). Why waste the out?

Plus, all those Reyes triples would certainly be a lot more exciting if Luis were already on first.

An interesting thought, and he does have points worth considering — particularly the last one. It WOULD be nice if someone scored when Reyes hit a first-inning triple. And you can’t argue that Castillo is an ideal leadoff hitter, assuming his OBP remains close to .400, and if he’s still healthy enough to swipe 30-35 bases.

But there are two main reasons I prefer to see Reyes at leadoff. First, because after the first inning, the leadoff spot isn’t necessarily the leadoff spot any more — unless the pitcher / #9 hitter makes the third out of a future inning. And actually, the #1 spot in the order often is an RBI opportunity, because the pitcher is called on to bunt a runner into scoring position. I like Reyes hitting with men in scoring position — he seems comfortable in that situation and the numbers support it (.291 career avg. through over 660 ABs).

Further, I don’t know that Reyes would steal as many bases from the two-hole, with David Wright hitting behind him. On the one hand, Wright might get more fastballs, but on the other hand, do you want him taking pitches to let Reyes steal second base? Probably not. And you might not want Reyes taking chances if Wright is on a hot streak and putting balls over fences.

Which brings me to my final point. No, Reyes does not need to be bunted over to second base, but he does need an opportunity to steal — and Castillo, who takes more pitches than anyone in baseball, affords him that opportunity. Plus, you don’t mind so much that Castillo isn’t swinging, because he’s not likely to smack an extra-base hit. Further, after Reyes steals second, Castillo can bunt him to third — setting up a David Wright sac fly and a 1-0 lead.

But, I still believe that the reader has something worth arguing. Post your comments below.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Anthony April 9, 2010 at 10:49 am
    Normally Luis Castillo would be a prototypical lead-off hitter based off of those attributes listed, but I agree with Joe that Jose is a better fit for that spot on the Mets. I would rather see Castillo in the 8th/9th spot to act as a 2nd lead-off hitter in the later innings in front of Jose. I also would want someone with more pop/extra base hit ability to hit in the 2-spot.

    So if Castillo is batting that low, I’d like to have Beltran in the 2 hole, getting him a couple additional at bats over the course of the season than he would hitting 4th or 5th, also allowing him to see more fastballs due to Reyes being on in front of him.

    But I doubt the Mets would do that…

  2. Mike April 9, 2010 at 11:12 am
    If you have been paying attention to the comments of MetsToday it is well known what I think about Reyes batting 2nd. Reyes is the ideal number 2 hitter in a lineup much more than he is as a third hitter. Reyes should be leadoff or number 2, no other place. Here’s why:

    It is proven that the #2 hitter comes to bat with men on base more times than any other hitter in the lineup. This is often due to a leadoff hitter with a high on base percentage or the lineup turning over. Reyes has a high OPS (avg .772, but in his two best years .833 in ’08 and .841 in ’06) and so his ability to get on base and get an extra base hit means that he can drive home a speedy leadoff hitter from first or get on base for the heart of the order.

    I feel like from the leadoff spot Reyes will get on base, somehow get to 2nd either via steal or moved over by a Castillo hit or out, and then Wright will come up and drive him home; but in this scenario we are wasting an out if Castillo gets out, or wasting a double because Reyes can make it home on a double to just about anywhere. I say let Castillo try to get on base, let Reyes go up there and be aggressive trying to get a hit that could potentially drive home Castillo from 1st or put another runner on base for Wright/Bay/Beltran to drive home.

    I am just not in favor of Castillo giving up an out to get Reyes to 2nd or third on a team that simply can’t afford to give up outs. The Mets can’t play small ball because they don’t need just one run, they need 2 or 3: the need rallies. And if Castillo is going to slap a ball to get a hit or walk than Reyes will never score after just two batters. Having the guy behind Reyes able to hit extra bases where Reyes can score from first is far superior to having to get through Castillo first to get to the high slugging hitter. I just think it is inefficient.

  3. Essential Educator April 9, 2010 at 11:43 am
    With Reyes out, I think Castillo should absolutely lead-off. When Reyes returns, Reyes should lead-off just because you want to get as many at-bats from your best hitter as possible.

    I would actually prefer to bat Wright lead-off, followed by Reyes then Bay. Like Joe said, after the first inning, the lead-off guy is not always a lead-off hitter anymore, so any power that Wright provides would not neccesarily be lost with empty bases. And Wright is the best Met at getting on base. With Reyes following Wright, I could see a lot more hit and run opportunities

  4. isuzudude April 9, 2010 at 12:26 pm
    Due to the fact that the Mets don’t have a lot of high (or even mediocre) OBP guys at the end of their lineup (Francoeur, Murphy, Barajas, Cora, etc), I don’t think the need to bat RBI guys at the top of the order is constructive for this particular team. I don’t see the 1 and 2 spots in the order coming up very often with anyone on base – and when they do, it’ll usually be after a sacrifice by the pitcher – so runners will be in scoring position. Thus, all you really need is a single to score a run, so using a power hitter in the top spots of the lineup is wasteful, in my opinion. So I would be against batting someone like Wright/Beltran first or second because their power belongs behind high OBP players.

    I also disagree with the notion that the Mets shouldn’t be manufacturing runs and instead should cross their fingers for a rally. For a team as hard-pressed to score as the Mets are, they should be taking advantage of whatever chance they have to score runs as possible. They are not built like the Yankees or Phillies, and so the mentality of waiting for the 3-run homer or the 6-run inning just isn’t plausible. The Mets are built with speed at the top of the lineup (Reyes, Castillo, Pagan, Wright), and so should be utilizing this speed by stealing bases and creating havoc on the basepaths. This is why I’m in favor of batting Reyes first and Castillo 2nd. Reyes is the team’s best base stealer, and Castillo is the team’s most patient hitter.

    Think about this: Reyes will walk or reach on a single over 100 times this season, and can steal 2nd between 35-50% of those times. All is needed is a single, or 2 sacrifices to score a run at that point. I feel as though this is a much more productive method of putting runs on the board rather than waiting for the 15 or so times Reyes hits a triple this season with Castillo on 1st base ahead of him. I’m also against telling Reyes to concentrate more on being a power hitter (at CitiField, are you nuts?) to drive in runs, and would rather him work on becoming a better OBP guy who can walk 80+ times a year while using his speed to continue to steal bases, create opportunities to advance bases, and give opposing pitchers’ more to worry about when they’re on the mound.

    Also of importance, I want Reyes getting more ABs than Castillo, and I want Reyes getting the first AB of a game for the Mets to set the tone. I don’t want Castillo getting an AB over Reyes with 2 outs in the 9th. I don’t want Castillo coming up with 2 outs and RISP over Reyes. The combination of Reyes followed by Castillo is the one that would seem to work the best with this particular team, and one I wouldn’t break up to experiment with some other lineup that only seems to be a good idea on paper and not in real life (Castillo 9th; Wright 1st; etc).

    Mike: I’m also not so sure that “It is proven that the #2 hitter comes to bat with men on base more times than any other hitter in the lineup.” If that were the case, wouldn’t #2 hitters have the most RBI of any hitter on a team, or have the most RBI chances? If these are proven statistics, please show us where we can read it for ourselves. If it were such common knowledge, why wouldn’t teams be batting their best slugger 2nd rather than 4th?

  5. Mike April 9, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    This book, aptly named “The Book,” talks about how to construct an ideal lineup. One of the premises is that a teams best hitter should hit 2nd or 4th. 2nd sees the most at bats with runners on base and 4th sees the most at bats with runners in scoring position. I’ve made posts in the comments about this before but that is the jist of what I said. I don’t know how much of it is practical but I believe that for the Mets it could be applicable. When you say “then why wouldn’t teams bat their best slugger 2nd than 4th” the answer is because too many teams don’t play percentages enough. The idea is that the 2nd hitter strictly must be able to take pitches and move runners over is way over blown. I believe a good hitter can drive in a ton of runs batting 2nd and Beltran proved this in Houston. Small sample size but he was plenty productive form the 2 hole.

  6. Paul April 9, 2010 at 3:41 pm
    Thanks for this great post. This is obviously a really important topic and I’m excited we’re discussing it. You make great points Joe. And I, like any Mets fan, LOVE to watch the Reyes of Light in action and be the team’s sparkplug.

    That said, I did some digging and I think we need to take a close look at these ACTUAL results:

    During his last healthy season in 2008, Reyes stepped to the plate with nobody on ~520 times. What did he do?

    31 doubles. 13 triples. 11 HR. 32 walks.
    55 extra base hits (a clip of >10% per PA) vs. just 32 walks (6%).

    That’s 55 extra base hits with NOBODY on. All I can say is, if Castillo were on base for even only 30% of those, we’d have 17 more runs right there. And who knows how many of the 149 singles Reyes hit with no one on would have resulted in runs with Castillo on base?

    For comparison’s sake, Castillo had 338 PA with no one on last season. What did he do?

    9 doubles. 1 triple. 0 HR. 37 walks.
    10 extra base hits (a clip of 10%!). Not much production wasted here.

    I agree that Reyes leading off sets up the 2 sac scenario quite nicely. But how often does that really “work out”?

    2008 is the perfect case study on this: Reyes led off and Wright batted third nearly the entire season. Yet, over that entire span, Wright had 11 sacrifice flies. 11.

    But in 2009, with Reyes mostly out of the lineup, as expected, Wright’s SF total went down – to 6.

    But do we really need to build a lineup around a strategy that “manufactures” only 5 or so more runs over an entire season? At the cost of 55 bases-empty extra base hits?

    As for the other comments about our rivals: when did the Phils and Yanks have monopolies on driving runs in with extra base hits? Maybe if we had Reyes doing his thing with men on base their fans would be talking about how their offenses are not as exciting as ours!

  7. Paul April 9, 2010 at 3:50 pm
    On Reyes’s stealing ability lower in the order:

    Castillo bat 2nd for 58 games in 2008. He got 12 steals in those 58 games! That projects to 33 SB over 160 games! In 2009, he had 15 SB in 86 games batting second (projects to 28 SB). If Castillo can steal 30 bases from the 2 hole, how many more could Reyes get there?

    Reyes would still wreak havoc lower in the order. Batting 2nd didn’t stop Carl Crawford from stealing 59 bases last season. And Longoria didn’t seem to mind either with 100 RBIs as a 3 hitter.

  8. Paul April 9, 2010 at 4:04 pm
    (i meant 10% walk rate for castillo in my first comment btw).

    Other results to consider (baseball reference rocks!):

    Career pitches per plate appearance:
    Wright = 3.98
    Castillo = 4.04
    Reyes will get his chances with either hitter.
    And wouldn’t Wright get more “stealable” pitches, i.e. offspeed, out of the zone stuff?

    GIDP rates:
    Reyes (2008) = 9 DP out of 102 chances (9%)
    Castillo (2009) = 15 DP out of 93 chances (16%)
    Castillo (2008) = 13 / 59 chances (22%)

    1 in 5. My goodness. Castillo is like twice as likely to negate Reyes’s leadoff hit or walk as vice versa.

    Joe, any chance for a follow up post based on our comments? Would love to hear if you have any conversations on this with your fellow bloggers, etc. I think we need to really get the community thinking about this more.

  9. Mike April 9, 2010 at 4:46 pm
    Paul, awesome posts man. I agree with what you are saying. Way to make my point better than I could.

    The two points I make are that it is better to have the leadoff man getting singles and walks exclusively than having the number 2 hitter get them and that it is stupid to put Reyes in a spot to steal more bases unless the steal directly equates to a run. I’m willing to bet more runs are scored directly from a double with a runner on first than they are directly from a steal with any sort of hit. I’m of the belief that the stolen base means nothing unless it results in a run. With two outs and a single hitter up it is a great decision. With two outs in the ninth and Bay up it is stupid *cough Wright cough*

  10. gary s. April 9, 2010 at 11:12 pm
    i’d love to see castillo bat leadoff..find a team that needs a 33 year old 2nd baseman with no range, no power, no future, bad legs and trade him to that team to bat leadoff.i can’t stand to watch this guy swing like a little girl and hit 13 bouncers to 2nd base anymore.they should have foumd a way to get rid of him in the offseason.
  11. joejanish April 10, 2010 at 8:26 pm
    Great points brought up by all (including Gary, LOL!).

    Yes I agree this deserves a follow-up post. Stay tuned.