Mets Spring Training Question 15: Who Will Lead Off?

With 15 days before pitchers and Molinas report, we examine Mets question #15: who is going to bat leadoff?

From 2005 to 2011, Jose Reyes was the Mets’ leadoff batter – when he wasn’t on the disabled list. But when healthy, there was never a question of who should be at the top of the lineup.

When Reyes was injured, there still wasn’t too much of a question as to the #1 hitter – Angel Pagan more or less established himself as the Mets’ “backup” leadoff guy.

Over this past offseason, however, both Reyes and Pagan left, leaving the Mets with a big, gaping hole at what is arguably the most important position in the lineup. Disagree on its importance? Well here’s how I see it: the leadoff batter gets more at-bats than anyone else, ergo he should be your team’s best offensive player in terms of getting on base and scoring. You do want your best player getting the most opportunities to do damage, right?

That said, it might make sense for the Mets to have an “unconventional” leadoff hitter — i.e., someone who is not normally thought of as a leadoff guy. Hmm … actually, the Mets will HAVE TO put someone like that up there, since I don’t see anyone on the current 40-man roster who screams “leadoff hitter”.

If we go with the thought that a high-OBP, run-scoring machine should be at the top of the lineup, then we’ll start with the batters who have the potential to put up the highest OBPs:

David Wright
Ike Davis
Lucas Duda
Daniel Murphy
Ruben Tejada
Josh Thole
Jason Bay

We can quibble over the order, but basically, I am guessing that these seven men have the best chance of getting on base at least 35% of the time in 2012 — and I think that a .350 OBP is the minimum required for a leadoff hitter (again, we can quibble on that opinion). Wright is at the top of the list because even in a bad year, he’s going to get on base around 35% of the time. In a typical D-Wright year, it’s going to be closer to 40%. You may be wondering why Bay is on the list at all, after his two horrid seasons as a Met. Because like Wright, Bay has historically thrown up OBPs in the .350 – .400 range; last year was only the second time in his career he was below .340. Sure, he may continue to trend down, but he’s also been .350 or above enough in the past to make me believe there is still potential in that department.

Because getting on base is only half the story — one needs to move himself around the bases to score — let’s rank these seven players by their baserunning skills, with the fastest and smartest at the top:

1. David Wright
2. Jason Bay
3. Josh Thole
4. Ruben Tejada
5. Daniel Murphy
6. Lucas Duda
7. Ike Davis

None of the above players will challenge for a basestealing crown — but that’s OK, a leadoff batter doesn’t necessarily have to steal bases in order to be productive on the basepaths. The problem, however, is that after Bay there is a decent dropoff in terms of foot speed, and after Tejada there is a significant slide in all-around baserunning. Murphy is a hustler but has below-average that likely will be worse after yet another serious leg injury — and, he’s not exactly described as a “smart” runner. Duda and Davis are clodhopping station-to-station guys — which is OK, since they’re both sluggers more suited to the middle of the lineup.

Looking at the overall picture, Wright, Bay, Thole, and Tejada are the best leadoff candidates. However, I’m not sure you want Wright so high up in the order, particularly if you believe he’ll get back to hitting 20-30 HR. This is where it gets tricky, because in Bay, Thole, and Tejada you have huge question marks. Personally, I don’t believe that Thole and Tejada are going to get on base as often as they did last year; I could be wrong, but I believe they both will slip down to around .330 OBP. Even if Thole or Tejada can get on base at a 35% clip, neither is particularly fast; they’re average on the bases at best. As crazy as it sounds, Bay might be a better option — IF he can get back to being a .370 OBP guy. However, that’s a huge “if”, and most believe he’ll keep slipping into oblivion. There’s the other argument that if Bay can be an offensive force again, it makes sense to have him in a run-producing role lower in the lineup.

No matter which way you slice it, there is a big question mark at the top of the lineup. What say you? Who do you think will come out of spring training as the Mets leadoff batter, and why? Explain in the comments.

11-12 Offseason

About the Author

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.

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