Mets pitchers and catchers reported to Port St. Lucie yesterday, officially kicking off a new season of major league baseball. The Mets, like most teams, have several issues heading into Spring Training. One of those many issues is the team’s noted lack of an effective leadoff hitter. Terry Collins, as he’s apt to do, has agitated Mets fans by continuously declaring that Eric Young, Jr. is his preferred guy for the job.
The reason Collins is set on Young as his leadoff hitter is clearly his speed. He stole 46 bases in 2013, providing a base-stealing threat the Mets have been sorely lacking since the departure of Jose Reyes. The reason Mets fans and some of the media are questioning this is also clear, though. His career OBP of .325 is uninspiring, particularly for a leadoff hitter. His 2013 OBP of .310 was particularly awful, and a speedster who can’t get on base is an outdated archetype of a leadoff hitter. Even Collins has said that Young needs to get on base more.
This looks like an open-and-shut case, right? Further proof lies in the table below, which summarizes the 2013 OBP of players who batted first in the batting order (minimum 400 plate appearances).
Out of the 17 players that qualified, Young came in 16th with an OBP of .318. However, in the purest sense of the term “leadoff,” these numbers don’t tell the entire story. His true leadoff performance cannot be accurately judged by simply examining his career OBP or his OBP while batting in the number one spot on the lineup card.
The problem is that the term “leadoff hitter” is a bit misleading in the context of measuring leadoff performance. A player that is slotted in the first spot on the lineup card is only guaranteed to lead off one inning in a game: the first inning. He may never lead off another inning the entire game after that.
There’s a big difference between batting in the number one spot and actually leading off an inning, and Young’s .318 OBP in the leadoff spot in 2013 doesn’t reflect that. Out of his 564 plate appearances as a leadoff hitter, only 234 of them were actually to lead off an inning. When viewed in that context, Young’s performance in 2013 was quite different.
|9||Alejandro De Aza||295||.342|
Young shoots up the list to number two, behind only Shin-Soo Choo, with an OBP of .380. That’s remarkably better than his overall OBP and suggests that Young really was a better leadoff hitter in 2013 than it seemed. Much better, in fact. Of course, a single season is a small sample on which to base any conclusions. His career OBP of .362 when leading off an inning is much better than his overall career OBP, though we’re still working with a relatively small sample size of 492. For what it’s worth, he has a career OBP of .363 as the first batter of the game.
Does Young actually take a different approach when leading off an inning than when he doesn’t? It’s possible. The pitcher’s approach to him may be different depending on the situation as well. Either way, it appears as though Young’s ability to leadoff an inning may actually be underrated. Maybe Collins is on to something here.