Eric YoungMets 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 His 2013 OBP of .310 was particularly awful, and a speedster who can’t get on base is an outdated archetype of a leadoff hitter.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).

Rank Player PA OBP
1 Shin-Soo Choo 669 .432
2 Matt Carpenter 632 .398
3 Norichika Aoki 609 .367
4 Jacoby Ellsbury 636 .355
5 Ian Kinsler 443 .355
6 Jose Reyes 418 .352
7 Brett Gardner 594 .344
15 Denard Span 611 .322
16 Eric Young 564 .318
17 Michael Bourn 569 .314

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.

Rank Player PA OBP
1 Shin-Soo Choo 289 .446
2 Eric Young 234 .380
3 Jacoby Ellsbury 252 .377
4 Coco Crisp 242 .364
5 Starling Marte 232 .362
6 Norichika Aoki 259 .355
7 Nate McLouth 220 .355
8 Matt Carpenter 271 .347
9 Alejandro De Aza 295 .342
10 Desmond Jennings 200 .340

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.

13 comments on “Eric Young, Jr. is a pretty good leadoff hitter

  • Jim OMalley

    That’s an interesting piece from an offensive perspective. EY, Jr single-handedly solved much of the speed issue the Mets had at the beginning of last season. Still the question remains, where does he play though….

    • Tommy2cat

      Eric Young – I’m thinking 2nd base & shifting Daniel Murphy to 1st base. I would sign Steven Drew to 2-3 year deal & keep Tejada & Flores in ready reserve at short & 2nd as part of an infield rotation. Want to keep everyone fresh.

      But that’s me.

  • eraff

    Do you have a complete statistical Breakout–Avg/Slg/Ops for Leadoff and Non Leadoff… bases empty/runners on base?

    I suspect this will tell a story of a guy who is totally unproductive outside of Leadoff/empty bases situations.

    Editor’s Note – Please do not capitalize words in your post as it is a violation of our Comment Policy.

  • Spencer Manners

    Interesting view on EY, although then it again it means that Lagares probably isn’t playing center field in this scenario

  • Brian Joura

    This would be great if it was like minor league spring training games or Florida Instructional League contests where you could manipulate the batting order and have the same guy lead off each inning.

    But in real baseball, Young needs to be judged on his entire body of work.

  • rob

    One other thing that we can’t measure by stats is the effect of his speed. With him on base, the following hitters see more fastballs. Lets keep that in mind.

  • Name

    When not leading off an inning:
    .212/.263/.306 with .569 OPS

    Post all star break stats:
    .228/.292/.300 with .592 OPS in 297 PA.

    Looking at multiple players whose main position was leadoff, it seems like a typical leadoff hitter will bat leadoff around 35-40% of the time, which means 60-65% of the time EY is worse than Q.

  • Joe Vasile

    To slightly echo what Brian said, he needs to be judged on his full body of work. I also should remind you that the sample sizes being quoted here are far to small to make any kind of conclusive statement that Young is a great leadoff hitter.

    That all being said, the reason why you want a leadoff hitter with a high OBP is because throughout the course of a season, the leadoff batter will have more plate appearances than any other slot in the lineup, so you want someone in that spot that doesn’t give up outs. Also, a leadoff batter who reaches base more frequently sets the table for the 2-5 batters to drive him in (an ideal 1-5 puts best OBP guy 1st, best overall hitter 2nd, 5th best hitter 3rd, Best Power hitter 4th, 4th best hitter 5th. The leadoff batter, 2nd place batter and cleanup batter should be the three best hitters in the lineup). Whether it’s leading off an inning or not, you shouldn’t be giving away outs at the top of the lineup.

    Compared to Brett Gardner, Eric Young made an out 8.2% more frequently. Over the course of a 760 PA season (this is the average for the 1st spot in the lineup, obviously isn’t a realistic number for Young or anyone else on the Mets) Young would account for 20 more outs. If that doesn’t seem like much, keep in mind that that equates to 6.2 innings of outs that you’re just giving away. Using an unoptimized lineup is not likely to cost a team more than 10-15 runs per season, but there’s still no reason to just give away outs. That extra win may play a big role in the playoff picture (see 2007 and 2008).

    • Metsense

      The recent article by Brian, on how many games the top 5 outfielders on a team play, indicates that EY is going to get a fair amount of starts in 2014. The Mets don’t have a stand apart leadoff batter with a high OBP so among the roster players EY is as good as any. Ideally on a good team, EY would profile as a #7 hitter.

  • NormE

    It would seem that one of the reasons for building a case in favor of EY is that no one else on the Mets proposed 25 player roster projects as an ideal lead-off man. Lagares, Tejada, Murphy, Chris Young or d’Arnaud don’t fit the mold that TC envisions. The latter (meaning TC) may be more of a problem than the ill-suited personnel. As an example, the Yankee powerhouse of the ’50’s often used Hank Bauer as the lead-off batter. Of course, my grandmother could have batted lead-off for those teams and they still would have won. I guess my point is that TC is no Casey Stengel.
    My feeling is that EY has the most value as a late inning situational sub. The Mets should play the best eight regardless of not having a traditional lead-off hitter.

  • Rob Rogan

    You all make excellent points, and I agree with most (if not all) of it. But Young’s overall performance was outside the scope of this article. This was simply and interesting tidbit of information, acknowledged small sample size and all, hidden in all of the “Young as leadoff hitter” talk of late that I decided to explore. True leadoff performance in terms of actually leading off an inning rather than being in the number one spot in the lineup.

    I’m no fan of making him an everyday player, and certainly not at the expense of Lagares.

  • Pete

    That means that the other 33o at-bats when EY wasn’t leading off his OBP was about 250. Whether the issue is plate discipline or just trying to hard to prove himself doesn’t matter. To me he just doesn’t walk enough and probably never will.

  • Patrick Albanesius

    We could play him everyday to see how many pitchers’ ankles he breaks though.

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