Ludicrous? Idiotic? Maybe. If empirical analysis has taught us anything over the past few decades, it’s to question the convention. David Wright is the quintessential three-hole hitter. He shows patience, power and speed. However those are all the same attributes that Mike Trout displayed as a successful leadoff man for the Los Angeles Angels in 2012. Trout hit mainly in the third and second spot in the 2013 lineup because the Angels had other leadoff options, most prominently J.B. Shuck and Erick Aybar. The Mets don’t have that luxury, so they have to put the best option in position to start each game.
If we eschew the old statement that your leadoff man needs speed primarily, then you are left with present day thinking that on-base percentage is paramount. Wright’s .390 OBP in 2013 was far and away the best on the team. However, if we keep in mind that speed at the top of the lineup is important, than you are left with a few additional options. Eric Young, Jr. had 38 steals with the Mets, Daniel Murphy was second with 23, and Wright was third with 17. If you want both speed and OBP above .320, then you are left with just Wright again.
The biggest question the Mets face if Wright bats leadoff is who then hits behind him? You want somebody in the two-hole who can handle the bat well enough to slap one the opposite way, lay down a bunt, or draw a walk. Daniel Murphy is a high-average hitter with some recently discovered pop and speed, although his recent dips in average and OBP are slightly concerning. He can either bat second or third, as he done much of both over recent years. Seeing as how the other legitimate options to bat third are sketchy at best, and Murphy should be encouraged to hit for more power rather than soft ducks to right field, let’s put him third.
Travis d’Arnaud could be a possibility for hitting second then. The projections for d’Arnaud’s 2014 are not overly positive. However, just a passing glance at his minor league numbers suggests he will become the hitter scouts saw, rather than the .202/.286/263 dud we witnessed last year in limited playing time. He should at least be able to provide a .330-.350 OBP, and that seems acceptable while hitting second between the two best hitters on the team. Throw in some power potential while we’re at it, and d’Arnaud has a real chance to shine in the two spot.
So we have Wright, d’Arnaud, Murphy. Curtis Granderson can stay hitting fourth, and then you have basically the same problems you had before. Is it Ike Davis or Lucas Duda playing that day, and can you trust either to hit fifth? If Chris Young resurges, is he enough protection for Granderson? We don’t know what we’re getting from Ruben Tejada or Juan Lagares offensively, so they were most likely going to hit low in the order anyway. Eric Young, Jr. is not a leadoff type at present, unless he shows an on-base percentage he’s never done before, but don’t hold your breath on that. So why is a lineup of Wright, d’Arnaud, Murphy, Granderson, Young, Davis/Duda, Lagares, Tejada, pitcher so crazy?
According to empirical data, it’s not. Wright led the team in triples last year, and was second only to Marlon Byrd in doubles. Wright is probably not going to hit 30 homeruns ever again, so he shouldn’t be put into a position to try. Rather his strongest asset, his OBP, should be used to the greatest advantage of the team. Earlier this winter the idea of Duda hitting leadoff caught some positive feedback because of his .352 OBP, despite the fact that it was only .329 the previous year. Even though he has no speed to speak of, some still said he was a better fit than a speedy Young, Jr. who wouldn’t get on base enough. Is Wright not the best of both worlds?
Talking about Wright hitting leadoff is not comfortable, and that’s understandable. He has been nearly a sure-thing hitting third for many years, so why change it now. However, if he is the best hitter on the team it makes sense for him to have as many ABs as possible. Just last year Robinson Cano was asked to hit second for the New York Yankees, and he still put up prolific numbers there. Additionally, in the event that the bottom of the order does get something going, you would then have your best average/OBP man on deck to clear the bases. If later in the season someone else shows they are capable of handling leadoff, then it’s a simple matter of putting Wright back into the three-hole.
The more I think about it, the more I actually like this idea. This is probably never going to happen, but it could be worth a shot early in the season. Or maybe I’m just a ludicrous idiot.