Unconventional thinking: David Wright batting leadoff

David WrightLudicrous? 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.

12 comments for “Unconventional thinking: David Wright batting leadoff

  1. eraff
    February 19, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    AL Lineups tend to be less constrictive and role driven with the DH— the Pitching strategy to the 7/8/9 spots is much less situational—the #1 Hitter has more RBI Capacity.

    Anyone with a Statistical breakout on #1 Hitters leading off innings in the NL versus AL? How about AL hitters hitting with runners on base/RISP versus NL.

  2. Name
    February 19, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    Anything to keep EY out of the lineup I’m open to. Not sure what others see in him.

  3. LGNYM
    February 19, 2014 at 4:54 pm

    Wright would be a great leadoff hitter. I don’t think that’s a question. He’d probably be the best leadoff hitter in the game if he was put there (assuming Trout doesn’t hit leadoff again).

    But he’d also be the Mets best #2 hitter, best #3 hitter, best #4 hitter, best #5 hitter, etc.
    So the question is which spot is most valuable? Most teams don’t hit their best hitter 1st because of the belief that other spots are more valuable. Conventional wisdom is that the best hitter hits 3rd…a spot that allows him to be both a “table setter” and in position to drive in runs. However, some recent studies have shown that the 2, 4, and 1 spots are more important than the #3 due primarily to the #3 hitter hitting frequently with 2 out and nobody on base.

    If I were in charge and thinking about moving Wright out of the 3rd spot, I’d probably be more inclined to hit him 2nd than 1st. That way he’d still be getting a good number of AB, and we’d still be able to bump a bad hitter out of the top spots in the lineup, but he’d also have a better shot at hitting with a runner on than hitting 1st would allow him. Maybe hit Murph 1st against RHP and either CY or Tejada 1st against LHP.

  4. DED
    February 19, 2014 at 5:26 pm

    Bobby Bragan.

    Bragan is remembered, if at all, as a baseball manager of medium success during the 1960’s; or possibly as the third string catcher who stood up to Branch Rickey as he was about to promote Jackie Robinson (Bragan later recanted his prejudiced stance of that day).

    What I remember is being a kid in the stacks of the Chattanooga Public library, reading a magazine article he had written several years earlier. Bragan was no Bill James; he didn’t take an exhaustive analytical approach to things. But he sure was willing to think outside the box.

    One of his little ideas was that players weren’t stealing third base often enough, citing the fact that Willie Mays had taken third the previous year thirteen-odd times without being thrown out even once. And he said that if he managed Mays he would hit him leadoff, figuring that the extra At Bats would outweigh the relative lack of baserunners.

    Bragan got his chance a few years later with the 1966 Braves. He batted Felipe Alou leadoff all year, and despite his free swinging ways it would be hard to call the experiment anything other than a success; Alou hit over 200 hits, over 30 home runs, scored over 120 times. Of course those Braves had a mite more power than these Mets.

    I would go for another such experiment. It might be fun.

    • Jerry Grote
      February 19, 2014 at 10:52 pm

      Props to anybody recalling Bobby Bragan.

      66 Braves … stacked lineup. Torre … at 25, he was Berra and Carter all rolled into one. 36/100+/.300/.943

  5. Chris F
    February 19, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    I think it is always a plus to be analyzing the best arrangements for producing the most out of a line up. I applaud your sense of solving the 1 hole with some creative thinking. My question is whether you can take the numbers he has accumulated in the 3 hole and project them to 1. I suspect not. If I were to look at maximizing, I’s be looking to move Murph to lead off. Sure he’s been hitting 2 for a while, but I let him slap the ball around, take good ABs, and let him develop the speed thread he seems to be cultivating after swiping 23 bags. In 27 Abs last year he registered a .296 avg, .333 OBP, and .814 OPS. I let Grandy be Grandy, and bat 2nd, then let Wright be Wright and bat 3rd. In those cases, that makes the most of the talents and comfort each has. Yes, it means we are missing power in the line up still, but is that really news? Grandy only has 19 ABs in the last 3 years from clean up. I am afraid in trying to be something he is not, that his potential drops. I hope Im wrong. What this continues to show is that the Alderson plan is not optimizing his acquisitions, and in fact is leaving holes in some places (1b, SS, clean up hitter) while doubling up and creating unnecessary problems elsewhere (OF, 2 hole hitter). Im not sure there is an easy answer outside of EY Jr bunting every AB…maybe he can steal first!!!!

    • Metsense
      February 20, 2014 at 8:04 am

      Chris, perfect summary of the Alderson winter of acquisitions and spending. I believe so much more could have been done.
      The best hitter on the team is supposed to bat cleanup as that spot in the order has the most opportunities to drive in runs. That should be Wright’s spot except the other players don’t profile well for the other batting positions when Wright bats 4th. Yes Chris, where was the planning? There are still more holes on the Mets than at Dunkin’ Donuts.

  6. TexasGusCC
    February 20, 2014 at 12:06 am

    How many times is he going to drive in the #8 and Pitcher? Who will drive Wright in?

    Have any of you bothered to realize how many #3 hitters are in the league leaders in scoring, while also driving in 85 – 100 runs? Why is everybody looking to re-invent the wheel? Have people been generally stupid for 100 years and some saber geniuses will now straighten it all out for us?

  7. Nebba
    February 20, 2014 at 10:17 am

    Yeah, I gotta agree with TexasGus. You don’t want your best run producer hitting behind the 8 hole and the pitcher. You want to optimize your 1 and 2 hole to set up your best run producer, who, btw, is making 20 million a year to produce runs.

    Nothing wrong with examining it’s possible attributes. It just inverts the whole dynamic of your lineup. I think TC would be axed in 5 minutes,

  8. Raff
    February 20, 2014 at 11:54 am

    The thinking is unconventional for a reason. It ends up costing production. I hate the idea of Wright being stuck behind 7,8, & 9(pitcher) in bating order which looks to have challenges at the bottom of the order. I hate to generalize from a small sampling of stats- but just to explore the issue- I looked up some players we would all recognize- Ellsbury and Ortiz, from 2013 Red Sox and David Wrighty from 2012 Mets. I do this to 1) Get an idea of the frequency of actual lead off at bats for a “lead-off hitter”, and I utilize Ortiz’ stats and Wright’s stats, just to see if there is some great anomaly which is out of whack. So- Ellsbury Led off every game he played (134)for the redsox in 2013- and he actually led-off a total of 252 times over the course of the season in various innings including the 1st. in 2103 Ortiz played in 137 games and led off an inning in 130 times. In 2102, David Wright,in 156 games, primarily batting 3rd in the lineup (147 /156 games). Wright led off an inning 124 times (never the first inning, of ). Interesting Stats #1> In 2102- David writght garnered 24 of his total 93 Rbi’s In the first inning of Mets 2012 year,batting in his usual 3rd spot in the order in 147 Plate appearances—- # 2) Wright led off an inning 124 times in 2012- and he Garnered 4 RBI’s in those 120 plate appearances SO – In total- Wright had 4 rbi’s in 124 (3.3%) PA’s leading off an inning, and he had 89 Ribi’s in the other 500 (18.9%), and in the 1st inning alone, he had 24 RBI’s in just 147 (16.3%) Plate Appearances. #3- Just as a reality check- In 600PA’s in 2013- Ortiz had 9Rbi’s in his total of 130 PA’s leading off an inning (7%), and he had 94 RBI’s in his remaining 470 PA’s (20% rate)… So, anyway you slice it, leading off is going to reduce opportunities to produce runs, due to getting up twice as many times with the bases empty (leading off an inning), and with the additional factor that the remaining 60% of the PA’s will come hitting behind the 7-8-9 slots.. THis would have to cost Wright 40 Rbi’s…minimally

    • Jerry Grote
      February 20, 2014 at 12:37 pm

      Interesting, that Ellsbury got those 120 ABs with bases empty/0 outs.

      End of the day, the comp to David Ortiz and Wright is off. David bats 3rd, Ortiz 4th, and the difference is huge.

      That said, I don’t have a problem so much with the “run producer” getting up 1st or 3rd. Just so long as he is slated somewhere between 1 and 3.

      ABs. It’s all about exposing David to as many ABs as you can, without running him out of gas.

  9. Raff
    February 20, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    Jerry Grote— The point wasn’t to compare Ortiz to Wright— Just a “known-commodity” to give me a way of knowing if something about the stats was wildly “off”. The point though is that your leadoff hitter will lead off something a bit less than twice per game, on average, and the following hitters in the lineup will lead off something close once per game on average. In a year with 600 plate appearances- the split for a “leadoff Hitter” might be 250 PA’s leading off an inning with other 350 PA’s in other slots throughout the game. SO- You take a guy like Wright and you add another 115-130 additional at bats leading off an inning, with nobody on base, by definition- and that diminishes opportunities to drive in runs. Just look at the stats I presented above— they’re “directionally” the same for both “sluggers” I presented… Very low RBI results in situations where they were leading off an inning, and much higher rbi results when they were not leading off an inning… FOr each 100 rbi guy the number was something between a 25-30 Rbi loss. Secondly, there’s further “downdraft” in the approach- That being that at all other points in the game, other than inning one, you would have Wright hitting behind #7, 8, & 9 (the pitcher)… Versus his traditional spot in the lineup, hitting behind #1 and # 2… Opposing pitchers are going to have increasing opportunity to just pitch around him, or in any event, face him many more times with many less runners on base or in scoring position. Makes no sense.

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