As the 2018 ST season gets underway, there is some uncertainty about who will be the Mets’ leadoff batter this year. Recently, in the New York Post, sports writer Mike Puma suggested that the club could consider third baseman Todd Frazier to fill that spot in the lineup.
Frazier is a power hitter (27 HR in 2017) who strikes out a lot (125 times last year), and that is not the typical profile for a leadoff batter. He does get on base at a reasonable clip, his OBP in 2017 was .344. But his BA was only .213, below his usual average, and if he could bump that up a bit say into the .230s or higher, that would mean a boost to his OBP.
Frazier is no burner on the basepaths, but he is not a slug either. Manager Mickey Callaway considers him a good base runner since Frazier knows when to take the extra base, and he takes efficient routes from base to base. As recently as 2014 Frazier had 20 steals, a total that would be out of reach for a good part of the Mets’ likely roster.
Although traditional lineups tend to feature speedy, high OPB, and low strikeout hitters at the top of the order, other approaches have worked. The Cubs, for example, used slow-footed, high OBP power hitter Kyle Schwarber at the leadoff spot at times last season. As to the Mets, they have a history of deploying power-hitting high strikeout players at the top of the order, and it has worked out. That strategy worked successfully in their first pennant and also in their most recent pennant.
In 1969, the Mets used CF Tommie Agee as their primary leadoff hitter. Agee had been acquired from the White Sox before the 1968 season at the urging of then new Mets manager Gil Hodges. His first season was subpar, but in the 1969 pennant year Agee was a force. His slash line was .271/.342/.464, in 149 games, and he banged 26 homers that year to lead the team. He did strikeout a lot, he had 137 whiffs in 149 games in 1969. That total would be high today, and it was really high in 1969.
Despite the high K rate Agee was a terrific factor for the Mets in 1969. In the Mets’ sweep of the Braves in the NLCS, Agee batted .357 with two homers. Although his stats did fall off in the World Series, he was a one man wrecking crew in the crucial game three, played at Shea Stadium. Leading off in the bottom of the first Agee homered, giving the Mets a lead that was not relinquished. He also made two sensational catches in the outfield, possibly saving five runs with his glove in that game that became a 5-0 victory for the Mets.
In their most recent pennant winning season, 2015, the Mets again followed the power hitting leadoff batter route. Manager Terry Collins frequently used slugger Curtis Granderson atop the batting order that season. Granderson responded by putting up a slash line of .259/.364/.457 with 26 homers and 151 strikeouts. His production helped propel the Mets past the Nationals to win the Eastern Division, and the team subsequently won the pennant before falling to Kansas City in the World Series.
Frazier may not be the prototypical leadoff batter, and he may well find a home lower in the batting order. But at least until Michael Conforto returns, Frazier could be a good option hitting leadoff.