Amed Rosario and batting the fast guy first

They’re running a poll on MetsBlog about who the team’s leadoff hitter should be. The good news is that Brandon Nimmo is the overwhelming favorite, garnering over 80% of the votes among the three candidates. The bad news is that Amed Rosario is listed as one of the options.

It’s disappointing that in 2020, people still cling to the belief that guys who run fast and can steal bases are best utilized as a leadoff hitter. There are things upon which reasonable people can disagree. How best to utilize Jeff McNeil – the other leadoff option in the MetsBlog poll – chief among them with the current Mets. But the idea that a fast guy automatically makes a good leadoff hitter is simply not one of these debate topics.

If you were going to create the perfect leadoff hitter, he would get on base, have great speed and be able to hit the ball out of the park. Someone like 1969 Tommie Agee. But somewhere along the way, the ideal became bastardized into batting your fastest guy first. And it sounds great in theory because the fast guy can turn singles into being on second base with a steal. But the reality is that you’re better off with a slow guy who gets on base compared to a burner with a poor OBP.

Back in 2013, the Mets picked up Eric Young Jr. during the season and he gave the club something it didn’t have very much of at the time – speed. In 91 games with the Mets that year, Young swiped 38 bases. He was a fun guy to watch play and that speed and excitement led a lot of people to clamor for him to bat leadoff. And we see the same thing now with Rosario.

Unlike today, where the Mets have far superior options for the first spot in the order, the 2014 Mets didn’t have a slam dunk to bat leadoff. That fact still didn’t make batting Young first a good idea. Young had a .318 OBP for the Mets in 2013, better than the .290 mark he had with the Rockies in the first part of the year and right in line with his career .325 OBP at the time.

That offseason we looked at the issue of leadoff hitters with a low OBP (.330 and below) and high steals (40 or more) and compared them to guys with a high OBP (.350 and above) and 10 or fewer SB. Here’s what was found:

The hi-steals/low OBP group has just three players who scored over 100 runs in a year while the lo-steals/hi OBP have 54 seasons of 100 or more runs scored. Jack Tobin scored 132 runs in 1921 when he had a .396 OBP and 7 SB. Pete Rose had 130 runs in 1976 when he had a .404 OBP and 9 SB. Meanwhile, the best runs scored total for the hi-SB/low-OBP group was the 112 scored by Lou Brock in 1967 when he swiped 52 bases and had a .329 OBP.

In 2005, Jose Reyes had 733 PA and stole 60 bases. He also had a .300 OBP and only scored 99 runs. Overall, there have been 20 times in Mets history where a player scored at least 100 runs in a season. Only twice did those come with an OBP under .350 – Howard Johnson in 1991 (.342) and Agee in 1970 (.344). Reyes scored 100 or more runs as a Met three times and he had an OBP of at least .350 in each of those seasons.

In 1979, Frank Taveras had 680 PA, swiped 42 bases, had a .301 OBP and scored 89 runs. In 1983 Mookie Wilson had 663 PA, swiped 54 bases, had a .300 OBP and scored 91 runs. They’ve never employed a full-time leadoff hitter with good OBP skills and little speed. The best example is probably 2015 Curtis Granderson, who had 636 PA as a leadoff hitter and scored 93 runs with 8 SB. Granderson was no burner at this point in his career but he had more speed than his SB totals would indicate. In 1973, Wayne Garrett led off 80 times, had 1 SB and 53 runs scored thanks to a .363 OBP.

The Wilson/Garrett comparison stands out. Wilson had several years right around the 1983 numbers quoted above, as his speed made everyone think that he was the ideal leadoff man. Garrett had a grand total of 107 starts as a leadoff hitter after 1973. Just imagine how different the Mets’ fortunes would have been if after the 1969 season, someone had whispered to the powers that be that the Mets should just install Garrett as their full-time third baseman and bat him leadoff against RHP. If nothing else, it would have meant 1,000 fewer PA with Bud Harrelson and his .312 OBP batting first.

You put Nimmo and his lifetime .387 OBP in the leadoff spot for a 162-game season and he’s got a shot to challenge Carlos Beltran’s franchise record of 127 runs. You put Rosario and his lifetime .305 OBP in the leadoff spot and he has a chance to challenge 2005 Reyes. Sure, the hope/expectation is that Rosario improves upon last year’s career-best .323 OBP. But is that any different than the hope/expectation that Nimmo improves upon his injury-plagued 2019 OBP? Why on earth would you sacrifice 50 points of OBP and 20 runs in the leadoff spot?

In 2014, Young played 100 games, swiped 30 bases, had a .299 OBP and scored 48 runs.

12 comments for “Amed Rosario and batting the fast guy first

  1. TJ
    June 25, 2020 at 2:26 pm

    Rosario shouldn’t be anywhere near the top of the lineup vs RHP. However, it looks like he put up a .360 OBP vs LHP last year. If he can continue that trend and build on it, he should be considered vs. lefties.

    • Rae
      June 25, 2020 at 10:51 pm

      McNeil bats first, Alonso second, Conforto third, Davis 4th and I’d have him play 2B, Cano is the DH and bats 5th, Ramos bats 6th and catches, Nimmo hits 7th, and plays LF, Marisnick bats 8th and plays CF, Rosario bats 9th plays SS and hits righty. This is a good option for the Mets nearly everyday lineup in my opinion. You can even have Guillorme play SS on occasion and bat 9th when Rosario needs a break plus Guillorme is a lefty hitter.

      • Bob P
        June 26, 2020 at 7:55 am

        You’d have Cano and Davis in the lineup with Cano as DH and Davis at 2nd? Davis has never played 2nd.

  2. Chris F
    June 25, 2020 at 4:46 pm

    Batting Rosario 1st is a mistake. Im really shocked that anyone would think *speed* would be the one tool to put at the top of the order. Getting on base and being a player with good baseball instincts is the best thing.

    I like McNeil in leadoff. I still dont believe in Nimmo.

  3. Eraff
    June 25, 2020 at 6:24 pm

    I’d bat him 7th in an NL Lineup…. give him a chance to stay aggressive with some runners on base. Let him swing the bat. Plus, maybe he steals a skinny run or two with his speed, later in the order.

  4. Metsense
    June 25, 2020 at 7:38 pm

    Nimmo has a career OBP of .368 vs LHP whereas Rosario has a .337. In 2019, an off year for Nimmo, he had an .490 OBP vs LHP whereas Rosario had a .360. Nimmo should bat leadoff because he is an on base machine. With the advent of the DH, Rosario’s speed would be best utilized in the sixth spot and followed by slower player such as Cespedes, Cano, Ramos or Davis. Rosario’s speed would be used to take an extra base on a hit as well stealing to set up a scoring opportunity .

  5. JImO
    June 25, 2020 at 10:05 pm

    Heck…lets bat Nimmo first and Rosario second. Issue resolved.

  6. June 26, 2020 at 8:01 am

    Nimmo 1st, McNeil 2nd, Alonso 3rd, Conforto 4th, and Cespedes 5th, any combo of Cano, Davis / Smith, Rosario and Wilson, 6-9.

    Mets will hit. Mets will pitch. Can these Mets play defense, save games with that bullpen ? They better if they want to win like 35 times in this shortened, sad asterisk season. I hope it is at least an entertaining season. What else could we fans ask for at this point..?

  7. TexasGusCC
    June 26, 2020 at 10:59 am

    As I recall, the better teams had fast and OBP batting first. The reason was to get more fastballs for the better hitters in your lineup. I like Rosario first, Nimmo second and McNeil third. I think that sets up the lineup well and then you have the biggest bats 4-6. Nimmo at #2 would create alot of pressure on the pitcher to deal with two headaches: an OBP patient hitter while dealing with one of the fastest players in baseball on first. McNeil actually walks as much as Rosario does anyway. McNeil has 35 walks last season and Rosario had 31 in 40 more plate appearances.

  8. NYM6986
    June 28, 2020 at 9:10 am

    If the goal is to get on base and set others up to knock you in, McNeil has the BA to do so. He’s no burner but he’s gots smarts, a good eye at the plate, will take the extra base and change the way the pitchers pitch to subsequent batters. The best comment above was about their questionable fielding. No all star fielders anywhere unless you count Jake when he is on the mound. Now if Cespedes can play and the lineup stretches out, they will score plenty of runs. That was the Yankees formula for many years and we still have better pitchers than they did or do have. What’s it gonna take to make the playoffs 33-35 wins? Anything is possible.

  9. Daniel Zurcher
    June 28, 2020 at 4:45 pm

    I agree with most others I am gambling again on Nimmo to lead off. My line up looks something like this:

    Against Righties:
    1. Nimmo (CF), 2. McNeil (3B), 3. Alonzo (1B), 4. Conforto (RF), 5. Cespedes (DH/LF), 6. Cano, 7. Davis/Smith (DH/LF), 8. Ramos (C), 9. Rosario (SS)

    Against Lefties
    1. Nimmo (LF), 2. McNeil (2B), 3. Alonzo (1B), 4. Cespesdes (DH), 5. Conforto (RF), 6. Davis (3B), 7.Ramos (C), Rossario (SS), Marisnick (CF)

    I don’t know if you can do it this way everytime, can you sit Cano against all lefties, last year his .280 OBP, not that Marisnicks .289 OBP is anything to shout about I am hopeful his play in Center would be better than Cano’s at second. I could be wrong.

    Is Cespedes even able to play around in the outfield? Is it better to have Davis at 3rd or Cano at 2nd, knowing McNeil is probably better than either at both at this stage. How do you get Smith and Davis enough AB’s?

    Fun questions that we can armchair GM about.

  10. TRS86
    June 30, 2020 at 5:08 pm

    Great article, I think the Nimmo bias is much deeper than just he’s not fast. There’s a lot of dynamics in the discussion. Some are still concerned over BA, some are still placing too much emphasis on K’s, some don’t like him because he’s a symbol of Alderson or moneyball, and some don’t like him for other reasons.

    There’s no doubt, if Nimmo is part of this team, he’s most valuable as a leadoff hitter.

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