I have a special kind of respect for a good leadoff hitter. I think this stems from the fact that ever since I started playing tee ball at the age of seven, I knew I wasn’t a power hitter. I was short then and am short now (barely 5’6). But I always had a knack for getting on base. In tee ball, I’d always make sure to hit the ball to third, knowing that 99% of kids that age couldn’t throw the ball across the diamond. A year later during my first season of live-pitch baseball, my coach made me bunt most of the time, which I hated doing but also knew worked because no eight-year old really practiced fielding bunts. And for the rest of my baseball career, I walked. A lot. I always had a small strike zone and I took advantage, knowing that I never was big enough to hit that homerun. I took some pride in this self-awareness though I never deluded myself into thinking that this mundane skill would ever receive much attention or praise. But I wanted to give the team a chance to score some runs.
So it seems odd to me looking at the Diamondbacks-Cubs matchup and seeing Chris Young and Alfonso Soriano atop their respective batting orders. They may be able to steal some bases but neither are good candidates to be in that spot.
Taking into account all plate-appearances in the regular season, Major League hitters in 2007 batted .268 and got on base at a .336 clip (this is including pitchers batting, mind you). Soriano hit a well-above average .299, but barely reached the MLB average in OBP (he had a .337). It’s even worse for Chris Young, who batted a pretty pathetic .237 and had an even uglier OBP of .295. These guys don’t seem to have any business batting leadoff for division champs facing off in the playoffs.
So why are they?
Despite their lack of patience at the plate, both Soriano and Young are candidates to join the 30-30 club in 2008. Young fell three SBs shy (hit 32 dingers) in 2007 while Soriano hit 33 HRs but still failed to meet fantasy owners’ expectations by swiping only 19 bags, probably due to an early season hamstring injury combined with his quad injury in August. And for some reason, this becomes the first bulletpoint in the resume for those applying to become a leadoff hitter (yeah, I’m still looking at you, Jimmy Rollins). I simply don’t see the benefit of having a leadoff hitter who cannot get on base at a decent clip. And funny enough, it’s not like either the Cubs and DBacks have so many prolific power hitters that they can’t find room for them in prime RBI spots. Both Young and Soriano led their respective teams in homeruns. This all just seems incredibly backwards to me.
Don’t get me wrong, I am always thrilled to see managers and players trying new things. If teams wanted to hit their best hitter first to give him more at-bats, I’d be all for it. But neither Soriano nor Young fit that mold either (I’d argue in favor or Connor Jackson and Aramis Ramirez personally).