Commentary

BP Daily: Top of the order

Leadoff strategies may vary, but impact is significant

Originally Published: April 10, 2009
By Christina Kahrl | Baseball Prospectus

Thirty years or so on, sabermetrics has been around long enough to have a few canards of its own to live with or live down. Take for example the old assertion from the '80s, that lineup order doesn't matter. That's taken as a literal, absolute truth in some quarters, but lineup optimization does mean the difference of a few extra runs here and there, fueled in no small part because of the relentless mathematical fact that any one team's leadoff hitters will collectively get 120 more plate appearances in a season than its ninth-slot batters, and you'd much rather invest that additional playing time in better ballplayers.

Obviously, there are very few teams that enjoy the benefits of employing a star-quality leadoff hitter -- the guy who gets on base, steals bases and even kicks in some power. Today we have the Orioles' Brian Roberts and the Mets' Jose Reyes, carrying on the game-changing precedents we might identify in Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines. Most other teams have to come up with something, because somebody has to lead off. The classic stathead solution -- or Earl Weaver's -- would be to put a better OBP up top. The Yankees have elected to do this with Derek Jeter, but that's not tied to his declining value as a slugger as much as it has always been something of a fall-back option during his entire career. Deciding to put Johnny Damon's power behind Jeter's OBP is just a worthwhile adaptation to their respective talents at present. American League leadoff hitters generated a collective .347 OBP last season, so Jeter's career leadoff OBP of .389 and our PECOTA-projected season OBP of .360 suggest he's a good choice.