Tuesday, September 02, 2003
"Worst" as in, worst choice.
If I told you I had an All Star shortstop who was hitting .332, getting on base at a .384 clip, and had swiped 27 bases (84% success rate) so far this year, where would you put him in your lineup?
If you had Ichiro! or maybe Juan Pierre on your team (or apparently Soriano in NY), you might bat him 2nd. On every other ballclub, you’d want him sparking the offense and leading-off the game.
If you’re Tony LaRussa, however, he'd be batting 6th. Today, he’s down to 7th.
In fact, since ‘00, LaRussa has put Edgar Renteria in the leadoff spot… for 47 ABs. No, not a 47 game experiment. But 47 AB, or roughly 12 games. Aside from the All Star game, Renteria has 0 plate appearances this year at the top of the order, and only one last year. And it’s not like Renteria has no track record leading off. He occasionally hit at the top of the order for the Marlins before coming to the Cards in ’99 (although he mostly hit second—which would also be an improvement), and over his career he's posted a .280/.439/.411 line in 246 AB batting leadoff (nothing to suggest he can't handle it or a manager would lose confidence in him there).
Nonetheless, here's where LaRussa has penciled Renteria into the lineup over the years:
batting 1st 47 AB
batting 2nd 554 AB
batting 3rd 30 AB
batting 4th 26 AB
batting 5th 65 AB
batting 6th 591 AB
batting 7th 784 AB
batting 8th 1 AB
batting 9th 7 AB
Renteria used to be a decent hitting defensive whiz, showing some pop and on-base skills, and it wasn't until he bulked up in 2002 that he started to started giving the NL its own worthy alternative to the AL's Big Four, posting an .803 OPS.
Nonetheless, despite Renteria's development, LaRussa's been even more adament about keeping him down in the order.
batting 1st 1 AB
batting 2nd 123 AB
batting 3rd 30 AB
batting 4th 26 AB
batting 5th 64 AB
batting 6th 506 AB
batting 7th 299 AB
batting 9th 4 AB
So, who has been getting those top of the order ABs? Well, at one point the Cards had a pretty good leadoff guy. Fernando Vina was once a scrappy lefty with decent speed and good on-base skills. In 2000 he posted a .380 OBP with 10 SB, and a .357 OBP with 17 SB in 2001. But he was always brittle, and in 2002 age and injuries started getting the best of him. His OBP dropped to .333 OBP in 2002. And this year after continuing to struggle early at the top of the order (.316 OBP and 3 SB in 7 attempts), he tore his hamstring on May 25 and was only reactivated on August 31.
What a great turn of events! Where any reasonable manager would have said to himself, "Wow, this gives me the perfect excuse to put the best suited player in the leadoff position without agonizing the proud veteran," LaRussa did otherwise. What could have been Renteria’s (and the Cardinals') golden opportunity was wasted as LaRussa instead kept Renteria batting behind Edmonds, Pujols, and Rolen (and often even Tino), and tossed Vina’s even lighter hitting defensive replacements ahead of them:
Cairo 27 G, 109 AB (.311 OBP overall this year)
Hart 54 G, 232 AB (.322 OBP)
Here are the other players getting time at the top:
Palmeiro 11 G, 44 AB (.345 OBP)
Robinson 7 G, 25 AB (.295 OBP)
Perez 2 G, 3 AB, (.356 OBP)
Drew 1 G, 5 AB (.349 OBP)
Taguchi 1 G, 3 AB (.381 OBP)
Granted, LaRussa's latest pick, Robinson, has put up a .385 OBP over those 25 AB at the top of the order. Hands up everyone who thinks that'll last.
Other than Drew, these guys are all bench/role players (Palmeiro, Perez, and Taguchi being particularly useful ones). I agree Drew might make an interesting choice at the top of the order, assuming he could stay healthy long enough to contribute.
Granted, Renteria has really flourished the past couple years way down in the lineup, but I have a hard believing that his development at the plate now wouldn't translate into success at the top of the order. Honestly… look at that list and tell me you wouldn’t have tried Renteria batting leadoff at least once this year by now.
How does the same manager go from once having Rickey Henderson as his leadoff guy to thinking that Bo Hart can get the job done?
Say it ain't so.
Is it the end of an era?
With the slowly spreading influence of "Moneyball" among executives, might this have been the last big bonus signing of a toolsy "prospect" with no legitamite baseball skills?
Did Halladay just pitch himself back into the Cy Young race yesterday or what? 9 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 10 K, 1 ER, with just 109 pitches--all against the Bombers, no less.
Anyone else think it strange that the two most deserving pitchers (at least according to Win Shares) in both leagues weren't included as choices in ESPN's Cy Young polls?
I understand why Livan Hernandez may not be on most people's radar screens (chalk it up to hysterical blindness), but Tim Hudson is one of the Big Three, and he's having a great season in most of the stats the mainstream press likes: ERA (1st), IP (2nd), and Wins (8th). Sure, he's pitching with the league's best defence him (yes, Oakland), and it's probably helping to compensate for his disturbingly low K ratio, but regardless of what McCracken or Tippet would have to say, Hudson's having a great season. He's the Derek Lowe of 2003--with a better track record.
At least people aren't pushing Willis anymore.