Thursday, April 07, 2005

The Waste Of A Good Fallacy

The drumbeat has started. Well, actually it started before. It’s just getting louder now, especially after Brad Wilkerson’s performance last night. You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again -- Wilkerson needs to bat lower in the order. Those critics are right, to a point, but misguided in some others.

The most frequent reason given is that it ‘wastes’ his power. The spot for him most frequently mentioned is fifth. But, I believe that if you drop him to that spot, you’re wasting his power too, and, more importantly, you’re wasting one of the things that make him so damn good: his walks.

As to hitting leadoff, while you’re not wasting his power in the sense that Jose Vidro or Jose Guillen stand a greater chance of being on base for him than Brian Schneider or the pitcher, you are wasting it in the sense that the fifth place hitter receives many fewer plate appearances than the lead off hitter.

Since Wilkerson is the team’s best hitter (Sorry, Jose fans), it makes sense to give him the most chances at the plate, and the most chances to help the team win, whether it’s with a double over the centerfielder’s head, or a leadoff walk. Hitting him lower in the order gives us fewer chances to watch the Hobbit meander around the bases. Over the course of a season, you can expect the lead-off hitter to come to the plate (ballpark) fifty more times than the fifth place hitter. That’d be fifty more plate appearances for him to show off his awesome goodness.

The other important reason is that it wastes his walks. Other than a healthy Nick Johnson (HA!), Wilkerson walks the most on this team. Between that and his other hits, he’s on base almost 40% of the time. That means 40% of the time the runners behind him are hitting with men on.

If he’s hitting fifth, who’s behind him? Vinny Castilla. I know I should lay off the guy for a day or two after yesterday, but as Ball-Wonk points out, his performance essentially doubles the number of sea-level hits in his career. Come talk to me at the end of September, not after the second game of the season. And behind Castilla will probably be Ryan “Soul Patch” Church. We love ya Ryan, but well... you are a rookie and we really don’t know what we’re going to get out of you. It’s possible you could go all Pujols on us, but I’m expecting more Brady Clark.

If he hits leadoff (And assuming Frank Robinson comes to his mother-effing senses and puts Cristian “Doble Matanza” Guzman at the ninth spot, yeah behind the pitcher, damnit!), Wilkerson would have the team’s other true sluggers batting behind him -- Vidro and Guillen. Throw in Nick Johnson at the two slot (baby steps, I know) and that’s a pretty formidable 1-4 of the lineup. It won’t make Earl Combs, Bob Meusel, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig sweat, but it’ll definitely make the NL East’s fourth and fifth starters nights a lot more difficult, if not shorter.

The only other realistic option at leadoff anyway is Nick Johnson. Guzman has speed, but he’s not a good base stealer (seriously), which is what you’d want speed at the top of the order for anyway. Further, over the course of 650 plate appearances, assuming an on-base percentage of .305 and .375 for Guzman and Wilkerson, Guzman would make 45 more batting outs than Wilkerson (it’s a rudimentary analysis, but the larger point stands). That’s 15 innings worth of outs. Just picture Guzman hacking away at the first pitch and hitting it weakly to the infielders 45 times in a row (Not much of a stretch, I know.)

Ideally, we’d have a Juan Pierre or Jeremy Reed patrolling center and hitting leadoff. But, there aren’t many of them. And you need to work with what you have. By that standard, Wilkerson’s the best we have.

But please, let’s get over this ridiculous notion that Wilkerson’s being wasted at leadoff -- Especially when he’d be just as much wasted while batting fifth.

Now, if you want to talk about him hitting third, I’d definitely entertain that. But, that’s for another day!


  • That's good stuff!

    I'd really like Wilkerson hitting second or third, especially if Vidro's injuries really have taken a toll on him.

    The only thing I'd change is moving Church down one spot (but i'd still keep Sledge there) -- I don't like putting that much pressure on him yet. Once he gets his feet under him, then move him up.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 4/07/2005 10:40 AM  

  • True he's not being "wasted" because he's batting first, he's being "wasted" because he's surrounded by horrible hitters.

    I'd like to see him bat third as well, maybe 2nd, maybe 4th. Unfortunately that's probably not going to be the immediate change. The question right now appears to be given all other roster spots remain stable, where would you rather see Brad, 1st or 5th? I'm sorry but as long as Guzman is batting 2nd, I'll take 5th.

    By Blogger Harper, at 4/07/2005 12:16 PM  

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