Trouble Out of the Leadoff Spot

Bobby V is making a huge mistake by batting Mike Aviles leadoff. Chip explains why...

David Ortiz, Mike Aviles

The leadoff spot.  It’s something we haven’t talked about much here.  To be fair, there hasn’t been a tremendous need.  The offense has been rolling along, despite injuries to key players like Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkilis, and Carl Crawford.  Instead, our focus has been on the bullpen’s early struggles, and the starting rotation’s woefully inconsistent results.

Still, it’s a bit of a concern.  If this excerpt from Tim Britton’s (Providence Journal) always spectacular notes column is any indication, it doesn’t like my concerns will be addressed in the immediate future.

“After Aviles hit home runs in three straight games at Citizens Bank Park — including leadoff blasts in back-to-back games, something a Red Sox hitter hadn’t done since 1913 — there seems little doubt who will be hitting leadoff for the immediate future.

‘I see him as the guy that’s going to be that,’ Valentine said. ‘If we need a leadoff hitter, he’s going to lead off and set a very aggressive pace for our team. I think we need that.’

Aviles hasn’t just gotten on base, either. In his last six games, he’s doubled four times and gotten on base at a .400 clip. He’s boosted his on-base percentage from .287 to .303 in the process.”

Through last night’s game, the Red Sox have produced a .251/.287/.435 slash line out of the leadoff spot.  While the .435 SLG mark is nice, slugging shouldn’t be the primary skill of a leadoff man.  The primary skill should be getting on base.  By getting on base, hitters avoid outs–the only true currency of baseball.  The longer a team can prolong giving up their three outs per inning or 27 per game, the more runs they’ll have the ability to score over the course of a game.

As the power of deductive reasoning should tell you, a .287 OBP means that Red Sox leadoff hitters are producing a crazy number of outs.  According to the incomperable Baseball Reference, our leadoff men have created an eye popping 149 outs in 203 plate appearances–or 73.4% of time time.  Leading the charge is Bobby V’s chosen Ellsbury replacement, Mike Aviles.  While his 70% out creation rate certainly bests his competitors, it’s hardly advantageous for any player; especially one batting in a premium spot in the order.

Avoiding outs is an especially important skill for someone batting leadoff.  Why?  Essentially, he sets the tone for the batting order that comes after him.  Outside of the first plate appearance of the game, your leadoff hitter will bat immediately after the weakest hitter in your batting order (the ninth spot).  In many cases, this means Aviles will bat after the likes of Marlon Byrd (.287 OBP) and Nick Punto (.298).   If that thought isn’t enough to make you cringe already, perhaps the collective .268 OBP clip the club is achieving out of the ninth spot will.  Following up a lineup slot that creates outs 76% of the time with one that does so 73.4% of the time is hardly a good idea.  It’s rally killing mentality.  Doing so when you’re leading up to the four best hitters in the lineup makes things even worse.

Despite what Bobby V seems to believe, the Red Sox don’t need an aggressive approach at the top of their lineup.  In fact, it would behoove the Red Sox to place a patient hitter who knows how to works counts, and can draw walks at a league average pace.  Perhaps someone like Dustin Pedroia, Ryan Sweeney, or (when he comes off of the disabled list) Kevin Youkilis would fit the bill.   The ability to draw walks would help him minimize the impact the batting slump will have on a player’s overall performance.  At the very least, he’d have one method of avoiding outs.   I’m not saying the leadoff man has to take a ton of walks, but he does need to be proficient in the skill.  This something Aviles has shown he’s incapable of doing.

Britton mentioned in his article that Aviles’s OBP has improved from .287  to .306 since May 14th.  While his 19-point jump in a seven game stretch is pretty impressive, he’s done so while batting .400 and drawing zero walks.  Essentially, once his torrid stretch comes to an end, his OBP will regress along with his batting average; thus negating some of the gains he’s made in the last week.  Unless Aviles can figure out other ways of getting on base, he’s pretty useless batting at the top of the order.

Bobby Valentine needs a different solution for the leadoff spot until Ellsbury returns to action.  Aviles batting leadoff may not being hindering the Red Sox from being the second best offense in the American League yet, but it will likely become a bigger problem as we go deeper into the season.

Categories: Boston Red Sox Carl Crawford Dustin Pedroia Jacoby Ellsbury Kevin Youkilis Mike Aviles Nick Punto Ryan Sweeney

After being slapped with a restraining order for stealing Nick Cafardo's mail, I was forced into retirement for a brief period of time. As fun as it was to lounge around the community pool and play shuffleboard with noted internet columnist, Murray Chass, I quickly felt a yearning to write again. Now in my second tenure with Fire Brand, I have set lofty goals of achieving world domination, ending the plight of the hipsters, and becoming BFFs with Mike Trout. I am fluent in two languages (Sarcasm and English, in that order); have an intimate relationship with M&Ms; firmly believe that Lucille is the best character on Arrested Development; and spend my spare time trolling select members of the Boston media. You can follow me on Twitter @Chip_Buck.

3 Responses to “Trouble Out of the Leadoff Spot” Subscribe

  1. DezoPenguin May 24, 2012 at 12:12 PM #

    With Youk back off the DL, I can see a Pedroia-Sweeney or Sweeney-Pedroia 1-2, with Ortiz, Gonzalez, Youk, Middlebrooks, Salty, Aviles, and the remaining OF spot as the rest of the lineup (heck, if Nava keeps up some semblance of his recent performance, hitting him 9th would help that as well, though I can't see him doing that since he's basically a AAAA player).

    Of course, that assumes Sweeney comes back from his concussion more-or-less intact. Any solution for a team with 7 OFs on the DL is going to be pretty well made up of spackle and duct tape.

  2. Carts13 May 24, 2012 at 7:28 PM #

    I know he comes down to earth soon but Nava actually has a much better approach for leading off than most of the current roster. He seems more athletic than in '10 but he also seems to have developed a patient approach and is decent on the bases. What works for him is he knows his limitations which I actually think helps him. Flip flop him and Aviles until he slumps and at least we get value out of his skills while he's hot

  3. kahlil May 25, 2012 at 11:12 AM #

    chip, i'm surprised at you. no mention of aviles' .273 babip being his lowest since an abbreviated 2009 when he played in only 36 games? a full 38 points below his average? surely this will regress toward the mean which will in turn bring his obp up toward his career average of .316 (youkilis' obp this year is .316.)
    also, his splits show a better avg./obp (.279/.302) split as the leadoff hitter in an inning. of his 8 homers this year, 6 have come with no one on, 5 have come when leading off an inning. this adjustment at the plate illustrates a situational awareness. and, i'm sorry, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with a homer to lead off the inning, regardless of what the stats of the batter following you has put up.
    as far as a "rally killing mentality," aviles hits better with runners on (.290/.324) and does much better with runners in scoring position and two outs (.304/.360) these stats actually prove a rally sustaining mentality. those other 2 homers have come with runners on and two outs.
    nava has great preliminary numbers that should translate to a good leadoff hitter, he leads off an inning at a .385/.500 clip, but only has 13 ab's which is way too small a sample to make such an important lineup adjustment. maybe give it a try on a rest day for aviles? sweeney has awful splits as leadoff and inning starter, forget pedroia as leadoff, he is best with runners on.
    there is no doubt that ells is the perfect leadoff hitter, but aviles is a shrewd choice that is yielding positive results.