The Cleveland Indians have a number of questions to be answered before 2019. But one that may not be expected is the question of who should bat leadoff?
Many questions remain after another early postseason exit for the Cleveland Indians. Some expected (will they resign Brantley?) and some new: who should bat leadoff for the Indians?
He hit a franchise record nine leadoff home runs. All but 19 of his at-bats came in the leadoff spot and he’s an MVP candidate so yes, very good in the leadoff spot. So how is this even a question when Lindor has been hitting so well in that spot?
In 2018, Lindor had a career-high number of hits, walks, RBI, runs, and home runs. He also posted the third-best on-base percentage on the team (of players who played at least 40 games), behind Jose Ramirez and Michael Brantley, which is exactly what you want your leadoff hitter to do: get on base.
So with all these numbers saying Lindor was at the height of his game, why turn away from him at the leadoff spot now? Well, it’s simple. He’s been too good. He’s being limited.
Take the leadoff home runs he hit, for example. Nine, a franchise record for a season. That’s nine times that he hit a home run where it was literally impossible for him to score any more than one run because nobody else had even gotten to bat yet.
He hit 38 total so that means he hit 29 other home runs throughout the course of games. Of those 29, 9 were with runners on base. So while the majority of time Lindor is still hitting solo shots, pigeon-holing him into the leadoff spot took away the potential for at least 9 more runs.
The Indians lost 24 games in 2018 by one run. That’s potentially nine more games the Indians could have won, putting them at 100 wins. But of course, that’s all highly hypothetical and there’s no use continuing down the rabbit hole.
But the point still stands. Lindor has proven himself to be one of the best hitters in MLB and he should have an extra at-bat with the potential to have runners on base when he comes up. Not to mention he has to rely on the eight or nine hitters the rest of the game to ever have a chance to knock in a run (in a way other than a home run).
Remember how Lindor broke the franchise record for leadoff home runs in a season? The previous mark was set by Grady Sizemore, who hit seven in 2008. Every game he played that season he batted leadoff.
But Sizemore also had a career year (just as Lindor just did) which saw him finish in the top ten of the AL MVP vote, make the all-star game, win a gold glove and win a silver slugger award.
He was great and he was the Tribe’s primary leadoff hitter. But 2009? Even in an injury-shortened season, Sizemore went from hitting leadoff in 100 percent of the games he played to just 73 percent the next season.
So even if nothing else will convince that Lindor shouldn’t, or won’t, be in the leadoff spot in 2019, history is at least on the side of saying a change will come.
So, finally, it comes to who. Who would be the new leadoff man if Lindor was pushed deeper into the lineup?
There are more obvious options, such as whoever is manning center or right field, whether It’s Bradley Zimmer, Greg Allen or even Leonys Martin. None of them are exceptionally great hitters, but they all have the typical “leadoff speed.”
But there are two surprising options that, when you look at the numbers, are actually perfect for the spot.
Oh yes, Jason Kipnis. The man who was the 2018 Indians scapegoat (at least for some fans) would be perfect for the role.
First and foremost, he’s going to be on the team next season. While a number of players have questions surrounding their health or contract, Kipnis is practically guaranteed to be Cleveland, unless he gets traded.
But more importantly, he wasn’t as bad as he was made out to be and everything you want a leadoff man to do, he was one of the best on the team at.
Of Indians players who played at least half the season (81 games) Kipnis was sixth in on-base percentage.
Sixth doesn’t jump out as an exceptionally great standing. But consider the one through five guys. Jose Ramirez, Michael Brantley, Francisco Lindor, Edwin Encarnacion, and Yonder Alonso. Excluding Lindor because of reasons previously stated, which of those guys would you really want to put at the leadoff spot?
Also, when using the same 81 games parameter, Kipnis has the third highest walk percentage on the team, behind Ramirez and Encarnacion.
While he was persecuted last season for not always getting the big hit to score runs, Kipnis could be the guy who starts things off, has less pressure on him and ultimately could perform a lot better in the long run.
Not to mention the change in lineup alone could jump-start Kipnis’ confidence and overall performance.
Whether it’s batting leadoff, batting fifth, seventh, ninth, whatever I don’t care: Yandy Diaz needs to play. Plain and simple. If he doesn’t start playing consistently soon then the Indians can watch him leave and succeed just like Jesus Aguilar did with Milwaukee.
In 39 games in 2018, Diaz slashed .312/.375/.422 with 15 runs and 15 RBIs.
So why should he specifically be the leadoff man for the tribe? Well, he hasn’t exactly been a home run threat so far in his career (just one home run in 88 career games), so no real need to put him behind anyone in the order.
But this past season, while it was a small sample size, Diaz was exceptionally good at getting on base. On that list of best on-base percentages that landed Kipnis sixth, Yandy would have been second, just behind Jose Ramirez.
He also has the third-best O-swing percentage (a metric that basically determines how often a player chases pitches. Swings at pitches outside the zone divided by pitches outside of the zone) on the team.
The two guys ahead of him? Francisco Mejia (gone) and Josh Donalson (more than likely gone).
Diaz also has the highest BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of any batter on the team. Couple that with a strikeout rate of just 5.73% and that means Diaz is putting the ball in play a lot and getting on base when he does it.
This is all exactly what you want from a leadoff man. So while he may not necessarily seem like the typical leadoff man, I think he’d thrive in that spot.
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This option would most likely require some moving around of Kipnis or the outfield, but none the less is an option that needs to be tried out.