Leadoff Hitter. The very phrase makes you think of some of baseball’s greats, names like Maury Wills, Pete Rose, and Rickey Henderson come to mind. It is viewed as one of the most crucial spots in a baseball lineup and for obvious reasons. The leadoff hitter sets the tone.
The 2017 Dodgers lack what many would consider to be a prototypical leadoff hitter, but they do have some good options. The best of these options include Andre Ethier, Joc Pederson, and newly acquired Logan Forsythe. Which one will actually see the first plate appearance of the Dodgers season has yet to be seen, and will ultimately be up to Dave Roberts, but I’m going to break down each option.
There’s a misconception about leadoff hitters, that they all need to be speedy players with a knack for stealing bases. Being able to steal 60 bases a year is a nice luxury to have, but it is not what makes or breaks a good leadoff man. Their most important job is to get on base and give the big time hitters behind them a chance to bring them around to score.
This is important to remember considering the Dodgers have no real base-stealers, but they do have a few guys who are really good at getting on base. They also have no shortage of big bats to drive them in with some combination of Corey Seager, Justin Turner, and Adrian Gonzalez likely to be the next three hitters in the lineup.
The first candidate to consider is Logan Forsythe, recently acquired from the Rays in exchange for Jose De Leon. Many fans believe he is the favorite for this job going into the season. There is definitely some substance to that thought, as Dave Roberts recently that said he plans to bat Forsythe near the top of the lineup.
Forsythe owns a .255/.326/.395 slash line, which doesn’t exactly jump off the page. However over the last two seasons as a full time starter, he has seen all three of these numbers climb significantly. He has drawn 101 walks over these two years while collecting 287 hits with 100 of those going for extra bases. Still, his .333 On Base Percentage in 2016 is a little low to be at the head of a lineup. However, his ability to hit both left handed and right handed pitchers will give him an advantage.
The next candidate is Andre Ethier. Ethier has spent all 10 of his big league seasons as a Dodger and is definitely a fan favorite. He owns a .285/.359/.463 slash line, which is much more suited to lead off. Andre has always been great at getting on base, but more with his bat than his ability to draw walks. The biggest question mark with him is his baserunning, coming off a year in which he was limited to 25 games after a shin injury in spring training.
If he is healthy this will be far from an issue, as he is a smart player who makes good baserunning decisions. One big issue with Andre is his inability to hit left handed pitching, but with good right handed hitters such as Trayce Thompson on the bench, they have the option to pinch hit for him late in a game against a tough lefty or spell him entirely versus lefty starters.
The third candidate is a favorite of many who favor advanced stats over traditional ones, Joc Pederson. Our own Brandon Knudsen is predicting a breakout year for the 24 year old center fielder and I agree with him wholeheartedly. On the surface, he may not immediately seem like a great option. However, despite his low batting average, he is an on base machine. In his short time in the big leagues, Joc has drawn 164 walks, a very impressive number considering his youth and what most would view as an aggressive approach.
He has slashed .224/.349/.443 in his career, and the low batting average makes his .349 career OBP that much more impressive. Joc took a big leap forward in 2016, raising his batting average 36 points and his slugging percentage 84 points year-over-year. Joc also has a distinct advantage over the Forsythe and Ethier in his speed. While Joc does not steal a lot of bases, he still possesses above average speed and stole a ton of bases in his minor league career, which could lead to him getting an extra base on where the other two may not.
He is my personal favorite for the job and although he likely won’t be at the top of the order to begin the season, I would expect to see him there at some point or another.
Many people may also want to see players like Yasiel Puig or last year’s leadoff hitter Chase Utley at the top of the lineup, but don’t expect to see that this season. Utley did a serviceable job for the Dodgers last season, slashing .252/.319/.396 but these are far from ideal numbers you would like to see from the man responsible for setting the tone of the lineup.
In his prime, Utley was a top player in baseball, but his skills have diminished significantly over the last couple years. Puig on the other hand is a player who has shown flashes of greatness in his time with the Dodgers, but his overall inconsistency makes him unlikely to be used in such a key spot in the lineup. However, if he returns to his 2013 form he may force his way into the conversation. If nothing else, a healthy and patient Yasiel Puig would give Dave Roberts a lot to think about, and a very good problem to have.
The decision for who will be the Dodgers leadoff hitter likely won’t be made until late in spring training, but whichever option Roberts decides on will be a good choice. Although the Dodgers may not have a typical leadoff hitter, they do have a few solid options to fill the role. I’d love to hear your thoughts on who you think should be the leadoff hitter as well, feel free to comment them!