As will probably be the case for many day-to-day decisions with this Dodgers roster, there are options aplenty at the leadoff spot. Let’s keep looking into who might fit best as the table-setter this season.
3. Howie Kendrick:
If I was the manager, Kendrick would be my choice at the top of the order right now. Over the course of his career he has been a model of consistency, batting .293 over 10 major-league seasons. Although his OBP may not be as high as some may like for your lead-off hitter (.333 lifetime) I believe Kendrick could Walk more if he were asked to bat lead-off, and be a good table-setter. I also think he may be the best option, not simply because he fits the role that well, but because of where I believe the other options fit better in the lineup (as I’ll explain later with the next two options.)
Kendrick doesn’t have great speed (he stole only 6 bases last year and never more than 14 in a season) but many people now believe that speed isn’t necessarily that important when considering lead-off candidates. I’m not one who agrees with that notion very much, but again, looking at the Dodgers current options, there aren’t really any great base-stealers there anyway.
2. Joc Pederson:
As stated already, Pederson’s 2015 season was a tale of two halves. In the first half, he looked as though he could be a good lead-off hitter, taking a lot of Walks, and getting on base at a high rate. But as the year progressed, Joc began to struggle mightily. He stuck out at a very high rate (almost 30% of the time) and although his OBP remained reasonable, he just couldn’t put the ball in play enough. Additionally, although he stole over 30 bases multiple times in the minor leagues, speed didn’t seem to be a part of Pederson’s game during his first year with the Dodgers, as he swapped only 4 bases in 11 attempts.
The Dodgers are hoping for a big improvement from Pederson in his 2nd full year. Perhaps some minor adjustments to his swing or stance, and simply adapting to how pitchers approach him could make a difference. I don’t think anyone knows exactly what type of hitter Pederson will be at the major-league level just yet, but I suspect he’ll always have a fairly high strikeout rate, which is not ideal for your lead-off guy. However, the main job of a lead-off hitter is to get on base, and Pederson does that pretty good. Plus, I suspect he can improve that batting average at least a little bit from last year, which would only boost his OBP more.
Personally, I think Pederson would be best positioned somewhere between the #5-#7 spots in the lineup. I believe he will continue to develop at the plate, and has the power to hit 25-35 home runs a year. I’m just not sure his high K rate is an ideal fit to bat lead-off. But maybe Roberts and the Dodgers will give him another shot there this year.
1. Yasiel Puig:
Like Pederson, Puig will be looking for a bounce-back year in 2016. Injuries limited him to just 79 games in 2015, but even when Puig was in the lineup, he never really got going offensively. He finished the year batting .255 with a .322 OBP and 11 home runs. In his brief 2 ½ year career, Puig has hit .294 with a .371 OBP. Puig has raw speed, but hasn’t developed into a great base-runner just yet. On the contrary, he’s actually had some troubles on the base paths. While he has the potential to steal some bases, he’s never stole more than 11 in a season.
The main question with Puig is whether he’ll return to the hitter that the Dodgers saw when he first came up in 2013, or if he’ll continue to put up the kind of numbers from last year, where he struggled to find consistency. If it’s the former, Puig could be a good candidate to bat lead-off. However, I think he has the potential to be a middle-of-the-order type bat, and someone you might want to plug into the #3 hole, where he’d have more opportunities to drive in runs. But given the options (or lack thereof) the Dodgers have, they might be inclined to try Puig at lead-off.
Other options besides the ones mentioned here are also available to Dave Roberts. Maybe he likes Justin Turner leading off. Or, maybe he goes with a “committee” type approach to the lead-off spot, where different players bat there depending on the match-up for that particular game. One thing seems certain: the Dodgers may not have an ideal lead-off hitter again this year, but they do have capable options available. Which option they go with, however, is anyone’s guess at this point.
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