Leading Off for the Dodgers is….


Carl Crawford? Mark Ellis? Dee Gordon? Hanley Ramirez? In a perfect world, Dee Gordon would figure things out, get on base, steal a bunch of bases, and score a plethora of runs for the Dodgers out of the top spot in the lineup. He just isn’t ready yet. Most likely Gordon will be beginning the 2013 season in AAA-Albuquerque where he can play every day and work on polishing his defense and honing his hitting. That’s if the Dodgers don’t trade him first.

Carl Crawford is willing to play wherever in the lineup Don Mattingly puts him. Photo: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

The most likely candidate to leadoff for the Dodgers next season is Carl Crawford, although there is a wide spread notion that Crawford prefers to slot second in the lineup. He recently met with Don Mattingly who said Crawford is willing to bat in the leadoff spot. Since Crawford is coming off of Tommy John surgery and attempting to resurrect his career in Los Angeles, he better be open to batting wherever Donnie pencils him in at. The bigger issue is whether he will be healthy for Opening Day. Reportedly he will be ready to start in left field for the Dodgers come April 1st, but the true test for his arm will come during Spring Training. Crawford has primarily batted second over the course of his 11 season career, and in his 2,814 plate appearances in the second spot he has recorded a line of .302/.345/.460 with 64 homeruns and 320 RBI. In his 1,728 plate appearances as a leadoff hitter, he has been slightly less successful with a line of .284/.319/.415. He has hit less homeruns leading off (27) and has collected less RBI (158). That’s still much better than Dee Gordon’s .260/.298/.317 in the leadoff spot. With Crawford, you won’t sacrifice speed at the top of the lineup either. Gordon’s speed can definitely be a game changer, but Crawford isn’t too shabby on the base path (432 career stolen bases).

Mark Ellis seems to be destined to hit second which is a favorite lineup configuration choice by Mattingly. Yet, he could flip-flop Mark Ellis and Crawford in the 1-2 spots to maximize Crawford in the lineup. In fact, Ellis has almost 100 more at-bats leading off than batting second in his career. He hits slightly better leading off as well (.269/.343/.405 vs. .252/.325/.369). Don Mattingly could lead Ellis off versus left-handed pitching and Crawford versus right-handed pitching based on their career splits. A third option would be to bat Hanley Ramirez leadoff. In fact, leading off Hanley is hitting .309/.385/.536 in 1,643 career at-bats. He has hit 70 homeruns and collected 181 RBI and 118 stolen bases while leading off as well.

Mark Ellis doesn’t have great speed, but he can hit lefties decently. Photo: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

An outside option would be to have A.J. Ellis leadoff with his excellent on base percentage and high walk rate, but that for sure will not happen even though some of us have been clamoring for Mattingly to bat him higher in the lineup. I’m not going to even discuss the possibility of Nick Punto or Skip Schumaker leading off, because that would mean they would be starting.

What I see happening is a mix-and-match sort of lineup from Don Mattingly during the Spring to see how he can put this puzzle together that is the Dodger lineup. Without that true leadoff hitter, the Dodgers will have to hope that Crawford, Mark Ellis, and even Hanley Ramirez can set the table for Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, and Andre Ethier. One of the Dodgers weaknesses last season was not only the lack of homeruns but the rarity of the two-run, three-run homerun, or grand slam.

Possible lineup vs. RHP:                                                          Possible lineup vs. LHP:

Crawford                                                                                    M. Ellis

M. Ellis                                                                                        Crawford

Kemp                                                                                           Kemp

Gonzalez                                                                                     Gonzalez

Ethier                                                                                          Ramirez

Ramirez                                                                                      Ethier

Cruz                                                                                             Cruz

A.J. Ellis                                                                                       A.J. Ellis                

Pitcher                                                                                         Pitcher