Who is Going to Leadoff for The Dodgers in 2015?
While the Dodgers are working toward revamping several weak areas of their roster this offseason including the shaky and unreliable bullpen, the question mark of a backend to their rotation and bolstered middle infield and outfield defense, there is still the question of who will end up leading off for the Dodgers in 2015?
Dee Gordon at least had speed at the top of the lineup, but his inability to get on base regularly (.326 OBP) did not make Gordon the ideal leadoff hitter for the Dodgers last season. Gordon struck out far too much (16.5% of the time) while not drawing enough walks (4.8% of the time). It was increasingly frustrating to watch Gordon begin a game by hitting .209/.233/.295 as the very first batter often times striking out. Even though Gordon hit .284 as the leadoff hitter in 133 games for the Dodgers in 2014, he struck out 99 times and only walked 29 times when leading off.
Former Dodger leadoff hitter Brett Butler will be coaching Dee Gordon in Miami. Photo: Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports
Clearly Gordon wasn’t the leadoff spark that the Dodgers were looking for at the top of the lineup. The problem has been long running for the team, and I have a hard time thinking back to an honest-to-goodness leadoff hitter since the likes of Brett Butler.
Brett Butler was one of my all-time favorite Dodgers, and he was a great leadoff guy during the 1980s and early 1990s. Batting first, he had career marks of .288/.374/.372, and he walked more than he struck out (992 walks vs. 792 strikeouts). He got on base anyway he could, and he was one of the few players who could utilize the bunt to actually get on base, a skill Gordon could never get down even though Don Mattingly kept calling for him to bunt continuously. Ironically, Butler is a coach for Miami which is Gordon’s new team.
Since the leadoff skills of Steve Sax, Davey Lopes, Maury Wills, Jim Gilliam and much later Rafael Furcal have left us with lasting memories of dynamic bunting and speedy singles, the Dodgers have had a mix of leadoff hitters who have yet to stick at the top of the lineup for any length of time. Who will leadoff in 2015 for the Dodgers?
Yasiel Puig is an option to leadoff, but he only did so in 11 games last season for the Dodgers. He wasn’t too successful as a leadoff hitter collecting a slash line of .227/.333/.318 with just 10 hits and no homeruns over 51 plate appearances leading off. He struck out 15 times when leading off and walked 6 times. While Puig does have the speed, and his plate discipline has improved, he is needed deeper in the order after the departures of Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez have left the Dodger lineup offensively less powerful.
Call to the Pen
Carl Crawford could lead off for the Dodgers, but he has voiced his preference to hit second in the lineup instead. When healthy, Crawford still has some speed, and he stole 23 bases last season which was the most since he swiped 47 in 2010 with Tampa Bay. Crawford only batted first in the lineup in 7 games last season, but he did have 9 hits in 33 plate appearances (.300 BA). Crawford, barring a trade before Opening Day, should slot second in the order or perhaps fifth or sixth.
Will Don Mattingly fail to resist the urge to bat Jimmy Rollins leadoff next season? While Rollins would be the conventional option, the 36-year old shortstop has a lifetime on-base percentage of just .327. His 2014 OBP of .323 isn’t convincing me he should be the leadoff hitter next year, but then again the Dodgers have limited choices. His career line of .272/.331/.445 with 768 strikeouts and 533 walks as a leadoff hitter was over 1,459 games, so Rollins does have the experience and delicious veteran presence that Mattingly adores. Mattingly probably has written Rollins name on top of the Opening Day lineup already this offseason from his home in Indiana.
Howie Kendrick doesn’t exactly have a sparkling career OBP either at .332 over 9 seasons with the Angels. Kendrick has only led off in 27 games over his career,
Is Joc Pederson an option to leadoff? Photo: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
and was not very successful. He’s spent most of his career either batting second, fifth, sixth or seventh akin to new teammate Carl Crawford.
Which brings me to Joc Pederson. While Andrew Friedman cannot commit to top prospect Joc Pederson starting in center field for the Dodgers in 2015, Pederson’s success could not only alter the Dodgers’ outfield configuration but also their lineup. While Pederson won’t be the next Brett Butler at the top of the order, his youth and speed could make him a contender. The big concern in regards to Joc leading off is his high strikeout ratio. Joc has a minor league OBP of .405=GOOD. Joc also has struck out 412 times in 1,953 plate appearances=BAD.
We all know how Don Mattingly likes to mix and match with the lineup. We saw different lineups virtually every day last season, and I expect this to be the case going into 2015 as well with the new roster deductions and additions. The leadoff spot will continue to be a question mark going into Spring Training with Jimmy Rollins being the frontrunner for the front man role. I’d like to see Mattingly think outside the box a bit. If Pederson can work on his plate discipline, he may be a viable option to leadoff in 2015. Maybe.
Until the Dodgers develop or acquire a true leadoff hitter, they probably will roll with Rollins.
Let me know in the comments who you think should leadoff for the Dodgers in 2015?