Monday, April 11, 2016

Kevin Pillar: The obvious choice to bat leadoff.

The general consensus is that Manager John Gibbons has gone " full Ned Yost ", by batting Kevin Pillar in the leadoff position. Everybody knows, a manager should never go " full Ned Yost ". Yost, considered by some, the worst manager in baseball, manager of the 2015 World Champion Kansas City Royals,insisted his team won more games with Alcides Escobar batting lead off, he of the .293 OBP. Curious, when Yost had an excellent alternative in Alex Gordon ( .377 OBP). Even KC's fan base thinks Yost has made the wrong decision. By picking Pillar as his lead off batter, has Gibbons gone " full Ned Yost "and ignored common sense?

Let's look at the candidates for the leadoff position.

In rough drafts of this post, there was a list of reasons why none of the big four, Donaldson, Bautista, Encarnacion, Tulowitzki, should be considered to bat in the lead off position, even with their excellent OBP. Here's the short version of that list. Their offensive talent is wasted batting in the first position. While they are capable , the skillset they possess is better utilized elsewhere in the line up. Wait a minute, you say. You need the highest OBP in the lead off position. Let's look at that and what happens around baseball. Look at the list of the top OBP's in baseball for 2015. I'll wait. How many of them bat in the first position? Almost all of them bat in the 2,3,4 position. Wonder why? It's because they're more valuable and productive to the team, batting in other positions rather than lead off.

That leaves Saunders ( career OBP .301 ), Goins ( career OBP .279), Smoak ( career OBP .308), Colabello ( career OBP .320 ), Pillar ( career OBP .301, .314 in 2015 ) and Martin ( career OBP .351,2015 OBP .329) as possibilities. Nobody stands out except for possibly, Martin

BsR is a measure of base running efficiency. Zero is average. In 2015 Colabello (-1.7), Smoak ( -3.7), Martin ( -4.6) are rated among the worst base runners on your Toronto Blue Jays. They actually COST the Blue Jays runs. The best base runner on the Jays, yup it's Kevin Pillar. Pillar (+ 8.1BsR) isn't only the best base runner on the team, according fangraphs he's the second best in all of baseball.Pillar's efficiency and aggressiveness when he's on base actually add more runs than any other player on the Jays roster.

But, but , but, you protest, Pillar doesn't walk and had an OBP of .314 last year.  FACT,the Jays lead off hitters had 763 AB's in 2015. FACT, the Jays scored more runs (891) than any other MLB team in 2015. The difference between .314 OBP and .329 OBP over 763 AB's is 12 times on base. That's one time on base every 13.5 games. One time on base every 2 weeks. You're thinking, why did I pick a .329 OBP? That's because in 2015, with the highest scoring team in baseball, the highest OBP of any of their regular lead off hitters was .329. Think about that for a second. Of Reyes, Revere, Travis, Tulowitzki, Donaldson and Carrera, none of them had an OBP over .329 when they batted lead off. And, I'll repeat, the Jays scored more runs than any other team in baseball.

Still worried about Pillar and his .314 OBP leading off?

I see that you are. Pillar shouldn't be stealing bases anyway, right? Let's look at the advantages of speed, besides swiping bags. Obviously the ability to go 1st to 3rd or to score on a double come to mind but also breaking up double plays, having the opposition rush throws, hit and run plays, aggressiveness on the bases, etc. The hidden advantage really may be in the threat of a stolen base. When a stealing threat is on base, it causes a distraction to the pitcher, ignore it and it's like defensive indifference, he take second easily. Ignore it and the runner will take a larger lead. With a stolen base threat on first, pitchers tend to throw more fastballs, less off speed and breaking balls so the catcher has a better chance to throw the runner out if he takes off. More fastballs to JD,JB,EE and Tulo. Yes, please.

In conclusion, batting JD, JB, EE, or Tulo in the first position is a waste of their optimal productivity. The precedent has been set, nobody in baseball uses these types of players batting leadoff UNLESS they also possess speed. Martin may have the requisite OBP but is so bad at running the bases, it negates any benefit of him leading off. Of the rest, Cola, Smoak, Goins, Saunders, and Pillar, only Pillar is an elite baserunner and creates the best situation, for the 2,3,4,5 hitters to produce runs for the team.

When every player has the similar quantity of base running opportunities, the difference between them will be, the quality of their base running skills.

The obvious choice to bat lead off for the Toronto Blue Jays?
Kevin Pillar