Thursday, February 24, 2011
Who should lead off for Rangers in 2011?
By Richard Durrett
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Manager Ron Washington is pondering that question, one that will begin to get answered Sunday. Washington said we'd have a better idea of his plan for the leadoff spot then, but it's obvious that he has two candidates in mind: Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler. Washington said one day Julio Borbon could be a leadoff hitter, but it appears that's not April 1, 2011.
Kinsler has turned into a solid, all-around hitter. Interestingly, the way he hit last year was more indicative of a leadoff guy despite the fact that he wasn't a leadoff hitter (he was all over the lineup, but most of his at-bats came in the 3-hole). Kinsler hit .286 with a .382 on-base percentage (the highest of his career), had 15 stolen bases and had just one more strikeout (57) than walk. He makes contact, but also has some power. He hit just nine homers and had 45 RBIs in 391 at-bats in 2010.
Ian Kinsler led off in the Rangers' first intrasquad game and Elvis Andrus hit second, but Rangers manager Ron Washington hasn't decided who will hit in the top spot when the regular season starts.
Kinsler had 24 homers from the leadoff spot in 2009, but his OBP wasn't as good as in 2010. Last year he hit the ball to all fields and showed more patience, drawing the walks and getting on base.
Andrus' OBP was 40 points lower than Kinsler's in 2010 (.342). But he is also one of the most patient hitters on the team, averaging 4.02 pitches per plate appearance, fifth-most among AL leadoff hitters in 2010. He gained a better understanding of what was needed from him at that leadoff spot, but also went through some severe droughts (July and September, for example).
I'm intrigued with the idea of Kinsler leading off with Andrus No. 2. Kinsler can give you more power -- more gap and extra-base hit power, not just homers -- and he's got the speed to steal bags. Having the speed of Andrus behind him would give Washington a chance to put a lot of pressure on the opponent. When you factor Julio Borbon in the No. 9 slot, that's a lot of speed to deal with before the power hitters come up.
Kinsler isn't lobbying for the job. He'll hit wherever Washington wants. But he'd like the chance to lead off.
"I enjoyed it and I'd love to do it for this team," Kinsler said. "It's very early, so we'll see. I'd love to hit in the first inning, but anywhere in this lineup there's going to be chances to drive guys in and to help guys behind me.
"It's exciting. You get to set the tone for the offense. I enjoy that challenge."
Kinsler talked about what approach was needed to lead off.
"The only difference in mentality is you have to be ready to hit early in the game," Kinsler said. "Hitting sixth like I did last year, you have time to see what the pitcher is doing and see what's working for him that day. Leading off, you have to be ready right out of the shoot. That's the only difference."
A possible lineup:
2B Ian Kinsler
SS Elvis Andrus
LF Josh Hamilton
3B Adrian Beltre
RF Nelson Cruz
DH Michael Young
1B Mitch Moreland
C Yorvit Torrealba
CF Julio Borbon
So it's your turn: Who should lead off for the Rangers in 2011? Depending on which player you go with in that spot, how does the rest of your lineup shake out?