Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Texas Ten: Who should bat leadoff?
By Richard Durrett
Editor's Note: We'll spend the next two weeks taking a look at 10 questions that face the Texas Rangers this offseason as they prepare for the 2013 campaign. We call it our "Texas Ten."
Today's question: Which player should hit at the top of the order?
Obviously, this question is better answered once we know all of the personnel for the 2013 season. But there are parts of the lineup that would be worth looking at to determine if changes need to be made.
It starts with the leadoff spot. I wrote a few weeks ago that it was time for the club to consider moving Ian Kinsler out of the leadoff spot. While he's versatile and provides some power at that spot, something that can get into the head of an opposing pitcher, he was too inconsistent in 2012 and wasn't on base enough. His road and home splits were total opposites (he hit .220 on the road with a .290 on-base percentage and batted .293 with a .361 OBP at home) and while he still managed to score 105 runs (the top job of a leadoff hitter is to score runs, let's remember), Kinsler wasn't at his best in 2012.
Ian Kinsler was inconsistent in 2012, hitting .293 at home but just .220 on the road.
After mashing 32 homers and stealing 30 bases in 2011, Kinsler couldn't duplicate that in 2012. He had 19 homers and 21 stolen bases, though in fairness the entire Rangers team watched its stolen base total drop as teams paid a lot more attention to them on the bases. Kinsler's .326 OBP just wasn't good enough. Among AL players who led off at least 98 games, only one (Desmond Jennings) had a lower percentage. Kinsler had 60 walks, 29 fewer than last year. His 21 stolen bases was fifth-most among leadoff hiters, but he was picked off six times, a club record and the most in the American League.
I just wonder if a change in the order might help him. He could bat lower -- perhaps sixth or so -- and have a chance to drive in runs and set the table for the bottom of the order, too.
But to do that, someone has to step into that role. We've talked in our Texas Ten series about whether the team looks at trading Elvis Andrus to get some pitching or perhaps some outfield help should Josh Hamilton not return. But for the purposes of this assignment, let's assume Andrus is here. Could he lead off? He's got the tools. His OBP was 23 points higher than Kinsler's, he has speed once he gets on base and he showed more gap power this season. But manager Ron Washington also likes that Andrus can bunt runners over and do all the things needed of a guy in the two-hole as well.
Is batting leadoff too much to ask of Jurickson Profar so soon? Probably. But why couldn't he bat second? Or maybe ninth and act as another "leadoff" guy at the bottom of the order. If Leonys Martin makes a big push this spring, could he get a look?
Are there others to consider? Well, what if Josh Hamilton isn't in Texas and the club makes a deal for B.J. Upton on the free-agent market? He was primarily a two-hole hitter, so that could alter things. Acquring Upton is mere speculation, but whatever happens with Hamilton could have ripple effects both up and down the order.
How the rest of the lineup takes shape depends also on Michael Young. It's difficult to imagine he gets the same number of at-bats in 2012 that he had in 2013. Most fans think of Young as the No. 5 hitter, but it's worth noting that while he had most of his at-bats in that spot (287), he also had 190 at-bats in the sixth hole. But if Kinsler is moved down, perhaps Young bats seventh behind him?
There's lots in the order for Washington and the front office to consider and much of it depends on what happens this offseason. But no matter what goes on, would you change the leadoff hitter? If you change, is Andrus the right guy?