Whether it’s a mandate that trickled down from the front office, a decision that Manager Dave Roberts arrived upon himself, or a collaboration between the two, it was revealed on Tuesday that the Dodgers tentatively plan on rotating numerous players at the leadoff spot in the batting order when regular season play begins in April.
Doug Padilla of ESPN recently pointed out that everyone from Howie Kendrick to Carl Crawford to Joc Pederson to Corey Seager to Enrique Hernandez could have the leadoff job at some point, and that Roberts appears to be fully on board with the sabermetric philosophies of the front office.
“You know what, I think that as a former leadoff hitter, we have all been conditioned for routines and consistency, but I think that as this game has evolved, we’ve all had to see things in a different way,” Roberts said. “I’ve had many conversations with the players that there will be some change. I think that where you hit in the order in years past, in decades past, there is a lot to be said for that. But this day and age, with the data that we have, sometimes change is good.”
Padilla also indicated that Roberts will use advanced analytics to determine who hits where throughout the entire lineup — not just with the leadoff spot.
Kendrick seems to be the favorite to command most of the repetitions hitting first in the batting order. As early as the Dodgers’ first Cactus League matchup against the White Sox last week, Roberts believed Kendrick would be in the mix for the leadoff role. Per Eric Stephen of True Blue LA:
Back in January, TBPC discussed the logistics of the modern leadoff batter, and concluded that players who get on base more frequently and hit the ball harder are actually more beneficial to a team’s success than the traditional speed burner, adding that both Pederson and Yasiel Puig had the tools to productively slot into the Dodgers’ leadoff role.
Ken Gurnick of MLB.com specified that in 2014, the last year of the Ned Colletti regime, the Dodgers used six different leadoff hitters. Dee Gordon hit first in the lineup the most, leading off in 133 games total, while the team used 142 different lineups during the entirety of the season.
Last season, the first under president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers used 12 different leadoff hitters. The club used 137 different lineups altogether, tied for seventh-most in the bigs. Pederson led off the most times, starting 69 games batting first.
Many fans will argue that continuity and team chemistry could possibly be affected by the revolving batting orders and potential positional platoons, but Roberts seems to have a firm grasp on the strategies for the upcoming campaign.
“There is an argument to be made for (continuity), but regardless of where an individual hits in the lineup, it shouldn’t change how they are as a hitter,” Roberts said. “Adrian (Gonzalez), if he hits third or fourth, he is going to be Adrian. Whether Howie hits first or second, or he hits fifth, he should be the same hitter. I think Chase (Utley) will be the same way. If you look at the guys on our roster, that’s the way that should be.”
Roberts will have until the end of the month to experiment and analyze which lineup combinations will be best for the club to begin the season. New base coaches George Lombard and Chris Woodward also bring fresh perspectives in terms of enhancing baserunning skills and improving run production.
The Dodgers open the season against the Padres on April 4 in San Diego.
(Photo Credit: Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)