Why Mookie Betts Is the Best Daily Leadoff Option

muncy betts
(Harry How/Getty Images)

Just three games into the shortened 2020 season, some fans of the Dodgers have already been voicing their displeasure over the daily lineup cards written by skipper Dave Roberts.

Many of those same fans were under the presumption that newly extended superstar Mookie Betts would cement himself atop of the Los Angeles lineup, finally offering a solution to the uncertainties the Dodgers had at the leadoff spot over the last several seasons.

But, although Betts hit first against lefty Tyler Anderson in the second game of the season on Friday, the not-so-much fleet of foot Max Muncy led off in the other two games against the right-handed starters of the Giants.

Lineup design certainly isn’t what it used to be. Decades ago, a true speedster was always seen at the top of the order, while an established contact hitter with superb bat control was likely found in the two-hole. Today, however, offensive success is found with getting runners on base—period.

Sacrificing runners, small ball, and base-stealing aren’t highly prioritized (although they still seem to sometimes have effectiveness when executed properly), as OBP is now the king of all run-producing statistics.

Breaking it down even further, with today’s technology, techies take into consideration hot and cold zones, as well as a player’s success against a specific pitcher, or at least the percentage of certain pitches they throw, when they make their daily lineup recommendations to the skipper.

I’ve always believed that there’s a big difference between producing runs and manufacturing runs. Producing runs—in the case of the Dodgers—could be viewed as the result of having a well-oiled machine already in place, with the pieces fully functional and fine-tuned, ready to spit out an endless stream of runs. In other words, producing runs is the result of players consistently reaching base and turning the lineup over.

Manufacturing runs—and I’m not saying the Dodgers will abandon this tactic completely—might be viewed as a player grinding out an AB to draw a walk with nobody out, moving to second by stealing the base, advancing to third on a bunt down the first base line, then scoring on a deep sacrifice fly to right-center field. A perfect scenario in a deciding postseason game amidst a classic pitcher’s duel.

Anyway, very few people realize that Muncy had the team’s second-best OBP last season at .374, second only to Cody Bellinger‘s ridiculous .406. These figures fit nicely into the theory about putting runners on base ahead of the biggest sluggers of the order.

The left-handed hitting Joc Pederson had an excellent OBP of .339 last season and spent quite a bit of time batting first against opposing right handers, but the fact that Muncy had much more success reaching base supports the logic of him hitting leadoff this year. What’s more, Muncy, also a left-handed hitter, hits opposing southpaws extremely well. In 2019, Max hit .242 in 408 plate appearances against right handers while hitting .268 in 181 PA against lefties. To balance this out from an OBP perspective, he drew an impressive 71 walks against righty pitching.

Pederson slashed .224/.240/.265 in 50 PA against southpaws last year. Again, the logic for hitting Muncy first fits.

Here’s the crazy thing, though: Betts’ OBP last season was .391, 17 points higher than Muncy and just a few ticks behind Bellinger, who had a season most big league players dream about. Furthermore, in 2018, Betts posted an insane .438 OBP, second in the majors to only Mike Trout, who coincidentally drew a monstrous 122 walks that season.

What’s even more impressive about Betts is that his splits are absolutely outstanding. As much as front-office boss Andrew Friedman advocates pitching/hitting matchups, it’s easy to see why he didn’t hesitate on signing Betts long term.

In 2775 PA against righty pitching, Betts has a career slash line of .300/.370/.515. Against lefties, he has hit .302/.382/.528 over 865 PA.

It doesn’t get more balanced than that.

Roberts has claimed that he likes using Muncy at the top of the order against opposing right handers, allowing him to set up a left-right-left-right pattern throughout the lineup. The skipper claims that for as much as opposing teams might change pitchers in the early part of the games, his lineup will remain balanced regardless of who’s throwing for the other team. The logic of leading off a lefty hitter against an opposing righty is that the Dodgers might have that matchup advantage for one extra AB before any opposing pitching change.

Regardless, in the long run, if the Dodgers want a better mathematical chance of scoring—at least in terms of the OBP theory—Betts is the man to bat leadoff on a daily basis. It should not matter the handedness of the opposing pitcher. The fact that he has stolen double-digit bases in each of the last five seasons is icing on the cake.

As proven by his fantastic OBP last season, Muncy would probably fit well into the leadoff slot for any other team who may abide by the strategies of run production and reaching base.

However, in the case of the Dodgers, Betts is the better option in every single angle you might look at it—traditional or contemporary.

 

10 thoughts on “Why Mookie Betts Is the Best Daily Leadoff Option

  1. The guys took a day off today. Absolutely no urgency. Maybe this loss will be a wake up call that you have to bring it for each and every game if you’re only playing 60.
    Anyone can have a bad game and Wood and Santana certainly weren’t at their best today, but with the depth of pitching we have, they won’t get too many chances to prove themselves before they lose their spots in the rotation (Wood) or on the roster (Santana). I still can’t see Santana here instead of Gonsolin. Hopefully Cat Man will be back before too long.

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  2. Betts should be left alone at the top of the order so you can some sort of normalcy in the lineup. You can mix and match with the rest but to me 2nd should be Muncy or Seager. Muncy runs much better than his body type would let on and Seager, while slower than Muncy, is about as professional of a hitter as we have. I like Turner hitting cleanup regardless of lefty or righty, he seems well suited to that role even if others have more natural power. The real question is what do you do with 6-9? To me Pollock has to show me he deserves to hit higher than Kike or Taylor so I’d have him hitting 8th with Smith/Barnes 9th and you go with matchups to see who hits 6-7.

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  3. Pollock has to show me he deserves ab’s against righties over Rios. If Pollock gets off to a bad start do we have tine to ride it out in a 60 game season? I say we don’t and Rios gets his shot against righties. And no more dissing on Barnes from me for a while out of respect for the Rocky Mountain fisherman

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    1. Too early in the season to panic. And I have seen some posts on other blogs that are down right ridiculous. But the next 9 games are definitely going to be harder. SD has won it’s first 2 games, and so have the Astro’s. Arizona has yet to get off the schnide in SD, so they might be hungry for a win by the time the Dodgers get there for a 4 game set come Thursday. Steve is right, Jr. was a damn good leadoff hitter. .He hit .273 out of the leadoff spot over his career with a .369 OBP. But he was really valuable to the team when he was in the 2 hole behind Maury Wills. He was one of the best at getting his man over and sacrificing his own stats for the good of the team. I am not worried about Pollock. What seems to be a little problem right now is getting AB’s for Rios, and Beaty, who has yet to hit at all. You are actually picking on the wrong guy right there Rich. Pollock is hitting .500. All the players except Belli and Betts are over .300. Rios has had one at bat, and Beaty none. I am more concerned about stability out of the starting staff. Wood had a lousy game, and no one beat himself up more after the game than he did. He obviously did not have the same stuff he had in spring. But one game does not a season make. As for Barnes Rich. As a hitter, he is not much better than former Dodger catcher, Jeff Torborg. Torborg had a career average of .214. He played 7 years in LA and one for the Angels. Torborg caught 3 no hitters, one of them being Koufax’s perfect game. The other 2 were Bill Singer’s no no, and the first of Nolan Ryan’s 7. But he was no big stick, just one of the best with a glove and game calling skills. But Barnes hit as many homers as Torborg hit in his career, 8, in 2017. Will Barnes be a great hitter with a lot of power? Doubtful. But he still can catch hold of one now and then. Where he is weakest is throwing out runners. That he does not do very well. Smith will end up catching most of the games, and that is as it should be. But they really have no other options besides trading for an experienced catcher or waiting for Ruiz to be ready, which he is not yet. Gale, strictly emergency guy only.

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  4. I fully expect Julio to begin his ace like Dodger t career tonight! Well Pollock has had only 2 ab’s and after such.a disastrous post season he has a lot to prove. He just looks helpless against a slider. In a 60 game season we don’t have the luxury to wait out any slump to a supporting player. I love the guy and hope he can get it going but I think given a chance Rios can be an absolute stud with the bat

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    1. Rich, remember how awful Puig looked against a good slider? Most hitters have problems with that pitch. You have to learn to recognize it. And there are a lot of really good sliders in the game. You know who else has trouble hitting a good slider? Belli. That is how he struck out so many times in the 2017 series. Pollock ended the year on a low note. But he was one of their best hitters the last 2 months of the season, and he is a veteran, so he really has nothing to prove to anyone. All he needs to do is STAY HEALTHY.. He does that, and he will be fine.

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