In Search of First

Good morning, good afternoon, good night, gentle readers (I want to be apropos to my readers in whatever time zone they may be).  I haven’t been posting as often as I have in the past, partly because I have been somewhat busy, but more so because I have found myself searching for something new to talk about.  It’s not that I don’t have concerns or frustrations with this year’s Cardinals team, I do. It’s that those concerns and frustrations are virtually the same as I have always had.  After a while, even I get tired of listening to myself.

So, the one clear difference so far this season from last season, is the changes at the top of the Cardinals’ lineup.  Last season, no matter what lineup shenanigans were pulled by Mike Matheny, the one thing Cardinal Nation COULD count on was the comforting presence of Matt Carpenter in the first place spot.  Well, no longer.  Carpenter has been moved down one spot to number 2.  That change was welcomed by some, not so welcomed by others.  For myself, I don’t have an issue with Carpenter batting second, it’s a good spot for him, but moving him leaves the important spot of lead off bereft of a natural occupant.  Matheny has played musical chairs with the top spot ever since, and the last one standing each time has left much to be desired.

There have been as many difference of opinion as to who should be in that spot, as there have been bodies in that spot.  We have had Jon Jay, Kolten Wong, Peter Bourjos, Randal Grichuk, and Jason Heyward.  Jon Jay is now on the DL and the rest have not cemented themselves in that spot.  The differences in opinion have been differences in approach more than anything else.  There is the old school thought that speed should be at the top of the lineup; 4 of the 5 aforementioned occupants fit that mold.  There are those who view OBP as the deciding factor.  Others want a combination of both speed and OBP.  Still others look at the offensive profile of the hitter; the top spot gets the most PAs of any other spot in the lineup, so it follows that that post should be occupied by one of your best hitters.

For myself, I see speed as the least important factor of these to consider.  Speed is nice to have and it certainly makes a big difference in scoring runs.   But speed only matters once that speed is on base.  If it doesn’t get on base at a healthy clip, it’s wasted.

I see the ideal lead off candidate as a hybrid of getting on base and getting on base with a vengeance.  That means consistency, for one, and getting into scoring position as quickly as possible, for another.  It’s one thing to get on base, but you have to get on the right base to score runs.  This is where speed can be helpful, if you can stretch a hit into extra bases, or steal a base.  Doing this has its dangers, however, as we have so painfully seen with our bunch of base runners.  The other way to do it is to hit for extra bases, meaning hit the ball hard and far.  So my criteria is two fold: OBP and hitting profile.

Matt Carpenter fits my ideal lead off candidate better than anyone else on the squad.  He both gets on base and gets on base with a vengeance.  He is also the most consistent hitter on the team.  Prolonged slumps are very rare for Carpenter.  Unfortunately, Carpenter no longer occupies that spot.  I would like for him to move back there, but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen. Therefore, another candidate must be found.  So let’s look at who we have.

I am going to start by addressing those who have been occupying that spot in Carpenter’s stead.  Jon Jay is currently on the DL, but is expected back soon.  I don’t like Jay in the lead off spot for one clear reason, he doesn’t get on base with a vengeance.  He gets on base with a whimper.  When Jay gets an extra base hit, it is cause for a National Day of Thanks.  Jay has the distinction of having the least amount of power of pretty much anyone in major league baseball who qualifies as an everyday player.  Jon Jay has an ISO (Isolated power) of .020.  There isn’t a word in the English language for how awful that is.  Jay’s ISO has steadily declined for several seasons, and with the issues he has with his wrist, the likelihood of it getting any better is pretty slim.  So, NIX on Jay as a lead off hitter.

Kolten Wong, Peter Bourjos, and Randal Grichuk all have the same problem; they don’t get on base enough.  Career OBP for each:  Wong .297, Bourjos .306, Grichuk .282.  Is it possible for their OBP to improve?  Sure, it’s possible, more so for Wong and Grichuk because they are young.  Is it likely?  I wouldn’t count on it.  I give Wong a better shot than Grichuk, because Grichuk, though he has plenty of raw power,  has very poor contact skills.  He is basically a mistake hitter, throw him a juicy fastball and he is going to hit the crap out of it.  Otherwise, he is going to strike out, or hit a weak grounder.

Jason Heyward is an intriguing possibility, he has a career OBP of.349, good speed, and the ability to hit for extra bases.  The issues with Heyward are that he is currently struggling quite badly, and he has demonstrated an aversion to hitting lead off.   Neither of those things are immutable, so he remains an option, if not now, perhaps at a later time.

So who does that leave?  Well, someone who doesn’t seem at all like a lead off hitter, and one who is probably not going to get that spot as long as Mike Matheny is the manager.  That person is Matt Holliday.  Yes, Matt Holliday.  Matt Holliday both gets on base and gets on base with a vengeance.  Blessed with a career OBP of a whopping .386, and enough power to hit for extra bases, Matt Holliday is my candidate for lead off hitter in the place of Matt Carpenter.  Holliday’s  power has declined somewhat, but he still has enough to fill the role.

I imagine a lot of people think I’m crazy, but a lot of people are mired in the past ways of thinking about baseball.  IT FITS, people.  Get with the program.  You want to win lots of baseball games?  Then stop thinking like you can’t wait to drive your Edsel to the General Store.

My work is done here.

 

 

Thank you for reading.

 

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