Stat Treatment – Who Should Lead-off?

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The three most glaring holes pointed out by us here at Friars On Base are shotstop, first base, and lead-off hitter.  Two of those three could be solved by one of two players.  Earlier this week we argued that Seth Smith should play first base next season. Smith would also fit in well batting first. 

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First off, the Padres need some more left-handed hitters in the lineup.  Seth Smith seems like a guy the Padres need to keep rather than trade away, as has been rumored.  But why should the guy who led the Padres in slugging last year and who has average speed lead off?  Well, with the recent additions, Smith is far from the most powerful hitter on the roster.  And, frankly, speed at lead-off is overrated.  Would you rather have a guy who has speed but can’t get on base enough or a guy who gets on base a lot with average speed?  The latter is more valuable.  Smith lead the Padres in 2014 with a .367 OBP – beating out everyone else by 31 points.  Granted, his power is above average.  But even when factoring in Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Justin Upton, and Derek Norris, Smith still ranked number one in OBP in 2014.

Imagine a guy who gets on that often in front of the names listed above.  That would be deadly.  And Smith has hit lead-off before.  In fact, he did so, albeit rarely, for the Friars last year.  In his career, Smith has a robust .383 OBP when leading off a game.  It was .400 in 2014.  Last season, he also hit for a .380 OBP when leading off any inning.  Now, he would have to play 1B which is a risk in and of itself, as is playing the second option.

Ideally, Cory Spangenberg could fit right in at shortstop, because then he could possibly fill two holes.  But that’s ideally.  Is his arm good enough?  Hopefully.  We shall see.  So let us say that he is the shortstop next year or that he slots in somewhere else in the infield.  Having Spangenberg lead off is a risk in and of itself.  He played in only 20 games in the majors last season.  There will likely be some slumps before he adjusts.  However, he is still a viable option and pleases the old school desire to have speed at the top of the order.

Last season, Spangenberg hit for a .313 OBP in the majors and .356 at (mostly) Double-A.  While his average was basically the same, the dropoff comes from a lack of walks in the big leagues.  Throughout the minors, Spangenberg consistently drew a decent amount of walks, so that shouldn’t be much of an issue going forward.  Regardless, he had a league average OBP during his September call-up, which would not be acceptable from a lead-off hitter.  If he were to hit for the average he did on the Padres (.290) and add on the walks that he drew in the minors, then he would be an even better option than Seth Smith. That’s a lot of ifs, but worth checking out.

Ultimately, Smith is the better option due to fewer question marks.  While I’m all for taking chances, Spangenberg should have to earn the lead-off spot.  Bud Black should plan on giving the 2014 Padres’ most productive player the role of batting first.

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