Editor’s Note: Friars On Base is proud to bring back our popular series: 3 Up/3 Down, where Senior Staff Writers Mark “Wisco” Whelan and Devin Sparks will tackle the same topic, where one discusses why it might be a positive for the Padres, while the other plays Devil’s Advocate. We hope you enjoy the 2015 debut of this series, and encourage you, our readers, to share your thoughts to both sides of the coin. ~B.B.
One of the biggest remaining challenges for the San Diego Padres heading into the 2015 season is determining who will hit in the lead-off position. The team has no obvious choices; there are no rabbits with elite on-base percentages. But somebody’s got to hit first, so who’s it gonna be? Amarista? Myers? Andrew Cashner?
This thinking may be a little out of the box, but I think the best choice is Matt Kemp, and here’s why:
1. Kemp is a base stealer.
He has more career steals than anyone else on the team. He is 24th among active players in stolen bases, and is the third youngest guy on that list. The Bison has had three seasons with at least 34 steals, and swiped 40 as recently as 2011.
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His 170 career steals put him between Brett Gardner and Emilio Bonifacio on the active list. That’s pretty good company when it comes to stolen bases. Kemp can run, and more importantly, he knows how to steal bases. His 74.2% success rate is second best on the team to Will Venable. The only other member of the Padres with even one 30-steal season is Cameron Maybin. And in case you haven’t been paying attention, Venable and Maybin won’t be starting this year.
2. Kemp’s 2014 on-base percentage, .346, was the second-highest of anyone on the roster.
The only guy better? Derek Norris. But I don’t think you want the catcher hitting lead-off. Norris isn’t exactly Jason Kendall; he had two steals in four attempts last year. While Kemp isn’t the world’s most patient hitter, he does draw an fair number of walks. His 52 bases on balls last year was in the top half of qualified hitters. But combined with his .292 career batting average, he has reached base 34.9% percent of the time in his career, which is in the top 50 among active qualified players. No, it’s not quite an elite OBP, but the Padres don’t have anyone with an elite OBP. Kemp is better than anyone else. And once he gets on, he can steal.
3. Power out of the lead-off spot is a huge benefit to the team.
Remember back in the early 2000s, when Rickey Henderson, the best lead-off hitter ever, came to the Padres? The Man of Steal was 42-years old by that time, but still had eight homers out of the lead-off spot for the Friars. Henderson hit 297 homers in his Hall of Fame career, and 81 of those came leading off the game. Instant 1-0 lead. With a Padres pitching staff that frequently had to work without any run support at all last year, as the team was shut out 19 times, having a slugger like Kemp hitting lead-off would give the pitching staff a first-inning, first-batter run at least a handful of times during the year. Few things pick up a team like a lead-off home run, and with the Padres planning on competing deep into the postseason this year, that kind of confidence early in games will go a long way.
40 steals, solid on-base percentage, and huge power out of the lead-off spot. No other player on the Padres roster has that combination. It may be unconventional thinking, but the current state of the Padres’ roster demands some creativity. Matt Kemp should lead off for the Padres.