Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Leading Off for the Tigers...

Pudge Rodriguez has been the Tigers leadoff hitter in all six games he has started so far this spring. Does this mean Leyland intends to use him in that spot during the regular season? He's not saying but I have to believe he is seriously considering it. At first glance, this does not look like a good idea. Rodriguez was the best base runner on the team in 2006 which is a nice quality for a leadoff man but not the most important one. His .332 On Base Percentage was a good deal lower than you would want from that position in the order and it was no better than Curtis Granderson's .335 OBP.

However, Leyland said during the winter that he might use Rodriguez in the lead off spot in order to get him to become more disciplined at the plate. His strikeout/walk ratios have been dreadful the past two years - 26/86 in 2006 and 11/93 in 2005. Whether Pudge can significantly improve his approach batting leadoff is questionable but since they don't have an ideal leadoff batter, it is probably worth trying. So far this spring, Rodriguez has 6 hits in 14 trips with 3 walks and no strikeouts. Spring training stats are not very predictive of regular season stats but the three walks may indicate that he is at least trying to take more pitches.

Leyland also suggested during the off-season that a platoon out of the leadoff spot might be a possibility. Pudge reached base at a .385 clip versus left-handers in 2006 and .383 over the last 3 years. Meanwhile, against right-handers, his OBP was .310 last year and .317 over three years. Granderson, on the other hand, had an OBP of .277 versus left-handers and a .353 mark against right-handers in 2006. So the platoon idea makes a lot of sense statistically.

Of course, neither one would be benched when they weren't batting leadoff. They are both too valuable defensively to do that. Rodriguez would bat lower in the order versus RHP and Granderson versus LHP. One thing which became clear last year is that Leyland does not like to tamper with his line-up too much from day to day. He carried that to the extreme of batting Vance Wilson third last year when Pudge was getting a day off. A regular platoon is different than keeping the batting order constant when a regular is rested though. A Granderson/Rodriguez leadoff platoon certainly seems logical.

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