Who Should Hit Lead-Off for the Phillies?
Don’t mistake the uncertainty in the Phillies lineup as “flexibility.” Just because you can envision a zillion different scenarios, all of which are predicated on what happens in the corner outfield spots in Clearwater – doesn’t mean options are as plentiful. They aren’t.
(Listen to Phillies beat reporter Todd Zolecki from MLB.com talk about the Phillies line-up)
One of the few guys who can, however, hit viably all over, is Jimmy Rollins.
And replacing him at the top of the order with Ben Revere has a few benefits.
First, the lead-off spot. Revere has his last three seasons stuck a .263/.310/.294 slash line when batting at the top of the order. Rollins there offers a .256/.326/.421 over the same span. Revere has stolen 74 bags on 93 attempts. Rollins, 77 on 91.
Two things should become pretty clear: Rollins' power -- 47 home runs since 2010, the third-most among NL shortstops -- would be better used (and would maybe be just better) later in the lineup. And even if Rollins has been a comparable bag swiper to Revere, he's entering his age-34 season, and batting Revere first instead of eighth is the best way to let his speed can make up for his lowly walk rate (5.4% in 2012).
That also helps diminish Revere's biggest weakness: his ground ball rate. In 2012, just two players in baseball had a rate higher than 60%. At 66.9%, Revere's was one, and led the sport. (Jeter's was the other, a 62.5%.)
While he's hit into double plays at a comparable rate his last two years regardless of his batting position -- 2011 with him at the top of the order, 2012 with him predominantly in the two-hole -- Revere batting later becomes a legit GIDP risk.
Next, there's the Ryan Howard factor. Simply, Howard has enjoyed a remarkable presence in behind him in every season he's played full-time. Consider:
Year - Team OPS from No. 5 hitters - NL Rank
2012 - .760 - 8
2011 - .760 - 7
2010 - .944 - 1
2009 - .857 - 2
2008 - .866 - 2
2007 - .830 - 2
2006 - .900 - 4
(Of note, about half of Howard's 2006 at-bats came in the No. 5 spot.)
Talk about spoiled. In his first season as an everyday player, Howard had, basically, Aramis Ramirez, whose OPS in 2012 ranked 12th among all players, behind him.
Now, many a sabermetrician would argue that batting order is totally irrelevant. Only, it does seem to translate, as Howard has seen fewer fastballs every year since 2006 -- which also accounts for the slippage in home runs -- until an uptick in 2012.
That’s not all on his injury, either.
While Rollins isn't exactly that type of OPS player -- he's had a .730 his last three seasons, and has topped .850 once, in 2006 -- he's the surest thing the Phillies have by way of a power hitter. At least for now, while we sit and wonder and project.
Maybe that changes, if Darin Ruf, Domonic Brown and Delmon Young (when/if healthy) emerge in the early going in the season. But for now, the plan has to be made for a worst-case scenario, in which none are serviceable five-hole options.
Of course, the human element has to be discussed, seeing as this could be viewed as a demotion. Then again, Jimmy has the past few years loved to swing for the fences, something this move would seem to encourage, maybe enough for him to encourage it.
Considering the top-to-bottom benefits, there’s really no reason not to make this move.