Thursday, April 11, 2013

2013 Leadoff Hitter Power Rankings

The importance of batting order construction is a polarizing debate. I tend to lean towards evidence that batting order construction ultimately means very little. The one spot in the lineup that tends to be the most critical to scoring runs is the lead off hitter. Without commercial interruption, please enjoy our 2013 Leadoff Hitter Power Rankings:

Jeff Gross / Getty Images
1. Mike Trout, Angels
Everybody's All American. No surprise here. MGL made an great point on one of Tom Tango's message boards last week, and I find it apropos to bring up here:
Always keep in mind the counterintuitive notion that when a player has a very above average season and you expect his true talent to improve, say, because he is very young, guess what? If he does improve in true talent he will still likely have a much worse season. Mike Trout is a great case in point. We expect his talent to improve and we also expect him to have a much worse season! The public generally does not understand that concept but it is an important one.
2. Alex Gordon, Royals
A late-blooming prospect, Alex Gordon has put it all together for over two calendar years now. The guy who was the #1 overall prospect in the country when Mike Trout was still in high school is enjoying the prime of his career with a .301/.373/.481 batting line since the start of the 2011 season. Gordon's slash rate stats rank 4th/3rd/3rd among this group of 2013 lead off hitters and 19th/15th/33rd among all qualified hitters.

It's not always pretty, but Gordon gets  it done
Photo by Jamie Quire / Getty Images

3. Shin-Soo Choo, Reds
Choo leads all 30 leadoff hitters with a .381 On Base Percentage since the start of the 2010 season. He's also proud to have positive values against six different pitch classifications in the same time frame. According to Fangraphs pitch values, for the past 3+ years, Choo has fared well against fastballs, sliders, cutters, changeups, splitters, and knucklers. The only pitch with a negative value for Choo is the curveball.

Shin-Soo Choo is, um, adjusting to Center Field
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat / Getty Images

4. Jose Reyes, Blue Jays
Another guy who has succeeded historically, no matter what people have thrown at him is Toronto's star shortstop. Reyes is the second toughest lead off hitter to strikeout. His 8.4 K% from 2010-2013 is lower than everyone's except Juan Pierre's 6.1%.

Reyes is making a home with the #loviste crew
Photo by Leon Halip / Getty Images

5. Dexter Fowler, Rockies
Perhaps it's because he's 27 and the power never really came, but Dexter Fowler is one of the more underrated players in the game. Since receiving regular playing time as a 23-year old in 2009, Fowler's On Base Percentage has been...

AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
Dexter Fowler OBP
2009: .363 (.333 Lg. Avg.)
2010: .347 (.325 Lg. Avg.)
2011: .363 (.321 Lg. Avg.)
2012: .389 (.319 Lg. Avg.)

The Rockies center fielder is in his Age-27 season, which is the age of career years for many players. He already has 4 home runs through 9 games this year. Let's all try not to act too surprised if he does something seemingly outrageous like double his career high of 13 HR's.

6. Ian Kinsler, Rangers
Kinsler combines the rare abilities to hit for power, run, and make contact. He has the 3rd highest career slugging percentage among MLB's thirty leadoff hitters.

Career SLG Leaders (2013 Leadoff Hitters)
Mike Trout .526
Look for more power from Iam Kinsler
Brandon Wade / Getty Images
Shin-Soo Choo .468
Ian Kinsler .461
Carl Crawford .443
Jacoby Ellsbury .443

Kinsler turns 31 in June. The concern when projecting his next few seasons is that his HR/SB numbers will be closer to 15/15 than 25/25, especially if he moves off second base for Jurickson Profar.

If Kinsler moves to first base or a corner outfield spot, he risks losing all the value he gets from outperforming other second basemen.

7. Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
Boston's leadoff hitter is near the top of the ranks in most statistical categories, when comparing lead off hitters performance since the start of the 2010 or 2011 season. However, Ellsbury fell outside of our Top 5 because of he has always been more about batting average and slugging percentage than OBP. Plus, we lean towards the thought that his 2011 season is more outlier than indicative of his true talent.

Future free agent: Jacoby Ellsbury
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

8. Carl Crawford, Dodgers
When not wearing a Red Sox uniform, Carl Crawford has played at a high level. His scorching hot start this season has already produced more Wins Above Replacement than both of his seasons in Boston combined.

Carl Crawford Red Sox WAR (2011-12)
Games Played: 161
Baseball-Reference: 0.6 WAR
Fangraphs: 0.1 WAR

Carl Crawford Dodgers WAR (2013)
Games Played: 8
Baseball-Reference: 0.7 WAR
Fangraphs: 0.7 WAR

This reeks of small sample size, so to expand our vantage point a bit, since the start of the 2009 season, Crawford's numbers fail to impress. His .341 OBP in that time span ranks 17th among 2013's thirty lead off hitters. If we choose to discount the importance of his performance in Boston, attributing poor performance mostly to playing through injuries, we could see Crawford turn in a couple more .300/.355/.470 seasons.

Carl Crawford looks like he has fresh legs
Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

9. Norichika Aoki, Brewers
J. Daniel/Getty Images
No-one was sure what to expect of Aoki in his first season in America last year. With the potential to be a star or a fourth outfielder. His success appears sustainable, as he's shown command of the strike zone with a BB/K rate almost twice the league average.

10. Jon Jay, Cardinals
Jon Jay can wear the "professional hitter" tag proudly, and he's in his prime. I wanted to bump him out of the Top 10, in favor of the Pirates Starling Marte, but the fact is that Marte's ceiling isn't that much higher than Jay's expected performance for the next few seasons.

With a blond mullet and goatie, plus 30 lbs, Jon
Jay can resemble Matt Stairs Professional Hitter
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

11. Starling Marte, Pirates
It's hard to ignore the tantalization of upside, particularly when you compound the effects of a bat speed from a player with a projectable frame. Strong legs and strong hands can take a player a long way.

Strong Hands, by Starling Marte
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

12. Desmond Jennings, Rays
Cutting down the strikeouts would be nice, but so would more power. It's likely that one of those may happen, but not both.

Much is expected of young Desmond Jennings
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

13. Austin Jackson, Tigers
Perhaps we underrate AJ, and we'd love to hear from Tigers fans in the comments section. Unless he starts popping 30+ homers, we'll shy away from his 24.4% strikeout rate.

AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

14. Alejandro De Aza
After the 2009 season, the Florida Marlins chose not to offer De Aza arbitration. In came Kenny Williams of the White Sox to scoop him up off the scrap heap. Since then, Fangraphs computes that he's delivered over 20 million dollars of value to the pale hose. The contrast between his career slash rates from the Marlins to the White Sox is striking:

Alejandro De Aza BA/OBP/SLG
Marlins (2007-09): .232/.279/.311
White Sox (2010-13): .290/.355/.434

Alejandro de Aza is one of the better
waiver claims of the past five years.
Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images

15. Michael Bourn
Bromance is burning on the Cuyahoga
Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images
There's not much to say about Michael Bourn. He's okay, I guess, but he's not as good as his agent.

I wanted to put Aaron Hicks here, but he should be demoted by this weekend. Word on the street is that he's made things worse by not hustling while striking out all the time.

The rest...
16. Jose Altuve
17. Angel Pagan
18. Brett Gardner
19. Coco Crisp
20. Denard Span
21. David DeJesus
22. Nate McLouth
23. Gerardo Parra
24. Andrelton Simmons
25. Aaron Hicks
26. Franklin Gutierrez
27. Collin Cowgill
28. Ben Revere
29. Juan Pierre
30. Everth Cabrera

Please add your thoughts in the comments. Thanks!

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