Reds Still Looking for That Elusive Leadoff Hitter?


As I’m scanning my reader situated around the Good Guys, I was constantly thinking of Mark Sheldon’s post from Wednesday. One area Sheldon denotes as needing improvement is the lead-off position. No single spot in the lineup produced more consternation than that of the top of the order. The common refrain was that the Reds needed guys on base ahead of Joey Votto.

Reds manager Dusty Baker tried four different players more than 10 times at the lineup’s top: Zack Cozart (101), Brandon Phillips (28), Drew Stubbs (17), and Chris Heisey (11). Here’s the slash each produced from the lead-off spot for 2012:

Cozart was called upon more than any other Reds player to bat from the lineup’s top spot last season. (Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE)

Cozart: .223/.262/.379
BP: .202/.254/.298
Stubbs: .159/237/.174
Heisey: .208/.269/.250
Reds avg.: .208/.254/.327
NL avg.: .257/.319/.382

Only the LA Dodgers had a lower team SLG from the top of the lineup (.302). The Reds were last in batting average and OBP…by far. The Dodgers were the slot above them at .226 BA and .284 OBP.

In regards to scoring runs from the top slot, Cincinnati (83) ranked 13th, tied with Houston and Pittsburgh, among the NL’s 16 teams. Yes, please do revert back to the earlier comment about guys getting on base ahead of #19. This offense is more potent when that situation occurs.

The eye-opener to many may have been the announcement of Billy Hamilton moving to center field. Relief, for some, may have followed, but I still express a concern in pushing the Theft King into an MLB role in the immediate future. We know baseball is a game of confidence, and while Hamilton does not lack such, it could suffer in the future if he is not immediately successful at the big league level. That could go for offense and/or defense.

I’m not saying Hamilton does not possess the tools. He has a track record which, aside from the steals, is pretty doggone good. To reiterate, Hamilton has cut down on the strikeouts and increased his walks. To post an OBP over .400 for his entire 2012 campaign is amazing. (Awaiting the Votto comments…)

So if the Reds decide to have Hamilton “in the wings” for about “50 or 60 games” as proposed by ESPN’s Keith Law on Baseball Today (go to the 37th minute of the podcast to hear Law’s statements regarding Hamilton), someone needs to fill the void until the switch-hitting base-stealing machine is ready to go.

This period will be to acclimate himself to a new position. What will speed the process is Hamilton’s raw speed and athletic ability, another point Law eludes to in the podcast.

And that could make landing a free agent, should that be the route of choice, a bit troublesome.

Knowing the front office might want a guy for only about half a season certainly would not make for landing a top of the line lead-off guy consider Cincinnati among his options. And there are some out there besides Michael Bourn who will be among the biggest names out there. If you go strictly for a center fielder to merely keep the seat warm for Hamilton, regardless of the period of time, you would have to go the cheap route.

And all of this leads us to…Juan Pierre? More Pierre talk? For the love of…

Pierre came on the cheap for the Phillies this past season ($800k) and had a good season, but he played mostly left field (105 games) and was utilized more as the team’s #2 hitter (67 starts) when in the starting lineup. I have a feeling these were issues the Reds considered prior to the trade deadline and even before 2012 began.

Back to the Shane Victorino chatter? After the Dodgers season had ended, my initial thought was that Victorino would stay in LA, but a little over a week ago, the LA Times reported that he and the Dodgers were likely to part. The acquisition of Carl Crawford added in the OF mix along with Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier makes for a nice trio.

Victorino is without doubt the odd man from that puzzle. He wants to start. Prior to departing Philly, it was said he wants a multi-year deal, too. He could possibly start in Cincinnati, but at what cost? And far how long? His lead-off splits last season were below NL average (.242/.296/.356 in 31 games), but they were better than what the Reds were delivered.

Not sure if Victorino would be willing to take a salary decrease (as most would figure he will most likely have to accept) as well as a possible decrease in playing time. He made $9.5MM last season and I cannot see any team offering him a deal that would equal such, especially Cincinnati.

Concerning Bourn, too much dough.

While the term BP was atop the lineup proved a success at the end of 2011, it was the opposite this past season (as clearly indicated by the numbers).

In the minds of some Reds fans, they may be no choice but to increase Hamilton’s learning curve. As I have stated before, and Law agrees, Hamilton needs time.

Some time after the New York Yankees were swept in the ALCS by the Detroit Tigers, this hit my #Reds timeline…

For the record, in his three years as a Yankee, Curtis Granderson has been the lead-off hitter, which is 452 games played, a TOTAL of 10 times.

We’re back to square one here, aren’t we?