The 2013 season beckons and and I have fought tirelessly to avoid a certain truth that Walt Jocketty must face. You may be surprised to note that I am not referring to the decision regarding Aroldis Chapman as a closer or as a starting pitcher. I have maintained for over a year the belief that Chapman can best serve the franchise in a consistent starting role and I have not wavered in that closely held stance. No I am referring to the investment made under his leadership last year that will only bear fruit in the form of a World Series trophy if the table is set for the best hitter in baseball with runners in scoring position.
I am referring to Joey Votto and who will set the table for him in 2013.
How happy would Joey Votto be if he came to the plate and found runners in scoring position? Photo Credit: Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE
Votto’s injury glossed over a painful fact in 2012. Joey was forced to be the defacto Cincinnati Reds leadoff hitter once the team moved beyond the first inning in each game he played in. While someone else was penciled into the top line of each scorecard, Joey was the catalyst for the offense that sputtered in his wake. Joey finished the season with a higher batting average than either MLB batting champion in 2012 but due to his extensive absence did not qualify for the honor.
If you examine the statistical production of the 10 players in the league with the highest batting average as recorded by baseball-reference.com you will immediately notice a few facts. Let’s take a look:
First off, a few observations.
- I was surprised to find 3 catchers on this list, I knew what Posey had done and as much as Molina is not my favorite player no one can dispute his success (in researching this I noticed that Yadier hit more home runs vs. the Reds than he hit against any other team). So I guess Joe Mauer snuck in a bit off of my radar.
- Jeter and Trout batting leadoff limit the number of RBI opportunities even with the designated hitter rule yet Trout still managed to drive in a run in 60% of his games. I love all of the comparisons I hear between he and Bryce Harper but the numbers don’t lie. If given the choice between these two players for your team would anyone take Harper?
- Derek Jeter is still pretty good at his advanced age of …a decade younger than me…
- Eventually though your eyes are drawn to Joey Votto‘s odd stat line. He only drives in a run every other game in spite of having an OPS of 1.340 with runners in scoring position. It explains why the Reds offense at times seemed to just disappear.
So what should Walt do? Both Steve Engbloom and Tyler Grote have written about the possibility of Shane Victorino and both have arrived at the same conclusion as me. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense economically or statistically. I guess great minds think alike or we are all a bit crazy together. Drew Stubbs has demonstrated ad nauseam that in spite of his speed and defense he just can’t hit or bunt at all. The thing about beating your head against a wall is the wall still remains when you are done but now you also have a headache to go with it. Zack Cozart seems to be the answer at short stop but he does not appear to be comfortable at the top of the batting order. Brandon Phillips will do a decent job wherever he is in the lineup but seems a more natural fit in the 2nd spot in the batting order.
So I am left with just one viable choice. Both economically and statistically. During the Reds 2012 season batting leadoff the Cincinnati Reds had can on base percentage of .254. They only reached base 25% of the time! Worst in all of baseball. Joey Votto is under contract for 12 more years but at 29 the apex of his career is now. Right now. Billy Hamilton is too young and too green to bring up to the Major League roster. But the time is now. Right now. Speed is a commodity that will age and wilt. Billy is a work in progress in center field as his time in the Arizona Fall League demonstrated. He will not be defensively up to the standard that Drew Stubbs has set. But the bottom line is this. His OBP during the 2012 campaign was .413 in Adv A Bakersfield and .406 in AA Pensacola. In the short Arizona Fall League his OBP was only .306 against the best talent in the minor leagues but that is still 52 points better than the leadoff batter in the lineup. The Reds incredibly found success with the worst leadoff production in baseball and Billy Hamilton will be better than that.
So the time IS now. Mr. Jocketty, it is your move.
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