Cincinnati Reds manager David Bell has shown a willingness to think outside the box with his lineups on a daily basis. However, it’s time to find some stability with Joey Votto batting leadoff.
Jesse Winker, Scott Schebler, José Peraza, Curt Casali and Joey Votto all have one thing in common. Each has hit from the leadoff position through the first 22 games of the season. While the Cincinnati Reds lack a conventional top-of-the-order presence, the answer to the problem is a relatively simple one.
Many baseball traditionalists believe in the axiom that you need speed at the top of the lineup. For years, Reds fans have been subjected to the likes of Drew Stubbs and Billy Hamilton leading off games simply because they’re fast. Never mind that Stubbs and Hamilton both produced an on-base percentage worthy of hitting no higher than eighth.
The perfect spark to jump start this Reds offense is none other than Joey Votto. Over the past week, it seems David Bell is believing in this theory as well. Having only hit leadoff once in his career, during his rookie campaign of 2008, Votto has been at the top of the order 6 times in the past 10 days. It makes perfect sense.
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Votto has led the National League in on-base percentage seven times throughout his career, including the past 3 seasons. At age 35, we may not see the power Votto has delivered in the past, but his penchant for getting on base remains strong. At this stage of his career, he’s the perfect table setter.
Going into play Wednesday, Joey Votto has compiled a .342 OBP despite a .235 batting average. It’s a safe bet his batting average will rise significantly throughout the season as well as his OBP. Let’s be honest, the job of the leadoff hitter is to get on base and nobody since Barry Bonds has done it better than Votto.
What about speed? Votto doesn’t have it, but guess what, outside of José Peraza and Phillip Ervin, there isn’t another player on the club who’s a serious base stealing threat. The Reds are currently last in the NL with 4 stolen bases and would be base stealers have been gunned down 8 times. Their 33% success rate is the worst in the league by a wide margin. Speed should be the least of David Bell’s concerns.
The past couple of games, David Bell has gone with a lineup that plays to the Reds strengths. Behind Votto, Bell has inserted Eugenio Suárez. A recent trend throughout baseball that has adopted is the theory of having your best hitter in the number two hole. At this point, a strong argument can be made that Suárez is now the club’s best hitter.
Jesse Winker has shown the most power in the Reds lineup to begin the season. In addition to his knack for not only hitting homers, but getting on base, Winker should occupy the third spot in the Cincinnati Reds’ batting order for years to come.
Behind him you have the slugging Yasiel Puig. It’s not hard to imagine the Wild Horse blasting 30-35 home runs playing half this games at Great American Ballpark. With Votto, Suárez and Winker in front of him, very few of those long balls should be of the solo variety.
For now, Derek Dietrich slots in nicely behind Yasiel Puig. Dietrich also possess impressive power and will have ample opportunity to display it with the bases occupied. Once Scooter Gennett returns following his groin injury, he can take over Dietrich’s spot in the batting order.
Batting sixth should go with whoever is playing shortstop that day. José Peraza and José Iglesias both have some pop in their bat. In the seventh spot you could have a platoon of Scott Schebler and Phillip Ervin. Schebler against right-handers and Ervin versus southpaws. Finally, that leaves Tucker Barnhart or Curt Casali hitting eighth.
The way this lineup is constructed provides many advantages. Number one, the guys at the top of the order should reach base consistently. Second, the guys in the middle of the lineup all have power. Third, the six through eight hitters are all interchangeable, while taking advantage of potential pitching match-ups.
What the lineup also does is negate the flexibility of opposing bullpens. By having left-handed and right-handed hitters alternating in the order it will make it impossible for left-handed relievers to face more than one batter.
If the opposing team brings in a left-hander to face Jesse Winker, the Cincinnati Reds can counter with Matt Kemp. How about a LOOGY to face Scott Schebler? David Bell can call upon Phillip Ervin to grab a piece of lumber.
Even though the offensive numbers have been ugly in April, there is way too much talent for them to be held in check much longer. Lineup construction will be a key contributor to changing the Cincinnati Reds fortunes. It may take some time to embrace seeing old faces in new places in the batting order, but Joey Votto will be the straw that stirs the Reds’ drink.