Recently there were a few articles in the mainstream media that addressed Aaron Judge batting leadoff in an exhibition game for the Yankees.
I apologize for my vague introduction. I don’t really want to cite the articles – the reason I started this blog is because we can do better than what mindless rags do – but their gist were:
Aaron Judge leading off is an option especially against left handed pitching, as Brett Gardner had a sub .300 OBP against left handed pitching last season. (Side note: I was the one last season who said that either Chase Headley or Todd Frazier should have batted leadoff against lefties. Mr. Cashman, if you want someone to pay attention to this stuff for you, I’m available.)
They went on to mention Judge’s walks and OBP as reasons that him leading off wasn’t an absurd notion and that many analytically minded folks believe your best hitter should bat first, your next best 2nd, the next best 3rd, and so on.
You know the expression how a little knowledge can be dangerous? Well the above is a good example.
Judge’s walk rate and OBP are a part of his huge offensive impact. I’ll come back to that in a second…
And no: What the analytically minded folks believe (know actually, because the math has been done*) is that a) certain spots in the order are more likely to face certain game situations and that b) different batters have different strengths.
The point is to match up each player’s strengths with a spot in the order that the benefit of that strength will maximize run scoring.
For example, the leadoff hitter – due to leading off and following the numbers eight and nine batters – has more at bats with no one on base than any other spot in the order.
This tells us a few things:
First, with no one on base a walk and a single are the same thing. In fact a walk may be better as the pitcher may be forced to throw more pitches. So a player who sees many pitches and draws walks is the best option. Unless…
He also has a lot of power. Because so many at bats will be with the bases empty, having a player with power take those at bats isn’t the best use of that player’s power. Doubles, triples and home runs are far more valuable with players on base than with the bases empty…duh… (Reminder: Judge had a .627 SLG last season. Six. Twenty. Seven.)
Stay with me folks, not atom splitting…
So having Judge bat leadoff is a bad…really bad idea.
And for the but Gardner vs. lefties crowd, here’s a reminder:
Aaron Hicks had 3.9 WAR in half of a season last year. That’s almost as valuable as Judge was if stretched over a full season.
Among 287 players with at least 300 plate appearances last season, Hicks was 15th in BB% and 28th in chase rate.
In other words, he sees a lot of pitches and draws a lot of walks.
But you want his power down in the order? A) Judge has more, B) Hicks’ power became much less significant when Giancarlo Stanton told Derek Jeter to trade him to the Yankees.
To be clear, I’m not saying to lead Gardner off or to lead Hicks off or to platoon them in the leadoff spot.
I’m saying they’re both much better options than Judge. Put the big dog in the 2nd or 4th spot and let him eat.
*Thanks to Tom Tango for doing the homework for us.