Dodgers manager Don Mattingly announced this morning that newly acquired shortstop Jimmy Rollins will be the team’s leadoff hitter when regular season play begins on April 6. Eric Stephen of True Blue LA passed the news along via Twitter:
Don Mattingly said Jimmy Rollins would bat leadoff this year. “We don’t truly have anyone else who fits in that role.”
— Eric Stephen (@truebluela) March 3, 2015
Unlike yesterday’s totally unsurprising news about Clayton Kershaw starting Opening Day, this information from Mattingly answers a very real question. While it’s true that the Dodgers don’t have a Rickey Henderson-type player on the roster, they have several players who might thrive in the leadoff spot.
Carl Crawford has 470 career stolen bases, and nearly one-third of his career plate appearances have come in the leadoff spot. But other than 2013, when the Dodgers were in a similar situation of not having a true leadoff hitter, Crawford hasn’t spent the bulk of a season at leadoff since 2005. Crawford’s career on-base percentage of .332, while a step up from last year’s leadoff hitter Dee Gordon, does not set him apart as an obvious leadoff hitter.
Yasiel Puig started 11 games in the leadoff spot in 2014. Puig’s .386 career OBP is ideal for a leadoff hitter, and he definitely has the speed most commonly associated with that role. But he is not an efficient base stealer, sitting at a 59 percent success rate for his career, and he struggled in the leadoff spot in 2014 (.227/.333/.318, 0 SB, 1 CS).
One intriguing possibility for the future is rookie center fielder Joc Pederson. Pederson’s power projects to more of a middle-of-the-order batter, but he had 30 SB and a .435 OBP for AAA Albuquerque last season. Albuquerque is known to inflate a hitter’s stats, but 100 walks in 121 games shows great plate discipline that is in line with his performances at other levels of the minors. It makes sense not to put too much pressure on the rookie by throwing him into the leadoff spot, but it would not be surprising to see him slide into that role in the future.
So for now, at least, the Dodgers will go with the switch-hitting Rollins, who has the same basic profile as Crawford — decent OBP, efficient base stealer — with the advantage of having spent most of his career in the leadoff role. Throw in Crawford’s recent leg injuries, and Rollins seems the logical choice to start the season at the top of the order.