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Lineup construction is not hugely important, but it does matter. One of the most common ways that a manager can sabotage his team’s ability to score runs with lineup order is to put a low-OBP hitter in the leadoff spot. This post looks at the worst hitters to bat 1st in 2011.

Last year, I named the 10 worst hitters

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to bat leadoff at some point during the 2010 season. This year, I thought I’d change it up a bit and instead name the worst leadoff men in various categories. They are:

  • Worst Established Player to Lead Off at Least Once
  • Worst Newbie to Lead Off at Least Once
  • Worst 2011 OBP (20+ Times Leading Off)
  • Worst Career OBP (20+ Times Leading Off)
  • Worst 2011 OBP (80+ Times Leading Off)
  • Worst Career OBP (80+ Times Leading Off)
  • Worst Performance Batting 1st (50+ Times)
  • Most Times Leading Off, sub-.300 OBP

For the purposes of this post, “established” means a player with at least 500 major-league PAs before the 2011 season started. A newbie is anyone under that threshold. The Career OBP categories also include only “established” players.

Okay, on to the first award:

Worst Established Player to Lead Off at Least Once

Dewayne Wise, Marlins

Times hitting leadoff: 2
2011 OBP: .231 (worst in category)
Career OBP: .256 (worst in category)

Wise led off for the Marlins on June 18th and 19th of last year. As you may recall, the Marlins had a bit of a rough stretch around that time of year, losing 19 of 20 games to fall from 9 games above .500 to 8 games below. Wise’s two games batting first came near the end of that rough stretch. They were, in fact, the last two games of Edwin Rodriguez’s managerial career with the team. I have no idea if this little decision played any role in his firing (probably not), but it certainly is indicative of a manager who has run out of good ideas.

Wise does have some speed, but he’s never shown the ability to get on base at even a mediocre rate, much less an acceptable rate for a leadoff man. He did about as well/poorly as you would expect in his 2 games, reaching base twice in 9 PAs (.222 OBP). Oh,, and Wise is a repeat winner; he finished 3rd on last year’s top 10 list. I guess Edwin Rodriguez doesn’t read JunkStats.

Honorable mention: Felix Pie, used 10 times (!), .264 OBP in 2011 (5th-worst), .298 career OBP (5th-worst)

Worst Newbie to Lead Off at Least Once

Pedro Ciriaco, Pirates

Times hitting leadoff: 2
2011 OBP: .324
Minor League OBP: .297 (worst in category)

I am trying to figure out how Ciriaco even made it to the major leagues, much less batting leadoff more than once. Aside from one year when he was repeating high-A, his minor-league numbers are atrocious. Yes, he plays for the Pirates, and he plays shortstop, both of which lower one’s expectations, but man. His OBP is even worse in AAA: .267 (in 791 PAs).

That .324 OBP for the majors in 2011 was in only 34 PAs, so at least the Pirates didn’t play him much. He only started 4 games, so half his starts were at leadoff. The funny thing is, batting Ciriaco first actually paid off in the 2 times they tried it. He went 2/4 on July 30th and 2/5 on September 13th.

Honorable mention: Michael Martinez, 2 times, .258 OBP in 2011, .315 OBP in minors (2nd-worst)

Worst 2011 OBP (20+ Times Leading Off)

Rajai Davis, Blue Jays and Brian Roberts, Orioles

Times hitting leadoff: 23 (Davis), 39 (Roberts)
2011 OBP: .273 (both)
Career OBP: .319 (Davis), .353 (Roberts)

Davis led off as late as August 10th; his OBP was not above .300 before (or after) any of his 23 appearances at the top of the order. He posted a miserable .233 OBP (worst in the category) in his 103 PAs leading off.

It’s somewhat odd to see Davis here; he has twice in his career posted an OBP of .360 or better. Of course, 2011 marks the second time he has posted an OBP of .273 or lower, too. I guess he’s just hit-or-miss. Still, it’s strange that he did so much worse in 2011 with the Blue Jays than in the previous two years with the A’s… Given the home ballparks, you would have expected his numbers to improve quite a bit in Toronto.

As for Roberts, he didn’t play after May 16th due to injury, and he wasn’t himself before that, either. He also missed more than half of the 2010 season (though he hit decently when he played). Roberts’ OBP in the leadoff spot was .273, the same as his season OBP. Given that he’s now 34, it’s quite possible that he’ll never be a useful player again, much less a good leadoff hitter.

Regardless, Roberts will always have a place in the record books for his doubles-hitting prowess, a stat in which he led the AL twice. In fact, Roberts topped 50 doubles 3 times, making him one of only 4 players in MLB history to do so. The other 3 are all in the Hall of Fame: Tris Speaker (5 times), Stan Musial (3 times), and Paul Waner (3 times). Not bad company.

Honorable mention: Aaron Rowand, 46 times, .274 OBP in 2011 (.330 career)

Worst Career OBP (20+ Times Leading Off)

Ian Desmond and Roger Bernadina, both of the Nationals

Times hitting leadoff: 50 (Desmond), 52 (Bernadina)
2011 OBP: .298 (Desmond), .301 (Bernadina)
Career OBP: .304 (both)

Desmond and Bernadina were the Nats’ two main leadoff hitters in 2011. Both are homegrown players who have never shown much OBP aptitude. I know the Nats didn’t have a ton of options, but they should be able to do better than two guys who are lucky to get on base 30% of the time.

Desmond had a .318 OBP when hitting first; Bernadina was even worse, with just a .285 OBP in that spot.

Honorable mention: Chris Getz, 32 times, .315 career OBP (.313 in 2011)

Worst 2011 OBP (80+ Times Leading Off)

Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners

Times hitting leadoff: 161
2011 OBP: .310
Career OBP: .370

Ichiro has been an excellent leadoff hitter in his career, as that .370 career OBP testifies. In 2011, though, he had by far the worst year of his career. It was the first year in which he had an OBP below .350, a batting average below .310 (he hit .272), or a slugging percentage below .385 (he slugged just .335). That made him easily the worst of the 17 hitters to lead off in at least half of their team’s games. Hopefully, he bounces back in 2012, because baseball is always more fun when Ichiro is doing Ichiro things.

Honorable mention: Ben Revere, 90 times, .310 OBP in 2011 (.385 OBP in the minors)

Worst Career OBP (80+ Times Leading Off)

Drew Stubbs, Reds

Times hitting leadoff: 95
2011 OBP: .321
Career OBP: .325

Drew Stubbs is a very good player; he’s a very good defensive center fielder with good pop who can steal bases at an excellent clip (80% career success rate). He even has a decent walk rate. His OBP is relatively low (about league average) because he strikes out a TON, which means he’ll never hit for a high batting average. That low average will probably always keep him from being a really good choice for the top of a lineup, unless he can up his walk rate.

Stubbs’ OBP when leading off in 2011 was .329, which is in line with his career numbers. He’ll presumably continue to lead off for the Reds, even if his batting profile suggests that he’d be better use in the 6th or 7th spot in the lineup. And you know, given Dusty Baker’s history, I’m sure he’s had many much worse leadoff guys. The Reds will be pretty good, regardless.

Honorable mention: Emilio Bonifacio, 97 times, .328 career OBP (but a very good .360 OBP in 2011)

Worst Performance Batting 1st (50+ Times)

Roger Bernadina, Nationals

Times hitting leadoff: 52
OBP when leading off: .285

I talked a bit about Bernadina above. Suffice to say: ouch.

Honorable mention: J.J. Hardy, 64 times, .295 OBP when leading off

Most Times Leading Off (sub-.300 OBP)

Rafael Furcal, Dodgers & Cardinals

Times hitting leadoff: 62
2011 OBP: .298
Career OBP: .348

Furcal led off in 23 of his 36 starts for the Dodgers; he also missed a lot of time with injuries. After going to the Cardinals at the trade deadline, he led off in 39 of his 46 starts. Overall, Furcal had just a .296 OBP when leading off. He didn’t play particularly well for the Cardinals (.255 / .316 / .418), but the team certainly played well with him, passing the Braves for the wild card on the last day of the season and… ugh… well, you know the rest. Stupid Cardinals.

Honorable mention: Chris Coghlan, 59 times with a .296 OBP for the season, .301 OBP when leading off

Well, that’s all for the awards. As you can see, there were LOTS of terrible leadoff hitters in 2011. Some were understandable, I suppose, but many were simply a product of a poor thought process that equates speed with leadoff potential. Perhaps there is progress on that front, however. Despite a leaguewide downtick in OBP, there were “only” 38 players with a sub-.300 OBP who batted leadoff. That number in 2010 was 52.

I’ll leave you on that optimistic note. Thanks for reading, as always.

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