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Seven Train Express

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by user DNL

It was the month before the "New Mets" became the "Really New Mets." Joe Sheehan, in an online chat at Baseball Prospectus, said the following:

Glenn (NJ): Will Jose Reyes ever justify 600 PAs in the leadoff spot?
Joe Sheehan: I doubt it. Drop him to sixth and let him get on with his career before you Patterson him. His steals would have more value from that spot, too.

Let's revise the answer a bit, such that it fits nicely into the creative title of this page. Should a low OBP, high SB player like Jose Reyes bat leadoff, or bat seventh?

Jose Reyes

He even wears #7!

Clearly, having a low on base percentage is a detriment in the leadoff spot—you simply do not want this hitter creating outs, and thereby limiting the opportunities given to your other players. The case for Reyes, though—as is often made on ESPN message boards and various New York Mets blogs—is that Reyes scores rather often when he gets on base, so you want him to have as much opportunity to get on base as possible.

Upon further review, that latter argument does not hold water.

Proponents of the argument note that in 2005, Reyes had 190 hits, 13 walks, and had two HBP. This, totalled up, put Reyes on base 205 times. He scored 99 runs. Compare that to the hardly fleet footed Paul Konerko (five career stolen base attempts): 163 hits, 81 walks, five HBP, or 249 times on base—and 98 runs. Reyes scored 48% of the time he reached base in this fashion to Konerko's 40%. Or, more interestingly, Reyes and Konerko scored the same amount of runs, and Reyes required nearly fifty fewer times on base. Wow.

Almost.

Flaw one: Reyes probably reached base a lot more often than the numbers show, because they do not take into consideration times on base as a result of a fielder's choice or error. Reyes' speed is an asset in creating these results—he is less likely to ground into a double play than Konerko, and similarly is more likely to beat out a bad or fielding-delayed throw than Konerko. So, it is likely that Reyes' times on base are artificially low.

Flaw two: The benefit of Reyes' speed is misplaced. It is true that he is more likely to score when on base than a slow-footed OBP machine, and it is likely true that Reyes will be on base more as a leadoff hitter than as a seventh-slotter. But the following two sentences are also true:

(1) A slow player needs bats behind him to move him around the bases and
(2) Jose Reyes does not.

The first one is obvious. A player who cannot steal second, who has trouble going first-to-third on an opposite-field single, and who needs a near-double to score from second simply cannot go from first to home without help. The second one should, also, be obvious. After all, Jose Reyes scored 99 runs while having the hardly dynamic duo of Kazuo Matsui and Miguel Cairo sharing the slot directly after him.

The Mets 2006 lineup will likely feature Carlos Beltran, David Wright, Carlos Delgado, and Cliff Floyd in the four spots directly following Reyes. Each and any of these guys could drive in a runner with Jason Whitlock's speed. Reyes' is wasted in the leadoff spot. Similarly, it would be nice if there were someone on base for Beltran et al. to drive in, and Reyes does not get on base all that often.

So if leadoff is out, why is seventh appropriate? Well, it really is not, because the Mets do not have a spare high OBP guy to plug in the leadoff hole. But let us imagine that Kaz Matsui was good for a .300 batting average and a .375 OBP. (Or, let's imagine that the Mets acquired Luis Castillo or Julio Lugo.)

I do not really care who hits in front of Reyes, but someone with a decent OBP would be nice. The player does not even have to be fast. Sure, there's a risk that having a Whitlockian runner on base ahead of Jose will clog the basepaths, but given how rarely Reyes gets on base due to his own talents, it is a risk we should all be willing to take. In fact, there is some advantage to having a slower-than-average player on; when that player singles, Jose is likely to ground into a fielder's choice, thereby replacing the slow player at a very small cost to the team. (Had there been no runner on first, the ground ball would have likely resulted in Reyes being out at first.)

After Reyes—and assuming I have a limited roster of talent—I want a player often puts the ball in play. That means low strikeouts but low walks. (Obviously, I'd prefer high walks instead of the outs created, but again, we are dealing with a limited amount of talent.) The reasons are simple: Reyes is very good at taking extra bases by himself, as in stealing them; and Reyes is also very good at taking extra bases whenever the ball is live. For example, imagine that Reyes leads off the inning with a single. He then steals second. The batter behind him hits a medium grounder to second base—Reyes will take third. A batter who strikes out a lot prevents the latter extra base; a batter who is replaces hits with walks makes stealing the base irrelevant.

The Mets have a guy just like that. His name is Paul Lo Duca. Good.

So, put our hypothetical guy in the leadoff hole, Beltran through Floyd two through five, Xavier Nady or Victor Diaz sixth. I doubt any will quibble with that order.

Then put Reyes in the seven spot and Lo Duca behind him, maximizing Reyes' value. As a plus, you get a guy with a decent OBP but with below-average speed batting in front of the pitcher, giving the pitcher's spot a chance to bunt him over to second.

And then, instead of having Reyes and his .300 OBP up next, you have your .375 OBP player at bat, ready to keep the rally alive.

Jose Reyes 2003-2005 Stats

<stats> Player=Jose Reyes Type=Batting Years=2003,2004,2005 </stats>

Date

Thur 2/23/2006 5:2 PM


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