I generally don’t care about lineup construction. If a team ever finds itself with a less-optimal hitter at the plate, that’s more a problem of roster construction than in which order the team bats. But the Giants have been atrocious the first time through the order. They’ve failed to score in the first inning through the first 20 games of the season. It might be time to shake things up and take it from the top.
What I posit, is that Steven Duggar, despite being the fastest player on the team, should not be hitting leadoff. Instead, Brandon Belt should slide into the number one slot. Belt isn’t the perfect option, but he’s the best the Giants have.
A traditional leadoff hitter is supposed to be able to get on, steal second, or go first to third on a single. It helps if they’re able to work a count, too. Even if they make an out, they can come back to the bench with a scouting report about what the pitcher is throwing.
But the way the game has changed has made that role obsolete. Stolen base attempts are down. The Giants leader in stolen bases last year was Andrew McCutchen, who had a whopping 13.
Run expectancy matrices are more ubiquitous, so teams are less willing to go first-to-third now because the reward isn’t as great as once thought.
Starting pitchers are also more willing to turn things over to the bullpen. Unless you’re facing the Nationals, driving up pitch counts to get the starter out of the game isn’t as viable as it used to be. Bullpens are just as good, if not better than starters. Let’s say a team is facing the Giants. Is the other team really eager to get Drew Pomeranz out of the game, so they can face Will Smith, Tony Watson, and Reyes Moronta?
Really, the only thing left that a leadoff hitter needs to do is get on base, and that’s what analytically-minded people have been arguing for years. A leadoff hitter gets the most plate appearances in a game, followed closely by the second-place hitter. They’re only guaranteed to leadoff an inning once per game, too. Even if the state of the game hadn’t diminished the importance of speed, putting the fast guy in front to set things up for the Beef Lords might only come up once.
It’s really as simple as putting two best OBP guys in the first and second spot to give them a higher shot of taking an extra plate appearance. I’m as big a Duggar-stan as anyone, but even I think his ceiling is a .700 OPS. His OBP is probably going to be under .300 this year and if it isn’t, it’ll be close to it. Duggar is fast, but if he doesn’t get on base and he’s not a good hitter, what’s the point of having him in the position to get the most at bats?
Belt is the Giants best hitter, and while his power means that he should be batting cleanup, the Giants don’t have any other high-OBP guys to hit leadoff. Putting Belt in the position to rack up RBI is immaterial if the guys ahead of him aren’t getting on base. If Posey were hitting like himself, I might say that Posey should leadoff and Belt should bat second. But when Belt’s the only good hitter on the team, the Giants are boned no matter what they do.
When everything is going right, the Giants could build a lineup that looks like this:
Swapping around the batting order isn’t going to suddenly turn this team into an offensive juggernaut, but getting the best hitters more at bats (and more importantly, the poorer hitters fewer at-bats) should help score more runs, and this team needs all the runs it can get.