The Atlanta Braves are 7 – 5 after the first two weeks of the season, good for third in the NL East. With the exception of one calamity in San Diego, the pitching staff has really carried the team so far. The Braves are batting .230 as a team, which ranks 13th in the National League. The team batting average alone doesn’t illuminate the real problem – the lack of a leadoff hitter.
Nate McLouth lost the job in the Spring to Melky Cabrera, but the two have since switched places again. Neither player is getting on base. Nate McLouth has struck out 12 times in 27 AB. McLouth has only four hits and seven walks to counter the high K rate, good for an OBP of .333.
Cabrera has just stunk, period. He has five hits in 42 AB and sports a .245 OBP. Looks like the “Milk Man” has curdled at the top of the order. I vote we change the nickname to “Cottage Cheese”.
Despite my affection for Jason Heyward and my desire to see him hit first and get five ABs a game, the reality is that he strikes out way too much. He does have nine walks, but the 16 Ks are a few too many for a true leadoff man. His ability to mash the ball and drive runners home will also help keep him out of the leadoff spot. Heyward’s OBP: .423.
Martin Prado has sprinted out of the gate this year, registering a hit in almost half of his plate appearances. In fact, he gets on base at a .500 clip, so one has to wonder if the Braves don’t just try shifting him up to the leadoff spot. I think it has something to do with speed. Prado has none.
So what does it take for a player to succeed at setting the table for the rest of his team? I would have to guess that the player first needs to be disciplined; few K’s, contact hitter, can take a ball and draw a walk. Further, the player needs to have the speed and smarts to do the little things like stealing bases or going from first to third on a single, etc. Let’s say we need three things at least out of a leadoff hitter:
1. High OBP
2. High # of pitches per PA
3. SB ability; say 75% or higher
Let’s see who on the Braves can fill the void.
McLouth: .333 OBP, 4.36 P/PA, no SB in 2010, but he is better than 75% in his career
Cabrera: .245 OBP, 4.32 P/PA, no SB this year, but he is 44 of 58 in his career
I have a strong feeling that Prado will stay at number 2 all year, and that Heyward is too valuable with runners on, so I think the competition boils down to McLouth and Cabrera. How do they compare to some other leadoff hitters? Let’s stay in the division:
Jimmy Rollins: .516 OBP, 3.48 P/PA, 100% in two attempts
Cameron Maybin: .377 OBP, 4.18 P/PA, 100% in three attempts
Both of the above players bat first in the order for the two teams ahead of the Braves in the NL East.
All these numbers don’t tell me CHIT. Maybe the Braves just can’t hit.