After yesterday's trade for Drew Storen, the Blue Jays have finally given manager John Gibbons the late-innings weapon he was looking for. Liam Hendriks, Mark Lowe, and LaTroy Hawkins have all left the organization, all while Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman and Carson Smith joined division rivals. Yesterday's trade clearly helped to solve the late-innings issue, but did the Blue Jays create a new problem in the process?
Immediately after Ben Revere became a Washington National, many Toronto fans were left to ask the question: "Who leads off?". Devon Travis is not expected to be ready for opening day, while Troy Tulowitzki appears to be more comfortable hitting towards the middle of the order. Did the Blue Jays make a big mistake by trading away the team's former leadoff hitter?
Not only has Ben Revere posted a .300 batting average in each of the last three seasons, but he is also known to wreak havoc on the base paths. At first glance, he may look like the perfect guy to set the tone for the major sluggers in the middle of the order. When fans say: "how do you trade such a talented leadoff hitter?", this is where they are coming from.
However, it is important to understand that Ben Revere is not your typical .300 hitter. Of the 20 qualified players that hit .300 last season, 18 boasted above average offensive production with the bat. When you see a player with such a strong batting average, many just assume that the hitter provides strong production at the plate. Although Revere is among the league leaders in hits, a lack of power combined with a low walk rate makes him an outlier in this group of players. Around ninety percent of .300 hitters may be above average MLB hitters, but the statistics indicate that Revere is not among this portion of the group.
Without a doubt, the Blue Jays have some of the best hitters in all of baseball. Toronto's lineup is simply loaded with Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Troy Tulowitzki among others. With so many elite offensive players to choose from, why would you want to give Ben Revere the most at bats?
As the great Bill James shows us, each higher spot in the order means an estimated 15 to 20 more plate appearances over the course of a season. In these extra late-game at-bats, you want your best hitters at the plate to try to tie the game up or extend a lead. Using any lineup optimization tool, Ben Revere had no business leading off in this lineup to begin with. This can be hard to wrap your head around, as we would usually expect a .300 hitter to be a terrific leadoff option, but here we have a unique situation. The Blue Jays have so many power hitters that a player such as Troy Tulowitzki, a cleanup hitter on the average team, suddenly becomes a leadoff option.
If the Blue Jays want speed at the top of the lineup, John Gibbons can turn to Dalton Pompey to leadoff. This really does not make much sense, as speed is optimized ahead of singles hitters rather than big sluggers. Pompey can score from first on a homerun from Josh Donaldson or Jose Bautista, and you would rarely want to risk running into an out with these guys at the plate. When a guy like Kevin Pillar or Ryan Goins are up to bat, the ability to steal a base becomes far more valuable.
Who leads off for the Blue Jays in 2016? Hopefully one of the team's best hitters. Moving everyone one spot up in the lineup would mean 15-20 more plate appearances for Josh Donaldson, 15-20 more plate appearances for Jose Bautista, and you guessed it.. 15-20 more plate appearances for Edwin Encarnacion. To the rest of major league baseball, good luck. To put it simply, the Blue Jays do not have a problem in the leadoff spot.