Willie Bloomquist has been playing baseball for a long time. This will be his 10th full year in the Majors, and in the previous nine, he has never been even an average hitter. Despite this, Bloomquist has started the season as the D-backs’ leadoff hitter, a role he filled nearly half of the time last season. He has started the season hot, but history tells us that will not last, and when he reverts back to form, the D-backs may have trouble scoring runs.
Prior to 2011, Bloomquist had started in the leadoff spot 23 times, and had totaled 115 plate appearances there over eight seasons. In those 115 PA, he had hit .226/.287/.274. Despite this ineptitude — albeit in a limited sample — D-backs manager Kirk Gibson decided to slot Bloomquist in at leadoff to start last season. Bloomquist started 13 of the first 16 games, and hit leadoff in all of them. For his part, he hit well during that stretch — .306/.323/.419, playing both shortstop and left field. He homered, drove in seven runs, and stole seven bases in eight tries. If you had a utility guy who could do that all season, that would be pretty valuable, right?
Unfortunately, it wouldn’t last. A strained right hamstring shelved him for the better part of a month, and when he came back, he was the Bloomquist of old. He hit .257/.315/.323, and didn’t post a wRC+ better than 85 in any month after April. Nevertheless, Gibson kept hitting him leadoff. For the season, he started in 83 games, and hit leadoff in 78 of them. Through it all, little changed in his hitting profile from his performance in previous years. His BB/K increased over what it had been in 2009 and 2010, but his .45 mark was essentially the same as his career mark of .43. His 6.0 BB% was 13th out of the 16 D-back hitters who accumulated at least 100 PA.
Despite this, the Arizona offense kept on chugging. While they were a below-average unit overall (wRC+ of 96), they finished ninth in the Majors in runs scored, and fourth in the National League. Oh, did I mention the team also made the playoffs? Yeah, they did that too, for the first time since 2007. As a result, no red flags have been raised with Gibson’s lineup construction, and Bloomquist has kicked off the 2012 season in the leadoff role once again. Gibson has earned accolades for his tactics, and has stated that his goal this season is to do better and become world champions, and that he is not afraid to tinker with his lineup in order to achieve that goal. His tinkering should start at the top.
In The Book, the authors state that the leadoff hitter should be one of the team’s three best hitters overall, and that it should also be one of the players who takes the most walks. Bloomquist qualifies as neither. So who does? By plugging in the 13 hitters on the D-backs active roster plus Drew into our custom teams function and running through the five projection systems under our projections tab, a clear pattern emerges:
|1st||Upton (.373)||Upton (.376)||Upton (.387)||Upton (.378)||Upton (.387)|
|2nd||Goldschmidt (.344)||Kubel (.356)||Goldschmidt (.351)||Goldschmidt (.363)||Goldschmidt (.373)|
|3rd||Montero (.338)||Goldschmidt (.352)||Kubel (.344)||Montero (.347)||Kubel (.343)|
We find that there is unanimous agreement that Justin Upton and Paul Goldschmidt are two of the team’s three best hitters, with Jason Kubel and Miguel Montero jockeying for third-best. From there, we want the player who walks the most frequently batting leadoff, with the other two hitting third and fourth. And that player is Goldschmidt. Whether using his small sample in the Majors, or factoring in his Minor League numbers, Goldschmidt is the player that walks the most frequently among the team’s best hitters, and along with Lyle Overbay and Ryan Roberts, walks the most among the team period.
Goldschmidt also strikes out quite a bit, but that shouldn’t be a detriment. Going back to The Book, we are reminded that strikeouts shouldn’t be a factor in setting your starting lineup, only later in games when you may find an advantage using a pinch hitter. But since Goldschmidt is one of the team’s best hitters, and is always a threat to swat a big fly, it’s unlikely he’ll be pinch-hit for too frequently. Furthermore, players who strike out a lot generally see a lot of pitches, and Goldschmidt is no exception. Last season, he saw 4.43 pitches per plate appearance, which was third-best in the Majors among players who accumulated at least 100 PA. At 4.67 per PA, he is seeing a similarly high rate so far this April. Whether or not Goldschmidt can cut down on his strikeouts remains to be seen, but either way, he is going to give his teammates a good look at the starting pitcher. Bloomquist, well, doesn’t — he averaged 3.77 pitches per PA last season, and his 3.26 mark in this young season is tied for 192nd out of 207 qualified hitters.
It is not news that Willie Bloomquist is a bad hitter, nor is it news that he is a bad leadoff hitter. We knew these things before 2011, and we know them now. Stephen Drew is still not all the way back, so Gibson may not have any choice but to play Bloomquist. But while Bloomquist is fleet of foot, he walks less frequently than just about every other regular on the team, and he certainly isn’t one of the team’s best hitters. As a result, he shouldn’t be hitting first. Paul Goldschmidt may not seem like a traditional candidate, but batting him leadoff and dropping Bloomquist to the bottom of the order would improve the D-backs lineup. Bloomquist may be a favorite of Kirk Gibson’s, and he has started this season hot, just as he did last season, but if he keeps hitting him leadoff, it will eventually cost the D-backs dearly.