Sunday, February 9, 2014

The leadoff debate: Crawford vs. Puig

Don Mattingly has gone on record about his desire to put Yasiel Puig in the leadoff spot, dropping Carl Crawford to the #2 hole.  While nothing is set in stone yet, Mattingly likes the balance of right-left-right-left at the top of the order, with Puig, Crawford, Hanley Ramirez, and Adrian Gonzalez leading the way.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the pros and cons of making the switch.

  • Puig had 108 at-bats in the leadoff role last season, hitting .333 with a .409 OBP, both very good numbers.
  • Puig also had 8 of his 19 homers in the leadoff spot.  Having power at the top of the lineup is obviously an impactful way to set the tone.
  • Crawford is a long ways away from his mega-stolen base days.  Last season he only had 15.  He peaked at 60 in 2010 with the Rays, and was consistently in the 50-60 range for years.
  • Crawford would be much better at situational bunting, as Puig bunts to get base hits.  I'm not sure Puig knows what a sacrifice bunt even is.
  • Crawford has had Tommy John surgery, and more important to a base stealer, hamstring injuries.  It's hard to think he'll ever be the same dynamic runner again.
  • While Puig had great numbers leading off, Crawford actually did as well with a much bigger sample size.  In 359 at-bats, he hit .304 with a .353 OBP.
  • Crawford doesn't have the power of Puig, of course, but he did hit 5 homers, 2 triples, and 27 doubles leading off to provide a decent amount of pop.
  • Crawford struck out 66 times in 435 at-bats last season; Puig had 97 in 382.  You do the math.
  • Neither one of them likes to walk much: Crawford 28, Puig 36.  So flip a coin.
  • Puig is still very raw in many ways.  If the game is tight in the last inning and Puig is leading off, will he try to get on base, or be swinging for the fences?  I would guess the latter, so Crawford might be trusted a little more in that situation.

At this point before the start of Spring Training, I'd make the switch, but only by keeping a close eye on Puig's discipline at the plate throughout February and March.  You never want to tell a guy like Puig to totally change his approach just because he's leading off, but he can't be the guy who swings for the fences on every pitch and expect consistent production.

If this was the Crawford of just a few seasons ago, then I don't think Mattingly would even think about doing this.  But as I said above, you can't ignore what injuries and Father Time has done to Crawford.  It's not like he's a station to station runner, but don't expect to ever see the Crawford circa Tampa Bay days again.

If I'm an opposing pitcher, I would much rather see Crawford leading off than Puig, simply for the fear that Puig puts into you every time he's up.  What pitcher wants to start the game by watching a long blast or a ball drilled to the gap?  That's what Puig can bring, along with his aggressiveness on the bases.  Crawford can still make things happen, especially if he can prove he's healthy, but not like the young, fresher Puig.

Of course, if Puig isn't getting on base, then I can see Mattingly deciding the leadoff hitter based on the opposing pitcher.  If it's a lefty, then it's Puig, and vice versa for a righty.

No comments: