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A's Cruz...With Kennedy

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This is my last game-post before the A's go to Haloland for a big series; by Tuesday's series opener, the A's could still be anywhere from 3 games out to 1 game up. I thought I'd follow up Matthias' diary about total runs, and how they are manufactured, by zeroing in on the two leadoff hitters and giving Aners a chance to weigh in on what matters most in a leadoff hitter.

Occasionally, I've referred to Chone Figgins as a "good leadoff hitter" and been soundly lambasted for my sacrilege. I'm not sure if the sacrilege is just that I am praising an Angels player or, presumably, that I am praising a leadoff hitter who has reached base only a little over 1/3 of the time this year (.340), and for his career (.344).

My discussion question for tonight is: For a leadoff hitter to be valuable, how critical is "getting on base more, period"? Or how critical is being a small-ball threat when you do reach base? As you ponder and debate, consider this:

  1. A 30-point jump in OBP--e.g., .370 vs. .340--is achieved by reaching base one more time per 33 at bats. This translates to about one more time reaching base each week. (Because Jason Kendall has been hit by nearly one pitch/week in his career, HBPs have actually accounted for an additional .025 points on his career OBP.) So if you are excited about a leadoff hitter who has a .370 OBP, but are highly critical of a leadoff hitter who has a .340 OBP, keep in mind that the distinction is all of one plate appearance per week.
  2. Speed pays off in multiple ways, some statistically measurable. some not. Included:
  • successful stolen bases
  • going first-to-third, second-to-home, and first-to home on base hits
  • pitchouts
  • split attention by the pitcher
  • more fastballs to the hitter
Interestingly, for their careers, Kendall and Figgins have very similar slugging percentages and batting averages, each at around .300/.400, give or take a dead rat. The main differences are that Kendall reaches base about one more time each week, but that Figgins gives all the benefits of speed when he does reach base.

So if Figgins continues to reach base at about a .340 clip, and if Kendall reverts to reaching base at a solid rate--say, .370--then who is the better leadoff hitter? In my mind, it isn't close: Advantage, Figgins. But I wonder how many agree with this somewhat controversial, and completely sacrilegious, statement. Ellis, of course, is not part of this discussion because...because...nope, I've got nothing.