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It’s Time to Find a New Leadoff Batter

Oakland Athletics v San Francisco Giants
Do we really want one of Oakland’s worst batters leading off?
Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images

Old-school baseball mentality dictates that speedy contact hitters are best served batting high in the order to be table setters for the big boppers in the 3-5 spots in the order. However, more advanced thinking drives us to believe that a more effective lineup is one in which the best hitters bat most often, regardless of style or attribute.

In 2006 John Dewan of Bill James Online did a brief study on plate appearances per batting order. He surmised that players receive 15-20 plate appearances less than the next highest batting order position. Blue Bird banter notes the effect this has on a per-game basis. In 2012 Beyond the Box Score re-upped an article looking at the optimization of the batting order in which they summarized a book on batting order called The Book.

Sky Kalkman concluded with this:

“So, you want your best three hitters to hit in the #1, #4, and #2 spots. Distribute them so OBP is higher in the order and SLG is lower. Then place your fourth and fifth best hitters, with the #5 spot usually seeing the better hitter, unless he’s a high-home run guy. Then place your four remaining hitters in decreasing order of overall hitting ability, with base stealers ahead of singles hitters.”

I’m left wondering the same thing many of you are: Why in the world does Marcus Semien bat first, like, at all?

Despite being on pace for his best overall season, Semien is currently having the worst offensive season of his career. Since becoming an Athletic in 2015 Semien has been almost exactly league average with the bat. While his .311 OBP this year would be the second-best mark of his career, his 88 wRC+ is 10 points lower than normal. He’s batted first or second in each of the past 8 games and in 82 games total. 82 games! The Oakland A’s are letting a hitter who is 12 percent worse than average bat more than anyone else on the team! I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.

I know many of you share in my outrage at this. And I’m not here to rant against the A’s for batting the 35th worst hitter in baseball more than any of their other hitters without offering an alternative. So here goes: Matt Chapman should become Oakland’s leadoff hitter.

He Gets on Base

As Dewan pointed out the leadoff hitter bats more than anyone else on the team. And other than Jed Lowrie, Matt Chapman is on base more often than any Oakland batter.

2018 A’s by the Numbers: PA/Game

Name PA/G BB% K% OBP wOBA wRC+ BsR
Name PA/G BB% K% OBP wOBA wRC+ BsR
Marcus Semien 4.6 8.4% 18.8% 0.311 0.297 88 0.4
Jed Lowrie 4.3 10.1% 19.5% 0.356 0.361 132 0.8
Khris Davis 4.3 8.5% 26.6% 0.326 0.355 128 -3.5
Matt Chapman 4.1 10.2% 23.0% 0.346 0.341 119 2.6
Matt Olson 4.1 10.2% 25.1% 0.329 0.339 117 -1
Stephen Piscotty 3.9 6.7% 20.1% 0.318 0.331 111 -1
Jonathan Lucroy 3.75 7.0% 15.1% 0.296 0.268 68 -2.4
Mark Canha 3.7 8.8% 22.9% 0.327 0.333 113 -0.1
Chad Pinder 3.4 8.1% 27.5% 0.335 0.344 120 -0.1
Dustin Fowler 3.4 3.7% 22.9% 0.261 0.268 68 -0.9
Fangraphs.com

However, Chapman hits 4th most often on the team, and half a PA/Game than Marcus Semien. Chapman is on base 35 percent more often than Semien. Something really doesn’t add up here.

He’s Also Fast

Perhaps you prefer a speedy, base-stealing threat the hit first and “set the table.” Marcus Semien still isn’t your guy, despite his team-leading 10 stolen bases. Chapman has been more valuable on the bases this season than Semien and all other Oakland hitters.

2018 A’s by the Numbers: Speed

Name PA/G BB% K% OBP wOBA wRC+ BsR
Name PA/G BB% K% OBP wOBA wRC+ BsR
Matt Chapman 4.1 10.2% 23.0% 0.346 0.341 119 2.6
Jed Lowrie 4.3 10.1% 19.5% 0.356 0.361 132 0.8
Marcus Semien 4.6 8.4% 18.8% 0.311 0.297 88 0.4
Mark Canha 3.7 8.8% 22.9% 0.327 0.333 113 -0.1
Chad Pinder 3.4 8.1% 27.5% 0.335 0.344 120 -0.1
Dustin Fowler 3.4 3.7% 22.9% 0.261 0.268 68 -0.9
Matt Olson 4.1 10.2% 25.1% 0.329 0.339 117 -1
Stephen Piscotty 3.9 6.7% 20.1% 0.318 0.331 111 -1
Jonathan Lucroy 3.75 7.0% 15.1% 0.296 0.268 68 -2.4
Khris Davis 4.3 8.5% 26.6% 0.326 0.355 128 -3.5
Fangraphs.com

Both are above average runners, according to Statcast, Chapman is also faster than Semien when it comes to sprint speed.

What Does My Lineup Look Like?

The research suggests that a team should bat a high-OBP player, as well as one of the team’s best overall hitters at the top, followed by the other good hitters on the team in the 2-5 spots as they bat most often with runners on base. My ideal top-2 is Chapman-Lowrie followed by a combination on Piscotty-Davis-Olson with Canha or Pinder sneaking in their based on the match-up.

My Ideal Top-5

Name PA/G BB% K% OBP wOBA wRC+ BsR
Name PA/G BB% K% OBP wOBA wRC+ BsR
Matt Chapman 4.1 10.2% 23.0% 0.346 0.341 119 2.6
Jed Lowrie 4.3 10.1% 19.5% 0.356 0.361 132 0.8
Stephen Piscotty 3.9 6.7% 20.1% 0.318 0.331 111 -1
Khris Davis 4.3 8.5% 26.6% 0.326 0.355 128 -3.5
Matt Olson 4.1 10.2% 25.1% 0.329 0.339 117 -1
Fangraphs.com

This order puts the batters who are on base most often in the top-2 positions. I think Piscotty makes sense as a number 3 batter due to his quality blend of power and contact. The 4 and 5 spots, I believe, should be reserved for the biggest power bats Davis and Olson.

The argument could be made that Piscotty and Lowrie swap. Piscotty isn’t totally devoid of on-base ability and Lowrie is the team’s best overall hitter and therefore he should have more chances to bat with runners on base.

The point remains the same: put your best hitters high in the batting order if you want to get them the most chances to hit.

Conclusion

Dewan concedes that it may all be moot:

“The studies say it doesn’t matter that much and maybe it doesn’t. But it matters to me, and to about 98% of all baseball fans.”

I agree with his last remark. Do you?