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A's Baseball

Leading off…who?

The A's have the best pitching staff in the AL and probably in the majors, but what comes up time and time again? Their supposed inability to "manufacture" runs! In particular, the Chronicle's Bruce Jenkins claims that A's leadoff man Mark Kotsay is not suited for the role. Jenkins' own choice for the ideal leadoff hitter would be Juan Pierre, though Carl Crawford, Ichiro Suzuki, Tony Womack, Alfonso Soriano, Matt Lawton, Rafael Furcal, Johnny Damon, Cesar Izturis and sometimes Ray Durham and even Kenny Lofton are also preferable in his mind to Kotsay.

Let's take a look at a few of these players. Womack's having a career year after coming off the scrap heap, while Lofton's been terrible, so we'll just plain ignore them. Alfonso Soriano hit 100 home runs the last three years, so he doesn't get to bat leadoff anymore. That's leaves:

. . . . . . . . . . . . .BA/OBP/SLG
Lawton, Cle .316/.392/.518
Furcal, Atl .283/.354/.437
Damon, Bos .307/.386/.475
Durham, SF .256/.342/.441
Kotsay, Oak .308/.364/.453
Crawford, TB .302/.350/.394
Pierre, Fla .308/.358/.389
Izturis, LA .293/.336/.371

Crawford, Pierre and Izturis aren't ideal leadoff hitters -- if any one of them stops hitting .300 (Izturis is a career .260 hitter, after all), they have little or no offensive value. Call it the curse of Tony Womack: if you don't walk and can't hit for power, then when you don't hit for average, you ride the bench. Compare them to Ray Durham, who is still an effective player when he's hitting .256.

At any rate, Mark Kotsay's stat line looks very similar to Durham's, Damon's and Furcal's. Why are they good leadoff hitters while Kotsay should be batting lower in the order? I don't think we'll ever know the answer.

Now if you were a GM, would you really want Juan Pierre? By most objective batting stats, he doesn't even measure up to other leadoff hitters. But what about the little things that others supposedly don't do? Let's look at Pierre's ranks in "scrappy" and "smart ballplayer categories." First, stolen base percentage: 63%. Among players who steal a base at least once every ten games, where does Pierre rank? 37th out of 40. What about "scrappy" at-bats, i.e. fouling off pitches, working the count? In pitches seen per plate appearance, Pierre is 120th out of 158 regular major league players. What about grounding into double plays? Pierre has hit into eight, which is way below the major-league lead. But he hasn't hit into double plays any less often than catchers/former catchers, such as Jason Varitek and Scott Hatteberg. Mark Teixeira has 30 home runs and just four double plays. There's nothing much out there to recommend Juan Pierre - sure, bunt hits are exciting and a bit surprising, but they don't compare to taking an extra walk a week and hitting a home run a month.