Since Grady Sizemore returned two games ago, this has been the great debate: should he remain the Indians leadoff hitter?
I think this debate really has two very different factors that need to be addressed, so I’ll break this post into two sections.
First, let’s forget about whether or not the Indians have an alternative and simply address the question: is Sizemore a leadoff hitter?
Those who want to drop him in the lineup point to his low batting average – just .268 when batting leadoff since 2007, which ranks 29th out of 39 players with at least 150 games from the leadoff spot. It’s certainly a concerning number, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.
During that same time span Sizemore ranks 4th among leadoff hitters with a .374 on-base percentage. And what is the job of your leadoff hitter? To set the table for the run-producers behind him.
The anti-Sizemore crowd will also point to his high strikeout total. Since 2007 he has struck out once ever 5.3 PA – 10th worst among leadoff hitters. But again I will point to his OBP. As long as your leadoff hitter is getting on base at .374 rate, does it really matter how he records outs the rest of the time?
One could argue for the important of his strikeout rate if he were batting 2nd, where his job would be to move up runners, but as a leadoff hitter his job is simply to find his way onto the basepaths. If he occasionally strikes out in the process, so be it.
Now that we’ve established that Sizemore is clearly capable of batting leadoff, and is arguably one of the best in the league at setting the table, the second part of the question is: would Michael Brantley be a better option?
I am a huge supporter of Brantley, but I personally do not believe he is ready to replace Sizemore at the top of the order. He is a capable leadoff hitter, but not better than Grady.
In 96 career games batting leadoff, Brantley has a .274 BA (higher than Sizemore in the same time span) but only a .321 OBP (significantly lower than Sizemore).
That said, Brantley did get off to a brilliant start in 2011. In 13 games as the leadoff hitter this season, Brantley is batting .302 with a .367 OBP – well within the range of an above-average leadoff man.
So what’s the conclusion? As long as the Tribe is winning, they need to stick with Sizemore. He is the proven commodity and the one most likely to maintain a consistent pace throughout the season (assuming he’s healthy). However, if the Tribe takes a nose dive I would be in favor of giving Brantley an opportunity. Why not see what the kid can do, while also seeing what Sizemore can do from the three, four or five-hole? If the Tribe expects to compete in 2012, they’ll need to know what they have to work with.