Batting Leadoff 1980s Style with the Cincinnati Reds

Illya Harrell@illya_1971Analyst IIJanuary 22, 2017

It's a bit cliché, but a dude can't steal first base. 

Marge Schott would be proud of Dusty Baker's throwback groove.  It's too bad Eddie Milner retired.  He'd fit right in, and be much cheaper than the current corps of Reds leadoff men.

With 74 games in the books as of June 28, Willy Taveras has had the predominant number of starts in the lead-off spot, 55 games to be exact.

Chris Dickerson and Jerry Hairston Jr. have also started games at the top of the line-up; Dickerson 10 games, and Hairston in nine.

Before delving into the abysmal numbers, a definition of "batting leadoff 1980s style" is in order. 

Really any pre-Jamesian era would be suitable.  But the '80s were, like, tubular and gnarly. 

Lead-off guys like Miguel Dilone and John Shelby were the norm.  They'd steal bases, turn singles into doubles, doubles into triples.  Those cats boogied the base paths like their buns were on fire.

Some seasons they even had decent batting averages. 

However, asking them to take a pitch was totally out of the question.  Their on-base-percentages were usually only 20 to 30 points higher than their batting averages.

Okay, so there's the definition of a "batting leadoff 1980s style."  Now fast-forward to the 2009 Cincinnati Reds.

Sabermetrics has offered quite a bit to baseball.  Yes, many folks take it overboard—but this is not an article about "those people."

More than speed, the value of a leadoff hitter should be measured by his ability to get on base, hit for contact, and see a lot of pitches.

The Reds do none of these things.  They make Damaso Garcia look like Tony Gwynn!

As much as it will pain Reds' fans, the numbers can be avoided no longer.

Want something positive?  The only thing positive?  They have successfully stolen 16 of 19 bases.

Now the bad news.

Perhaps the most hideous statistic is that this leadoff tandem has a combined 18 walks in 74 games.  That's one free pass per every 4.1 games. 

The leadoff combo has 57 total strike outs.  Or 3.17 for each base on balls.

They have had just one game in which they have taken more than one walk—Taveras with two in the seventh game of the season.

Taveras, Dickerson, and Hairston are batting .241 when starting in the leadoff spot.  And that includes a 14 game hitting streak by Taveras, and one where he went five-for-five.

Their OBP is a miserable .285—that's three points higher than Reds' pitcher, Micah Owings.

A leadoff batter should take as many pitches as possible to let the guys behind him know what and how the pitcher is throwing.  The Reds table setters are averaging a mere 3.9 pitches seen per plate appearance. 

In 20 games they have taken 15 or less pitches.  Five games of 10 or less.

Imagine stepping in the box four or five times a game and seeing only 10 pitches.  Unless Brad and Angelina just broke it off and one of them has a date with her, there is no excuse.

How does this measure into the win-loss record?  In games where the leadoff man has failed to reach base via hit, walk, or hit by pitch, the Reds' are stroking a whopping 2.3 runs per game.  Winning only four of 21.

Can it possibly get any worse?  No, not really.

Reds' country can not lay the blame solely at the feet of Dusty.  General Manager Walt Jocketty, did ink Willy Taveras a two-year deal during the offseason. 

Taveras was coming off a horrid 2008 campaign while playing for Colorado.  He batted only .251 with a measly .308 OBP.  So far this season he is proving that he can lower that bar even further, batting .237 with a .282 OBP. 

But...2008 did see Taveras swipe a bun burning 68 bags.

Now that is what is known as "batting leadoff 1980s style."


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