The Leadoff Hitter: Tag, you’re it!
Of all the unanswered questions this offseason, there’s been one that’s been weighing on me particularly. In one of HotStove.com’s weekly roundtables they asked a number of Giants bloggers (myself included) about whether or not we liked Aaron Rowand as the leadoff hitter. My visceral reaction was a resounding “hell no.” Then I sat down for a second, gave it some thought, and begrudgingly acknowledged that maybe Rowand may not be so bad (all the while grumbling to myself).
This reluctant handing of the leadoff torch to Rowand is the direct result of there really not being anyone else who will realistically get everyday playing time. The next best name that turns up for me is Fred Lewis–he gets on base, works counts, and can run a little bit while playing pretty good defense. The problem here though is two-fold: one, Lewis has stated himself that he doesn’t feel comfortable leading off, and two, there’s no possible universe in which he’ll ever get regular at-bats as long as he’s a Giant thanks to Bruce Bochy.
With the early season injury to Freddy Sanchez, it would make sense to move Mark DeRosa to second-base while having either John Bowker or Lewis assume left field. Lewis could then lead-off on a regular basis, all the while getting a chance to show that he can actually be a serviceable regular over say, Eugenio Velez. But alas, that’s just not the world we live in. Juan Uribe will soak up the bulk of AB’s while Sanchez is down, relegating Fred Lewis to the either the bench, or some other team if he’s DFA’d at the end of Spring Training.
But I digress. The ideal lead-off hitter simply doesn’t exist within the projected 25-man roster. Nate Schierholtz has yet to learn how to draw a walk so he’s out. Edgar Renteria is slotted to bat 8th, and rightfully so. Mark DeRosa is the “power” bat of the lineup hitting behind Pablo Sandoval. So we’re left with Aaron Rowand, who actually wasn’t a half-bad leadoff hitter last season. In 217 plate appearances out of the 1-hole, he put up a decent line of .294/.341/.468. It’s not world-beating stuff, but it’s adequate. Hell, on this team it even makes him the 2nd or 3rd best hitter. This is of course assuming he takes that sample size of at-bats and manages to do that for another 300 or so plate appearances. It’s a lot to assume, but it’s really all we’ve got.
In terms of what he did last season, let’s just say 2009 was a forgettable season starting in the second half. After hitting fairly well the first half of the year, he plummeted to a .218/.271/.358 line from the All-Star game on, raising questions about his ability to withstand the grind of a whole season. These are questions that do need to be asked too, namely because as a lead-off hitter he’ll be getting a whole lot of at-bats.
It’s easy to look at his second-half numbers from last year, his career averages, and his penchant for swinging at sliders in the dirt as indicators for him hitting 7th from now ’til the end of time. But who else do we have? There’s quite literally no one else who’s going to play every day who can conceivably hit leadoff with any modicum success. So with that, I choose to take his sample size of at-bats leading off from 2009 and use that as a justification. But I won’t like it. No sir, I will not.