The Braves and their fans breathed a sigh of relief last season when the team was able to acquire Nate McLouth from Pittsburgh for spare parts, and end the Jordan Schafer experiment. He was a versatile center fielder who could use his speed to bat leadoff or use his power to hit lower in the order and drive in runs. The Braves plugged him right into the leadoff spot, where he performed decently until nagging injuries took their toll.
Turns out that Nate was also suffering from a bit of vision loss late last season that caused him some trouble during night games. That has been corrected this off-season by Lasik eye surgery, and all the other nagging injuries should be gone, and Nate should be 100% healthy. So why, then, is he only 2-for-38 this spring with a team-high 14 strikeouts (almost twice as many as anyone else on the Braves)? This should bring some doubt into our minds as to whether or not he should be the team's leadoff hitter.
There are other options, and today's Wednesday Braves "What If" will explore those options and ask you to vote on who you think should serve as the Braves leadoff hitter. The candidates are Martin Prado, Yunel Escobar, and Melky Cabrera.
In 358 plate appearances Yunel Escobar has a line of .309/.371/.429 hitting leadoff, compared to his overall career numbers of .301/.375/.426 -- not much of a difference at all. That's Yunel; he's solid wherever you put him.
In just 70 plate appearances Martin Prado his a line of .234/..279/.328 hitting leadoff, compared to his overall career numbers of .307/.360/.451 -- those career numbers are almost an exact mirror of his slash stats when hitting second (.307/.354/.450) in the lineup. It certainly seems he's more suited for hitting second, but his leadoff sample size is too small to really read into what he might be able to do there.
In 297 plate appearances Melky Cabrera has a line of .290/.373/.408 hitting leadoff, compared to his overall career numbers of .269/.331/.385 -- the Melk-man seems to turn on the patience when he's hitting leadoff. He may also get better pitches to hit batting in front of the big bats in the middle of the order. Actually, when he hits ninth in the batting order (where he has had the most plate appearances) he has a slash line of .296/.338/.409, which is his highest batting average of any spot in the order. That's probably a result of hitting in front of Derek Jeter for several years, but it further illustrates that his patience and batting average may be tied to the quality of the pitches he sees.
So those are the three choices. I'm actually hesitant to throw out one more choice because it could skew the results, but in just 67 plate appearances Matt Diaz has a line of .421/.478/.561, which obviously doesn't even compare to his career line. Much of that good work (two-thirds) came late last year when Diaz was on fire no matter where he was hitting in the batting order. As much as we shouldn't read too much into Martin Prado's poor showing in his small sample size of plate appearances, we similarly shouldn't read too much into the good numbers of Diaz in such a small sample size. Still, I'll include him.
For comparison sake, Nate McLouth has a lead off line in 1229 plate appearances of .260/.345/.458, compared to a career line of .260/.342/.454 -- pretty darn similar.