How many games into a season does a manager have to wait until the sample size is large enough to start making lineup adjustments?
This is a question Brian Snitker will undoubtedly wrestle with over the coming days particularly as it applies to the leadoff position. Snitker has been employing Ozzie Albies to hit leadoff against lefties and Ender Inciarte against righties. The Braves are only five games into the season, but Albies has made about as strong of a case to take the leadoff spot regardless of the opposing starter as one can make during that amount of time.
The early returns have been excellent for Albies. He is hitting a scorching .500/.591/.778 with one home run, two doubles, two stolen bases, four walks, and only one strikeout over the first five games of the season. That batting average ties him with Bryce Harper for the best in baseball. Albies adjusted very well to the leadoff role when given the chance for the first time of the season during the Braves’ Wednesday night win over the Cubs. Albies went 3-for-4 with a solo homerun and a walk.
The most encouraging sign for Albies has been his ability to hit right-handed pitching. Albies struggled against righties in 2018 with a .231/.283/.412 slash line and 84 wRC+ (compared to a 141 wRC+ against lefties). However, he has hit .357/.500/.500 with a 163 wRC+ in 18 plate appearances against righties so far this season.
Albies has a history of hot starts in his young career. He hit nine home runs and held a .988 OPS and 158 wRC+ through the month of April last season. While the stats are nice, the catalyst that he provides when he is hitting well at the top of the order is difficult to quantify. Albies’ combination of speed, hitting, and aggressive baserunning make the offense much more dynamic when he is setting the table for the heart of the order.
Inciarte, on the other hand, has been much less of a sparkplug at the top spot in the order. He has gone 2-for-17 with a .118/.211/.412 slash, one home run, one triple, two walks, and four strikeouts this season. Notably, he has continued his unfortunate trend of rolling over the ball and hitting a lot of weak groundballs to the right side of the infield. While there are still 157 games left in the regular season for Inciarte to adjust, he appears to be starting the season with some of the same bad habits that led to a disappointing 2018 offensively for him.
While the sample size is very small at this point in the season, it is undeniable that Albies has the hot hand right now. It will be difficult to justify keeping him lower in the order much longer. We shall see how much longer it lasts.