Jays From the Couch puts the top potential leadoff hitters under the microscope for the 2017 Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have struggled to find a consistent leadoff hitter ever since the departure of the short-tenured Ben Revere in 2015, and while there once again may be no clear favourite to runaway with the job in 2017, there are several viable options the team could explore.
When healthy, there isn’t a better option in the leadoff spot on this ball club than Devon Travis. While he may not possess the speed of your prototypical leadoff hitter, the 26-year old’s ability to get on base more than makes up for that at the top of the lineup.
Travis has a career AVG of .301 and OBP of .342, both well above the league average over that span. However, as we’ve learned in the past, one thing Travis does lack is the ability to stay healthy across a full 162 – case and point in the recent news that he may be forced to start the season on the DL, as he continues to rehab from off-season knee surgery.
This makes it abundantly clear to the Jays that they cannot rely upon the young second baseman nearly as much as they’d hoped to, and even when he returns, it will most likely be a while before he gets his timing right at the plate after sitting out most (if not all) of spring training. Therefore, the team may want to look elsewhere at the top of the lineup for the near future, at least until Travis proves he can stay healthy for an extended period of time.
Despite his speed and ability to steal bases (now with 300 career steals, ranking 10th among active players), Upton Jr. has proven throughout his career that he is much better suited in the middle or bottom part of the batting order. He offers some sneaky power (hit a career high 28 homers in 2012), but lacks consistency at the plate (a career .243 hitter). I would entirely dismiss the man formerly known as B.J. from the leadoff conversation.
Pompey possesses the skill set of a prototypical leadoff hitter, but will most likely start the season in Triple-A Buffalo, especially after suffering what appeared to be his second concussion in a year at the WBC.
That being said, don’t sleep on Pompey, as when the Canadian gets his opportunity to play on the big club this season, and he will (health permitting, of course), he just may prove to be the leadoff hitter of the future for the Blue Jays. What is still unclear is exactly how soon that day will come, so, I would currently eliminate him from the conversation.
Bautista has an astonishing career OBP of .368, despite possessing a rather pedestrian .255 AVG, and has led the league in walks twice in his 13-year career (2011, 2015). He may have the best eye in baseball, which more than makes up for his fluctuating batting average and helps to ensure there are ducks on the pond for the likes of Josh Donaldson, Kendrys Morales and Troy Tulowitzki.
However, with the Spring Training and WBC that Joey Bats has been having, it would be a crime to keep him out of the heart of the order, where he appears poised to bounce back from a rare off-year in 2016. Despite the OBP, the Jays still put themselves in a better position to win with Bautista’s bat in the middle of the lineup. So, for that reason, I think the Jays stay away from moving him into the leadoff spot (where he went .239/.341/.459 in 40 games last year) for the time being.
Jose Bautista projects as #BlueJays' number three hitter. Gibbons: "I think that’s where he fits best"
— Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith) March 2, 2017
In my eyes, this leaves just two other candidates, who combined could possibly provide the Jays with the kind of numbers they want out of the leadoff spot – Kevin Pillar (against righties) and Ezequiel Carrera (against lefties).
We all remember how Pillar did when handed the leadoff spot coming into the 2016 season, and it wasn’t pretty. He was very ineffective through the 21 game stint, boasting just a .198 AVG with an equally as abysmal .231 OBP.
John Gibbons and company shouldn’t let last year’s failed experiment scare them off of using Pillar at leadoff this season, however, as he has been having an exceptional Spring Training, taking advantage of several opportunities to leadoff. The patience at the plated that he always lacked seems to finally be there (yes, I know it’s only March), and that’s very noticeable in the results, as he has a .500 AVG and .565 OBP in 20 spring training at bats.
Pillar was decent against right-handed pitching last season, with a .261/.303/.365 line, which, combined with that newly developed patience, could prove to be the best, healthy lead off option the Jays currently have. After all, Superman does have the speed of a leadoff hitter, leading the club in steals (39-for-49 attempts) over the last two seasons.
— Jays From the Couch (@JaysFromCouch) March 5, 2017
While Pillar too puts up more consistent numbers against lefties than righties (.283/.302/.407 line in 2016), they still aren’t nearly as high as Carrera’s, who absolutely mashes lefties (.329/.372/.452). The 29-year old saw some level of success when at the top of the lineup in 45 games last season, where he boasted a 284/.374/.419 line, and went 7-for-11 in stolen bases.
While those numbers decline significantly against righties (.219/.307/.320), Carrera should find himself at the top of the order against any left-handed starter, which could help the Jays, especially against the lefty-heavy Red Sox rotation the Blue Jays will see more than their fair share of this season.
While a healthy Travis is still probably the best option for the Jays at the top of the lineup, it isn’t the end of the world if it takes him some time to get there, as a platoon leadoff situation between Carrera and Pillar could prove to be successful.
*FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: Arturo Pardavila III under CC BY-SA 2.0
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