Monday, December 11, 2006

Pudge At Leadoff? Fine, But Only Temporarily

Curtis Granderson isn't your prototypical leadoff hitter. Pudge Rodriguez isn't, either. Except Pudge is less not the prototype than Granderson is.

So it is that Tigers manager Jim Leyland, somewhere amongst the dozens of lineups he's written on cocktail napkins, scrap pieces of paper, or on the backs of cigarette packs, has etched Rodriguez's name on some of them, at #1. Leadoff man. Jump starter of the offense. An almost guaranteed five plate appearances per game.

Having a catcher bat leadoff isn't unprecedented (right, Jason Kendall?), but it's for sure unusual. When you think of the classic leadoff hitter, you think, in no particular order, of the following: speed, high average, high OBA, a threat to steal bases. Strikes out infrequently. Rodriguez has some of these traits, more than Granderson -- 2006's leadoff man -- but I wonder if he has enough of them to warrant a regular turn at the top of the order.

Rather, it's most likely a stopgap measure until the Tigers either find another player to fill that role, or until Granderson cuts down on his strikeouts, steals a few bases, and walks a respectable amount of times.

I've long felt that the Tigers needed more of a classic leadoff hitter batting #1 than what they have in Granderson -- a fine player, an even better person, but one who doesn't possess enough of the leadoff qualities, truthfully. In the scenario where Pudge bats leadoff, Granderson slips to #8 in the order, which is more like it.

Rodriguez at #1 would be, to me, an improvement, but still not what I'm looking for -- should the Tigers ever solicit my advice. I just think you need a guy at the top who other team's pitchers and catchers need to pay attention to, lest he swipe second base in the blink of an eye. Or someone who can lay down an occasional bunt and beat it out (Grandy doesn't do that, either). Or how about someone, at least, who doesn't strike out at the rate of more than one a game, which Granderson did last season?

Who that person might be, who would seize the role of leadoff man, I'm not sure. Maybe he doesn't play for the Tigers now, but will before the 2007 season opens. Regardless, the team needs something else at the top of the batting order, and if that something else is catcher Rodriguez, then so be it. But just don't bet on that being the longterm solution.

Pudge and bunt, for example, don't belong in the same sentence -- except for this one.


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