As far as controversies go, this one won’t be screaming from the back pages any time soon. Actually, it’s could hardly be called a controversy at all. It’s just a matter of writing one ballplayer’s name higher on a list and moving another one a little further down.
You know, it’s not really that big of a deal in the scheme of things.
But around here we have a way of making things a bigger deal than they really are or need to be. That’s just what we do. It’s especially the case when the brewing controversy in question has been something writers, radio-types and fans have all been talking about for the past few years and it seems as if it has finally come to a point where a decision will be made.
Will Bobby Abreu become the Phillies’ leadoff hitter? Better yet, should anyone other than Jimmy Rollins be the team’s first hitter in the batting order?
Yeah, not exactly a deep, philosophical head-scratcher when one thinks about it.
But, you know, lets just talk about it one more time right here.
As everyone who follows the Phillies closely knows, Rollins has been the club’s primary leadoff hitter since he broke into the Major Leagues in late 2000. Diminutive and as quick as fox in a hen house, Rollins grew up in Oakland, Calif. idolizing Rickey Henderson. It just so happens that Henderson was the greatest leadoff man the game as even known, who would do anything he could in order to get on base. In fact, toward the end of his career when he could no longer get the bat around on a fastball, Henderson still rated amongst the league leaders in walks, and on-base percentage.
Long before on-base percentage was the trendy statistic, Henderson knew that if he could get on base his team had a better chance to win.
But unlike Henderson, Rollins does not possess the attributes that a top-notch, top-of-the-order man needs. Rollins likes to swing the bat and put the ball in play and as a result, the amount of times he gets on base depends on whether or not he gets a hit – that’s something only the most elite players do once every three times at-bat. So because of Rollins’ penchant for swinging the bat and not drawing walks, he and his .317 on-base percentage isn’t very good. Actually, when the first guy in the batting order fails to get on base close to 70 percent of the time, the team suffers.
But manager Charlie Manuel is stubborn. Even though there is an alternative, Manuel remains loyal to writing Rollins’ name at the top of his lineup card. Why not Abreu?
"Sometimes you have to show confidence in a guy, show him you believe in him," Manuel told reporters last weekend, noting that Rollins is the team’s only legitimate base-stealing threat.
Loyalty is an admirable trait. Often, showing loyalty to another person is the best characteristic there is. Yet at the same time, loyalty can also be a detriment. It can provide one with a false sense of security and maybe even apathy when tenacity and the fear of reprisal would be more apt. This isn’t to say that Rollins has become soft or apathetic in his role as the leadoff hitter, it’s just that maybe Manuel needs an intervention to help him cutoff his devotedness.
Perhaps the manager could grow to show that same steadfastness to Abreu?
With his .455 on-base percentage – which rates right up there with the game’s elite – as well as his uncanny patience at the plate, Abreu appears to be the ideal candidate to leadoff for the Phillies.
"The reason I like Bobby third is he is hitting with runners in scoring position and puts up some big numbers," Manuel explained to reporters last weekend. "What does a leadoff hitter have to do? He has to have a good on-base percentage. He has to get on base a lot. But what does the No. 3 hitter do? He's supposed to get on base, too. He's definitely one of our best hitters in the lineup. If my best hitter hits with guys in scoring position and he's a doubles and home run hitter, am I strong enough to put him in the leadoff spot? That's it more than anything."
Manuel’s theory just might be right on. After all, a quick glance at the league leaders in on-base percentage shows that only handful of the top 40 leadoff for their teams. The top guys – Barry Bonds, Abreu, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and Jason Bay – all bat in the middle of the order.
Besides, Tuesday night’s game-winning rally was sparked by Rollins – again at the top of the order after a three-game hiatus – getting things started with a single and Abreu bashing a three-run homer.
If the Phillies keep doing that there will be no controversy at all… at least not about the batting order.
The first thing that the writers noticed when they walked into that tiny visitors clubhouse at Shea Stadium was the lineup posted on the wall near the door. I guess it's easy to figure out what was so noticeable:
1.) Victorino, cf
2.) Utley, 2b
3.) Abreu, rf
4.) Burrell, lf
5.) Howard, 1b
6.) Rollins, ss
7.) Bell, 3b
8.) Ruiz, c
9.) Myers, p
Before the game manager Charlie Manuel said he had trouble deciding whether or not to move struggling Jimmy Rollins out of the leadoff spot, but really, how tough of a choice could it have been? Sure, loyalty to your players is an important thing, but Rollins has not been very good this month as evidenced by his .212 batting average and .302 on-base percentage.
Interestingly, Rollins has a modest, five-game hitting streak going -- and he started his epic, 38-gamer last August amidst similar circumstances. In fact, I recall sitting in the squalid press box at RFK writing about the beginnings of Rollins' hitting streak where his batting average actually dropped in the first dozen games or so.
But I digress.
Here's the thing: just like with Cole Hamels and his injuries, Jimmy Rollins will forever be plunked atop of his team's batting order even though his game doesn't suit that style. He's far too impatient -- averaging just 3.44 pitches per plate appearance -- with a .309 on-base percentage.
So rather than beat a dead horse regarding Rollins in the leadoff spot, perhaps this is the best justification for Charlie's move:
Of all the players on the Phillies -- excluding the pitchers -- only Sal Fasano, Abraham Nunez and Carlos Ruiz have a lower on-base percentage than Rollins.
That can't be your leadoff guy.
So who can?
Good question. Obviously, Bobby Abreu with his gaudy offensive numbers seems like a perfect candidate, but that's not going to happen so just get it out of your mind.
How about Aaron Rowand? He was a leadoff hitter for a time with the White Sox until they got Scott Posednick. Chase Utley? He doesn't strike out that much and he really knows how to play the game.
Anyone else? OK, anyone else other than Abreu?