The game of baseball has changed drastically in ten years. It isn’t about the big boppers, trying to hit a home run every single at bat anymore. The game has changed to on-base percentage and being fundamentally sound on offense. Organizations are slowly figuring that out and moving their best on-base players to the top of the lineup. The more at bats they get, the better chance of scoring more runs. Seems simple right? Well, not so fast. The Nationals have a little problem with this.
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Denard Span was the leadoff hitter in 2013 and didn’t do so hot. He finished the season with a slash line of .279/.327/.380 which for a lead off hitter trying to start an offense just isn’t good enough. Those numbers are in large part because of his 27 game hit streak he had late in the season. He isn’t what the Nats’ need at the top of the order. They need a good on-base player to hand it off to Jayson Werth in the two hole, who is a great on-base player.
So who do the Nationals move into the leadoff spot, and where does Span end up? Bryce Harper is a pretty good option. He has an on-base percentage 41 points better than Span. Harper is the type of player than can lead an offense. He has the personality to do it. The leadoff spot isn’t meant for everyone, it takes a lot of mental preparation. Harper has that.
Harper hit leadoff in only 16 games last season, but in a very small sample size, he was good. He got lucky at times, but overall was good. To lead off an inning he was pretty impressive, having a good amount of his extra base hits in those situations. That is the presence he brings. If he can lead off an inning with an extra base hit, that is almost guaranteed to be a run.
Putting him in the leadoff spot also gives him more freedom to steal bases and be aggressive. In the three hole or clean up he is restricted because of the bats behind him. He understands the game and knows when to run and when not too, but he just has to be given that responsibility. If the Nats’ want to win a lot of games, Bryce Harper needs to be hitting leadoff with Jayson Werth right behind him.
So, where does that leave Span? Taking him out of the leadoff spot puts things in a bind. He can fit into the eight hole but, where do you put Anthony Rendon? He can’t hit in the middle of the order so he is at least hitting sixth at best, which isn’t much of an option either. You can hit him and Rendon back to back but that also could become an on-base disaster.
I think Matt Williams needs to pull a Tony LaRussa and let the pitcher hit eighth and Span ninth, with Rendon in the seven spot. That could end up being a great situation for the Nationals offense. Putting Span at the end, rolls the lineup over for great on-base machines. If Span gets on at the same rate or better as last season, with a good amount of extra base hits the Nats’ are scary.
I’ll leave you with this. Do you think Matt Williams has it in him to do such a move? Also, do you believe the Nats’ will benefit from this move if it is made? Let us know in the comment section!