We’ve seen quite a bit of turnover at the top of the Tribe’s order in the first month-and-a-half of the 2012 season. Michael Brantley started out the year as the regular leadoff hitter, but he gave way to Johnny Damon and now to Shin-Soo Choo. Jason Kipnis and Jason Donald have both found themselves hitting first this year as well.
In this edition of the Weekly Wroundtable, we asked our panelists: Who should hit leadoff for the Tribe? Joining our panel this week are WaitingForNextYear‘s Craig Lyndall and Bleacher Report‘s Jim Piascik. Here’s what we all had to say:
Craig Lyndall: Kenny Lofton for sure. Well, as long as Kenny’s not walking through that door, I am going to say Jason Kipnis. Kipnis doesn’t seem like an obvious choice because he actually leads the Indians in power numbers. The problem — and the problem for a very long time — is that there is no prototypical lead-off guy available. Michael Brantley seems like the archetype for Cleveland fans, but it doesn’t work just because Kenny Lofton was a fleet-footed outfielder. So, I’ll say Jason Kipnis. His average and OBP are decent enough and he hasn’t done it yet (as far as I can remember) so it isn’t a failure yet either.
Jim Piascik: For me, the question of who should hit leadoff is more an issue of who shouldn’t. When the Indians announced that Johnny Damon was being handed the leadoff role immediately, I cringed. I wasn’t convinced that the Damon of 2011 was suited for the leadoff role, but even my skepticism didn’t predict how terrible Damon has been on offense. I also don’t like Michael Brantley in the role for now because his bat has been lacking this year.
If Brantley can make adjustments and become a better hitter, then he should be there. For now, he should not. I like the ingenuity of having Shin-Soo Choo in the leadoff spot and I would keep it like that for now. Choo is a very good hitter who seems to be coming around and I like the idea of him leading off the game every night.
Lewie Pollis: I’ve been saying for months that Shin-Soo Choo is the Indians’ best choice out of the leadoff spot. Even in a relative down year he’s still getting on base at a very solid .371 clip, and with 60 steals since 2009 it’s clear that he has solid wheels. The move especially makes sense considering the drop in power we’ve seen from Choo over the last couple years (he slugged .549 in 2008 but he’s been below .400 two years in a row now)—I have no problem with having some pop at the top of the order, but it’s against the traditional “leadoff man” model and admittedly it might not be the most efficient place to put a power hitter.
Choo’s finally gotten the chance to hit leadoff this week and he should stay at the top of the order, if only because there’s no other good option. Michael Brantley isn’t a good enough hitter to get the most plate appearances on the team. Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis generally don’t get on base enough to be effective No. 1 guys (though Cabreras OBPing .416 so far—we’ll see if that lasts), and Travis Hafner and Carlos Santana‘s power makes them better suited for the middle of the order. That leaves Choo as the rightful claimant to the top spot.
Merritt Rohlfing: I was all set to crown Shin Soo Choo as the leadoff man, seeing as how he’s got good power, speed, and a career .383 OBP. Considering the average on-base percentage for leadoff men last year was somewhere around .325, that’s a nice chance to get a guy on base. But then, while listening to Tom Hamilton during Monday’s Twins game, he mentioned that Choo had said he’s not doing well versus lefties this year (.286 OBP compared to .411 against righties) because he’s scared of getting hit. As Hamilton said, honesty is nice, but that’s too honest. I don’t want a guy with any inkling of fear in the box to lead off the game.
Instead, I would go with Jason Kipnis. While I’ve argued in the past he should bat second (because it makes a huge difference and stuff) bumping Choo out shifts Kipnis up. He gets on base quite well (a .353 clip this year) can spray the ball around and hit it out. Plus, this means we get to see more of him. If Choo shakes the fear of being hit off, and really he should since he’s a pro and not an 8 year old, he should lead off every game. Otherwise, Kipnis all the way.
Steve Kinsella: For me, the ideal leadoff candidate can get on base via the base hit and the walk, must have the ability to drive the ball out of the park, and must be able to run the bases (not just steal a base). The Indians have three candidates that fit my description and they are Shin-Soo Choo, Jason Kipnis, and Asdrubal Cabrera. Since each spot a player drops in a batting order cost that player approximately 18 plate appearances a year the expense dropping any of them to fifth or sixth to get Johnny Damon or Michael Brantley in the leadoff spot is way too much. Nor does the benefit of the additional RBI opportunity hitting in the middle of the order outweigh the extra plate appearances afforded to the best hitters slotted at the top of the lineup.
Of the three, Choo fits the leadoff spot the best. He has a lifetime walk rate of 11.7 percent, he has the power component with a lifetime ISO of .179, and he has stolen 20+ bases twice in his career. Jason Kipnis was always my choice for many of the same reasons as Choo but he has settled in to the #2 spot in the order. Cabrera and Choo could easily flip spots in the lineup and I’d have no problem with the flip, but Cabrera is a switch hitter and does a nice job of providing balance to the left handed heavy Tribe lineup.
Katie Hendershot: Right now, I think Shin-Soo Choo is suited to be the Indians’ leadoff hitter. He has been hitting better recently, and when he’s hitting, the rest of the lineup seems to follow suit. He put up good at-bats, gets on base and has speed and a decent amount of power.
Michael Brantley is still growing as a major league hitter and Johnny Damon has struggled at the plate. I think it’s definitely a positive to have Choo at the top of the order for the time being. He’s the type of player you want to see come up to the plate as often as possible.