For the first time in his tenure with the Rockies, Walt Weiss has been flexing his managerial muscle. His meticulously aligned batting order has proven successful in seven of the club’s first 11 games and is doing just what the skipper intended in putting a healthy amount of runs on the board. There have been some questions about Weiss’s decision to stick with last year’s leadoff man, Charlie Blackmon, but the answer to those questions are simple enough: he’s still the best one for the job.
The Rockies don’t have a prototypical lead-off guy anywhere in their starting lineup. The team is, put bluntly, unusually big. The age old idea of a quick and agile middle infielder, working low to the ground, dropping bunt singles on anyone, doesn’t quite work with either Troy Tulowitzki or DJ LeMahieu, both of whom draw a lot off commentary on their unconventional stature. Nolan Arenado has lightning fast hands, but he still runs like the catcher he once was.
If anyone on the roster fits that ideal bill it’s Rafeal Ynoa, a speedy smallballer who managed a .380 on-base percentage in his stint with the Rockies last fall. The club, however, is in no hurry to trade any facet of the Coors Shield for an uncertainty like Ynoa.
Charlie Blackmon, though built quite similarly to Tulowitzki and LeMahieu, definitely makes more sense from the leadoff spot than either of the aforementioned players. For one, he runs better, leading the team last season with his 28 stolen bases. His approach at the plate has matured as he’s grown into the role, and with it, his discipline. Blackmon regularly works at bats to deep pitch counts and can capitalize on mistakes or borderline pitches just as well as he can draw a walk. He demonstrated this last night, taking Clayton Kershaw deep on the ninth pitch of his fifth inning at bat.
Blackmon’s notable potential for power as a leadoff man accounted for the most RBIs of any leadoff hitter in the league last year. For being an unusual fit for the job, Blackmon handled himself surprisingly well. Here’s a look at his 2014 stats compared to those of the other NL West leadoff men.
Many would still like to see Walt Weiss opt for a change in his lineup structure this year. So let us consider the possibilitites:
Though not an everyday starter, Drew Stubbs is without a doubt the fastest man on the team. Stubbs swiped 20 bags last year while only being thrown out three times. No one else on this roster matches Stubbs’s ability to leg out infield hits or avoid getting caught up in a double play, though all of this is only possible if Stubbs can put bat to the ball. He’s off to a rough start with the strikeouts, but this is not a new issue for Stubbs. In four full major league seasons, Stubbs has yet to log less than 130 punch outs. In 2011, he led the National League with 205. 205! His 136 strikeouts last year -- the lowest of his career -- were still enough to lead the team by 35. The man with the next highest mark? Why, none other than
Dickerson seems to be the favorite among those looking for a change. An interesting idea considering his on base percentage was considerably higher than Blackmon’s a year ago, and is on to much of the same pace again the first few weeks of the season. But there is a learning curve to the leadoff position that’s no easy adjustment for a guy of Dickerson’s nature. Dickerson is aggressive. He knows his strengths as a batter and doesn’t waste much time finding a pitch to hit. If a ball is thrown within striking distance, Corey Dickerson is swinging. He certainly doesn’t come to the plate to be satisfied with a walk. It’s early enough in his career for the lefty to learn the leadoff ropes, but why not groom Dickerson for a future RBI-heavy third or fourth spot? Dickerson could hit upwards of 25 homeruns for the Rockies this year, no sense in guaranteeing he’d be the only one scoring in 130 or so of his at bats.
For the sake of comparison, here’s a look at Drew Stubbs and Corey Dickerson’s 2014 numbers:
Of all the tinkering being done with the Rockies’ lineup, Walt Weiss is probably right to stick with his All-Star center fielder in the top spot. This is not a role that will necessarily make or break a team’s chances -- note San Francisco’s Gregor Blanco to Arizona’s Ender Inciarte. Blackmon has been a respectable opener to the Rockies’ strong lineup to this point. There is a lot to like about the unorthodox casting of the leadoff man; the Rockies are an unorthodox team in more ways than just this one. So there isn’t a quintessential character for the top of the order, but power eight spots deep every night makes it hard to wish it were any other way.