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Who should lead off for the Rockies?

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Tapia and Hampson are proving to be good options

From an inconsistent and hard-hit bullpen to finding an everyday first baseman and beyond, there are all sorts of questions that the Rockies are trying to answer in 2020. However, one other unforeseen question has also arisen: who should be the Rockies’ leadoff hitter?

First and foremost, a leadoff hitter’s job is to get on base. If they are a good one, they will get on base a lot. Once on base, some of the best leadoff hitters — say like Hall of Famers Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines — can steal bases and be a distraction on the base paths for both the pitcher and defenders. In theory, with decent 2-3-4-5 hitters, leadoff hitters would also score often. On top of that, they also need to have a quality at-bat in the first inning to give their teammates a nice glimpse of the pitcher. No pressure, right?

With all of this in mind, entering the 2020 season the Rockies leadoff hitter was was expected to be David Dahl. However Raimel Tapia and Garrett Hampson have also emerged as candidates and have shown glimpses of why they could be deserving of the role.

Time for a change

From 2014 through 2019, Charlie Blackmon was an outstanding leadoff hitter for the Rockies. He dominated the spot in the lineup, earned four All-Star nods, and hit .307/.364/.523 in the top spot in the lineup. He redefined the position, bringing power as well as high home run and RBI totals. In 2017, he drove in more runs than he scored — setting the MLB all-time record with 103 RBI from the leadoff spot and winning the NL batting title.

Going into 2020, Bud Black signaled it was time for a change and 34-year-old Blackmon would be moved down in the order. So far, Charlie has mostly occupied the No. 3 spot, where he’s leading the MLB in hits with 46 through Sunday. Black named 2019 All-Star David Dahl as Blackmon’s successor in the leadoff role, but Dahl struggled in his first 19 games, hitting just .189/.238/.243. He was placed on the Injured List on Aug. 19 with a lower back injury. Black said Dahl was “getting really close” to returning on Aug. 26.

Hampson and Tapia have filled in pretty well as leadoff hitters, combining for most of the plate appearances (101 out of 155) in that spot for the Rockies this season. Total on the year, Colorado’s leadoff hitters are hitting .281 (10th) with an on-base percentage of .361 (10th), a slugging percentage of .381 (20th) with 19 runs scored (20th), 17 walks (10th), 53 total bases (tied for 17th), and 6 stolen bases (tied for 3rd). The MLB averages for leadoff hitters are .257/.336/.426 with 20 runs scored, 14 walks, 55 total bases and three stolen bases.

Rockies 2020 Leadoff Hitters

Player G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG TB
Player G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG TB
David Dahl 12 54 50 7 12 2 1 0 6 1 3 9 0.240 0.278 0.320 12
Garrett Hampson 13 63 55 11 16 1 2 1 3 3 7 15 0.291 0.371 0.436 24
Raimel Tapia 9 42 34 2 11 0 1 0 2 2 7 7 0.324 0.452 0.387 18

Hampson and Tapia fit the more traditional bill being players with more speed than power. They also bring more possibility to each at-bat and more movement on the base paths. Both are also above-average outfielders (for more specifics on this check out Renee Deschert’s Purple Row article), although Hampson can play middle infield as well.

Through Sunday, Hampson has played 13 games as the leadoff hitter, while Tapia has led off in nine games — including eight of the last nine. The only exception was when Tapia sat out on Aug. 26 after being hit by a pitch in the elbow the day before.

As the first to replace Dahl at the top spot, Hampson has hit .291/.371/.436 with two triples, one double, one homer, seven walks, 11 runs scored, and three stolen bases as leadoff hitter. The Rockies are 5-8 with Hampson leading off.

On Aug. 21, Black switched from Hampson to Tapia, telling MLB.com’s Thomas Harding, “Tapia has had experience as a leadoff hitter in the Minor Leagues. He feels comfortable there. I can see this continuing as long as his performance continues to be where it is right now. But that’s fluid.”

In the No. 1 spot, Tapia is hitting .324/.452/.382 with one triple, seven walks, two runs scored, and two stolen bases. The Rockies are 3-6 when Tapia is the leadoff hitter. And despite Dahl’s challenges at the plate to start the season, the Rockies were 9-3 with him leading off.

All of this certainly shows that the success of the leadoff hitter doesn’t carry as much weight as a quality start, a lockdown bullpen, or hitters producing with runners on base. But an effective leadoff hitter could make a difference in a close game by drawing a timely walk, with savvy base running, or being able to score from second on a base hit — something each of these three have proven able to do in the past.

The future of the leadoff spot

Filling Charlie Blackmon’s shoes is no easy task. In 2019 alone he hit .321/.368/.594 with 94 runs, 72 RBI, 33 doubles, 27 homers, and 30 walks in the leadoff role. In 2019, the Rockies ranked near the top of many leadoff stat categories, including batting average (1st), slugging percentage (2nd), runs scored (5th), RBI (7th), and on-base percentage (8th).

With such a small sample size in 2020, it’s hard to draw any conclusions about Tapia or Hampson being better at the top of the lineup. A healthy and non-slumping David Dahl could also be a contender for the spot and his return is expected soon.

When the offense struggles, a team needs more possibilities in terms of base runners, base stealers, and guys who seem to find a way to make more things happen. Tapia and Hampson have both proven that they are valuable hitters in the lineup — regardless of where they hit — because they are able to make things happen on the base paths. But are their skills best suited for a leadoff role, or somewhere else?

The Rockies are currently struggling with slumps from stars, the inability to get big hits and spark rallies, and a bullpen that can’t seem to hold many leads. Maybe a solid leadoff hitter — regardless of if it’s Tapia, Hampson, or even Dahl — could bring some more life to this offense and help the Rockies turn things around to make a playoff push in the final 24 games of the shortened 2020 season.

Poll

Who should be the leadoff hitter for the Rockies?

This poll is closed

  • 40%
    Raimel Tapia
    (114 votes)
  • 17%
    Garrett Hampson
    (49 votes)
  • 11%
    David Dahl when he’s healthy
    (33 votes)
  • 12%
    Let’s get back to Charlie Blackmon
    (34 votes)
  • 0%
    Other (Let us know in the comments)
    (1 vote)
  • 17%
    It doesn’t matter when the heart of the order can’t drive them in
    (48 votes)
279 votes total Vote Now