On-Base Perception

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Mets' best leadoff hitter? David Wright

David Wright hits a three-run home run in

David Wright hits a three-run home run in the fifth inning to give the Mets a 6-3 lead over the Pirates at Citi Field. (Sept. 27, 2012) (Credit: AP )

Forget Michael Bourn. Statistically speaking, the Mets have their leadoff man: David Wright.

Yes, the man who common baseball wisdom dictates is a middle-of-the-order bat, would have been one of the best leadoff men in baseball in 2012.

It's easy to not see Wright's top-of-the-lineup potential. He hits for power, a quality usually found further down the lineup. He's not known for his speed. But go deeper.

What makes a good leadoff hitter? Generally any baseball man – from the crusty scout to the pimpled stat-head – would list these qualities:

1. Get on base

2. Take pitches

3. Fight pitches off (AKA “spoiling a pitch”)

4. Don't strike out

5. Put the ball in play

6. Steal bases (OK, the stat-head may not agree here, but we'll get to that later)

Nothing revolutionary there, right?

There were only eight players in 2012 who were MLB average or above in on-base percentage, pitches per plate appearance, pitches fouled off, strikeout rate and putting the ball in play: Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker (Pirates), Ian Kinsler (Rangers), Alejandro De Aza (White Sox), David DeJesus (Cubs), Matt Holliday (Cardinals), Matt Wieters (Orioles) and . . . David Wright.

The numbers prove putting the best on-base threat at the top of the order is key to constructing the best lineup. Bill James, the godfather of modern baseball analysis, wrote in 1981 that getting the first batter on is the most important element needed to score in an inning. The crew at Baseball Prospectus went a step further, using countless computer simulations to show the lineup that scores the most runs is ordered by OBP (greatest to least).

The first batter of the game for the Mets in 2012 got on base at a .290 clip. Not a recipe for success, compared to the MLB average of .317. The Mets ranked 23rd in getting their first hitter on base.

Further, Mets batters hitting in the No. 1 spot in the lineup got 748 plate appearances in 2012. The No. 3 hitter only received 710, most of which went to Wright, who batted third in 144 of his 155 starts. That means 38 plate appearances that could have gone to the Mets' best hitter didn't.

There is, however, an elephant in the clubhouse.

Wright stole just 15 bases in 2012 (which led the Mets), tied with six others for 66th in MLB. For base stealing to be useful, however, the operative factor isn't gaudy totals but percentages. MLB leadoff hitters averaged about 27 stolen bases in 2012.

An effective base stealer will have at least a 75-percent success rate. Wright's career rate is 75.4, and he's stolen at least 13 bases every season from 2005-2012. His 162-game average is 21 steals.

Plus it's probably better that Wright runs sparingly. Many studies show stolen bases generally contribute very little to a team's win total. Getting caught, however, is incredibly costly.

In other words: just get on base and stay there. Maybe have a chat with the first baseman (I hear Mark Teixeira is nice).

But the key is “get on base.”

Nobody on the Mets does that better than Wright (.391).

Stats and stuff

Eight players in MLB were league average or better in 2012 in five important categories for leadoff hitters. Here's how they stacked up:

Player Team Pitchers per PA K Rate OBP % of strikes fouled off Pitches put in play
Alejandro De Aza CWS 3.97 18.6% .349 28% 29%
David DeJesus CHI 4.07 15.3% .350 27% 29%
Matt Holliday STL 3.89 19.2% .379 29% 29%
Ian Kinsler TEX 3.95 12.3% .326 28% 31%
Andrew McCutcheon PIT 3.87 19.6% .400 27% 30%
Neil Walker PIT 3.84 19.6% .342 29% 29%
Matt Wieters BAL 3.85 18.9% .329 29% 29%
David Wright NYM 3.83 16.7% .291 27% 32%
2012 MLB avg   3.82 19.8% .319 27% 29%


If the Mets constructed their 2013 lineup based on players' career on-base percentages, it would look like this (2012 OBP in parenthesis):

1. David Wright, 3B, .381 OBP (.391)

2. Mike Baxter, LF, .354 OBP (.365)

3. Daniel Murphy, 2B, .339 OBP (.332)

4. Lucas Duda, RF, .338 OBP (.329)

5. Ike Davis, 1B, .336 OBP (.308)

6. Ruben Tejada, SS, .336 OBP (.333)

7. Kirk Nieuwenhuis, CF, .315 OBP (.315)

8. John Buck, C, .303 OBP (.297)

Tags: mets , david wright , alejando de aza , david dejesus , matt wieters , andrew mccutcheon , neil walker , ian kinsler , matt holliday

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