David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
The debate over Curtis Granderson in the leadoff spot, when viewed through the prism of the Mets' 9-3 start, probably belongs in the "if it's not broke, don't fix it" file. Maybe Granderson isn't living up to anyone's ideal of a $60-million masher, but why mess with success?
Terry Collins doesn't plan to. At least for the immediate future. After waiting four years to field a competitive team, this is a manager who respects a winning streak, and he sees nothing wrong with using Granderson's on-base potential where it can be most effective.
Even if the manager acknowledged before Saturday night's 5-4 victory over the Marlins that Granderson might be holding back a smidge in order to work counts and extend at-bats, part of a leadoff man's job description.
"Yeah," Collins said, "but I'll tell you he's hit some balls that have been caught. He's hit some balls on the screws. And the job he's doing right now, I like it."
Almost on cue, Granderson gave a few examples later, launching one deep ball to the warning track and then smoking a line drive that Dee Gordon snared with a great diving effort. Granderson still is getting his hacks in between walks, but as Collins suggested, he's also had some bad breaks.
After Saturday's game, Granderson's batting average (.132) and slugging percentage (.132) were at microscopic levels, with zero home runs -- two fewer than Wilmer Flores. Perhaps most telling about the stats entering the game, however, were Granderson's .185 batting average on balls in play -- an incredibly unlucky number -- and a remarkably high 33.3 percent line-drive rate, which shows that he's making solid contact.
It's the same Granderson. Just being utilized in a different way and the numbers suggest he could be trending upward. As for what he's giving the Mets atop the order, well, it's no wonder Collins is content to leave him there. Granderson's .341 on-base percentage ranked sixth among NL leadoff hitters with a minimum of 30 plate appearances. He also has a walk rate of 22.7 percent -- well above the Giants' Nori Aoki (10.5 percent).
That's pretty decent for the Mets' default option in the leadoff spot. Remember, they had every intention of using Juan Lagares atop the order when they auditioned him there during spring training. But in looking ahead, and seeing the pitching probables for the first few weeks of the regular season, the manager changed his mind.
"I didn't like the matchups," Collins said. "I thought it was an awful lot to ask of this kid, especially against [Max] Scherzer, [Jordan] Zimmermann and [Stephen] Strasburg. I just didn't think it was fair to him.
"We had another guy who's done it, been on the big stage. Let's go with him. And he's done a great job so far."
Collins admitted Lagares could change his mind back if he continues to have promising at-bats like he's had lately. Lagares had a pair of singles Saturday night -- one drove in the first run -- and he extended his hitting streak to six games. There's much less pressure batting from the No. 7 spot, but once Lagares builds more confidence there -- and polishes his plate discipline -- Collins would consider trying him atop the order again.
"That's not to say in a month from now Juan Lagares isn't the leadoff hitter," Collins said, "because he may be."
There's no point peering that far into the future. Maybe it was a bit surprising to see Granderson hitting leadoff on Opening Day in D.C., but the Mets seem to be operating just fine under this alignment.
The Mets began the day tied for fourth in the NL with a .322 on-base percentage and sixth in runs scored (45). Not the best, but certainly respectable.
Losing David Wright with a hamstring strain Wednesday figured to be enough of a temptation for Collins to switch Granderson to the middle of the order, but he stood firm.
His explanation? Granderson was the only logical candidate for leadoff and it's hard to argue with him now. While the manager could eventually bend at some point, rethinking his leadoff situation is not his top priority at the moment.