I’m not sure I have ever seen a player bat in so many different lineup spots in one season than Michael Brantley did last year. In 2012, Brantley batted in every single spot in the lineup at least once except for the 9th spot. I have heard a lot of debate from my fellow Tribe fans on where they think Terry Francona should bat Brantley in the coming season. I’m going to try to make the case that leadoff is the optimal spot for him.
I know that there are probably a lot of people out there that will question this by pointing to his poor .227 AVG in the leadoff spot last year. However, I would like to point out a couple things before we jump to conclusions. First of all, Brantley only had 97 AB batting leadoff last season, which is way too small of a sample size to conclude anything. Michael simply got off to a slow start in 2012 as proven by his .250 AVG in April (when he happened to be the primary leadoff man).
When Manny Acta moved Brantley down to the middle of the order in mid-May, he started to hit again. Many people assumed that Acta made some genius move finding a spot in the lineup where Brantley was able to have success. However, what most likely happened was that Brantley coincidentally broke out of his slump around the same time. Michael is too good of a hitter to hover around the .240 to .250 mark for a prolonged period of time. It just so happened he got moved down in the order as he was breaking out of his slump, and then everyone started to assume that batting leadoff was not his strong suit. He has been a leadoff hitter throughout most of his career dating back to the minors. In 2011, Brantley had a .278 AVG out of the leadoff spot in 349 AB, which is far more telling than the 97 AB he received in 2012. I’m pretty much just trying to say that I’m not going to let one sub-par month justify that Brantley should not be our leadoff guy.
The only other person worthy of consideration would be Jason Kipnis. I’ve heard a few people throw around the idea of Drew Stubbs batting leadoff based on his speed, but I’ll be blunt here: .213 AVG, .272 OBP, and a 30.5% strikeout rate is a horrible combo for a leadoff man. Let’s compare Kipnis and Brantley. Brantley’s 2012 OBP was .348, while Kipnis had an OBP of .335. With the bases empty Brantley a .282 AVG compared to Kipnis’s .235 AVG. However, with runners in scoring position Brantley had a .265 AVG, 53 RBI and a .394 SLG, while Kipnis had a .303 AVG, 62 RBI, with a .455 SLG. According to the stats, it looks like Kipnis’s skills would be better put to use somewhere like batting 3rd in order to maximize situations that he can bat with runners on base.
Lastly, I want to take a look at the heat maps for Brantley and Kipnis in terms of their batting averages. Obviously, any leadoff batter will generally have more pitches to hit around the plate than a middle of the order type-hitter. Look at Brantley’s heat map:
Brantley is rock solid on pitches in the strike zone as 5 out of his 8 areas are in the red. Now let’s look at Kipnis:
As you can see, Brantley is the far better hitter in terms of pitches in the strike zone. Combining all the stats I’ve discussed, I think it’s fair to say that all signs point to Brantley batting leadoff in 2013.