The Brewers would be wise to re-sign Devon White to a salary friendly 2002 deal. Despite what Dean Taylor and certainly Davey Lopes might believe is an issue of major concern, the leadoff position in the lineup was absolutely NOT the reason behind the overall ineptitude of the Milwaukee Brewers' offensive attack in 2001. A statistical analysis of National League leadoff hitters this season proves this in any number of ways.
So, if you will allow, the argument against a Roger Cedeno free agent signing commences, as we debunk the myth that an improvement in the leadoff spot will go a long way to cure what ails the Brewers offense:
MYTH #1: Brewer leadoff hitters sport a poor average, just as the rest of the lineup did.
TRUTH: Brewer leadoff hitters were 4th in the 16-team NL at .276. In fact, the only teams that hit above .280 in the leadoff spot were Colorado at .320 (thank you, Juan Pierre), St. Louis at .302 (thanks to some guy named Vina), and Houston at .287 (Biggio and Lugo).
MYTH #2: You need "traditional" leadoff statistics to maximize production from that spot.
TRUTH: Before you finish reading this article, you will find that the case will be made that the Brewers had the 2nd most effective leadoff batters in the NL. Brewer leadoff hitters stroked 47 doubles in 2001, leading the league. They hit the 3rd most HR's with 21, trailing only the Astros and Dodgers who hit 26 apiece. But when you combine all extra base hits, the Brewers once again led the NL with 69 extra base knocks from their leadoff spot. That takes away the possibility of a "caught stealing" now, doesn't it? Milwaukee's slugging percentage of .456 trailed only the 'Stros at 471. Nine of the 16 NL teams had less than a .400 SLG from the leadoff spot. Incredibly, Brewer leadoff hitters were tied for 3rd in the NL in RBI; incredible when you consider that Henry Blanco was usually in the 8th hole, which meant he was usually back in the dugout when Brewer leadoff hitters came to the plate.
MYTH #3: Because the Brewers had league-leading power from the leadoff spot, they had virtually no "speed" production there.
TRUTH: Brewer leadoff batters finished a respectable 6th in steals with 31, as Colorado led with 43 (there's that Pierre guy again). But, if you dig a little deeper, you'll find that the Crew garnered those 31 steals in only 39 attempts, a 79.5% success rate. Colorado's was 74.1%, and the only team in the NL with a better ratio was San Diego (Henderson / Jackson) at 80.8%. So while the Brewer lineup lacked speed up and down the lineup, the Crew's leadoff guys stole fairly often, and very effectively.
MYTH #4: Brewer leadoff hitters don't know how to draw a walk.
TRUTH: While not overly impressive, the Brewers drew 56 BB's from the leadoff spot, 9th in the NL, but realize that only three teams had more than 61, so the Brewers were nearly 4th in the NL. Brewer leadoff batters had a .345 OBP, good for 6th in the NL. Side note here: On top of freeing up $4.1 million to be used as needed for 2002, keep in mind that in 128 AB's as a leadoff man this season for the Dodgers, Marquis Grissom had an OBP of .233; he drew 1 walk from the leadoff spot.
MORE REALITY: In the increasingly popular (and rightly so) OPS category (OBP + SLG), Milwaukee's leadoff batters produced a NL 2nd-best OPS of .801, trailing only Houston's .831. Thus, yes, the 2nd best production in the NL! And for those of you wondering, yes, Milwaukee was 2nd (that's right, SD was first!) in leadoff batter strikeouts. To which, the .801 OPS says "so what!".
As you might expect, Houston leadoff batters scored the most runs in the NL, with 130. The glaring problem for Milwaukee here is that their leadoff men (yes, this 2nd best collection in the league), scored the 10th most runs. That should tell you a lot about the production gleaned from Milwaukee's 2-6 spots, minus Richie Sexson, who gets a pass here. There is no doubt that Geoff Jenkins absolutely MUST become a legitimate #3 hitter for the Brew Crew to make any offensive gains at all; this analysis solidifies that fact.So who made up this top-notch collection of #1 hitters, anyway? It was a group effort, but Ronnie Belliard shone, as in 169 leadoff AB's, he hit .290 with an OBP of .348 and an OPS of .910! Devon White (thank you, Devon White!) hit .299 in 231 leadoff AB's with an OBP of .365 and an OPS of .858! White also stole 13 bases in 14 attempts while batting leadoff. Jeffrey Hammonds, in a very small but tantalizing sample of 34 AB's, hit .294 with an outrageous OPS of .971! Lou Collier chimed in with 61 leadoff AB's and an OPS of .856 while hitting .295! Excuse the exclamation points, but all those numbers are outstanding.
In fact, the only drags on the team's leadoff production came from the "traditional" type of leadoff men Davey Lopes inexplicably aspires to have among his flock, James Mouton and rookie Alex Sanchez. In 141 leadoff AB's, they combined to hit .220 with an OPS of .575.
FINAL CONCLUSIONS: If you're looking for a traditional leadoff man in the NL last year, your only candidates were Pierre, Vina, and Luis Castillo in Florida, who had decent numbers as well. Biggio in particular, remains highly productive in Houston. Otherwise, the Crew's non-traditional group outperformed all but the Astros. Anyone brought in specifically to get 600 AB's at leadoff next year would have to have a heck of a season to outshine the 2001 numbers. It's this writer's hope that Taylor and Lopes realize the days of the "traditional" leadoff man are numbered in many ways, and that resigning Devon White as the 4th OF (as they've indicated they will attempt to do) would be a very wise move. Allowing Ronnie Belliard to assume the leadoff spot starting in spring training would be highly advisable, and a better 5th OF option than James Mouton is required. And it should be painfully clear they need to focus on batting positions 2 through 8.
And next time, maybe we'll debunk the myth that one of your starters must be a lefty to have a successful team....