After his three home run game Thursday night, it’s clear Mookie Betts should’ve been hitting leadoff the whole time.
The Los Angeles Dodgers beat the San Diego Padres 11-2 on Thursday night. Outfielder Mookie Betts led the offensive charge from the leadoff spot, going 4-for-4 with three home runs, four runs scored and five RBI. It’s the sixth 3-homer game of his career, and he joined Sammy Sosa and Johnny Mize as the only players in MLB history with six 3-homer games.
Betts last batted leadoff on Aug. 2 against Arizona, when he also hit a home run. In six games as the Dodgers’ leadoff man this season now, he is hitting .440/.517/1.000 (1.517 OPS) with four home runs and eight RBI over 29 plate appearances. His other 11 starts have had him hitting second, with a .255/.300/.532 slash line (.832 OPS), three home runs and seven RBI from that spot over 50 plate appearances.
What’s different for Mookie Betts when he bats leadoff?
Up until Thursday, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, Betts had hit leadoff against right-handed starters and second against left-handers. Chris Paddack, San Diego’s starter Thursday night, is of course a right-hander. The struggles of left-handed hitters Max Muncy, Joc Pederson and Cody Bellinger, along with Corey Seager returning from an injury, pushed manager Dave Roberts to go against what he favors.
For his career, Betts is a .304/.375/.542 (.917 OPS) hitter from the leadoff spot. He has hit leadoff in 568 of 788 games started in his career (2,679 total plate appearances), with 89 starts (420 plate appearances) from the No. 2 spot his second most-frequented lineup spot. He has started 52 games hitting third, and 54 games hitting fourth.
Modern advances, spurred by “Moneyball”, have changed the perception and profile of leadoff hitters. Speed is not a prerequisite anymore, though Betts has plenty to offer there with four 20-plus steal seasons in his career and an 83.5 percent career success rate. But the general (and well-reasoned) strategy now is to get your best hitters the most at-bats, and the top of the order obviously gets the most shots
A lot of managers probably have to tinker to feel they’re doing something, or that they offer value. But some decisions are made easy, like who should hit in certain spots, leaving the rest of the lineup to be built around them.
Regardless of who’s available, or who is or isn’t struggling, Roberts should have Betts’ name inked into the Dodgers’ leadoff spot for the rest of this season (and beyond, for as long as he’s the manager). Any other idea is pure negligence.