St. Louis Cardinals Lead Off Hitter Options

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We have two candidates for lead off hitter, Matt Carpenter versus Jason Heyward. Let’s skip the numbers for the most part and focus on their approaches and attributes that make them both good candidates.

Matt Carpenter

Carp, as he’s affectionately known, is our incumbent lead off hitter. He’s not your proto-typical speedster, but rather a very disciplined and patient hitter who grinds out at bats, wearing the pitcher down. The discipline: He has a carer OBP of .379 and led the NL in walks with 95. The patience: He averaged 4.37 pitches per plate appearance last year, third best in baseball. I remember catching a Cards game on TV and watching Carp have an at bat where he got like 13 pitches as he kept fouling off ball after ball. If I remember correctly he ended up with a base hit. That’s what he does, and given that lead off hitters have a good chance to get the most plate appearances, wouldn’t you want a guy like that, a guy who tires pitchers out, getting as many plate appearances as possible? On the other hand, Carp hit’s a lot of doubles, which might make him fit better in the second spot.

Jason Heyward

Heyward, on the other hand, does have some speed, and if he led off, wouldn’t grind out at bats as much as Carpenter. He stole twenty bases last year while only getting caut ght four times. In addition he gets on at a decent clipHe does get on at a decent clip, with a .351 lifetime OBP. Plus since he’d be leading off, he’d probably end up with a career high in stolen bases by far. Heyward would get on and make pitchers look over their shoulders.

There are of course, other options for the lead off spot, which were pointed out last night to me by my UCB Radio co-hosts, Jon and Kevin. Listen here.

The ones we talked about were Jon Jay and Kolten Wong.

I can see Wong, who has a history of good OBP in the minors and speed. But that OBP hasn’t translated to the majors yet and he sudeenly showed some power last year that he hadn’t showed in the monors, which could make him a better fit for lower in the lineup. As for Jay, he checks off the average OBP and  categories (though his OBP was 3 points lower than Carpenters, despite having an average that was almost 30 points higher). He doesn’t have any speed though, at least he didn’t last year. He stole six bases while being caught three times. He did steal 19 bases in 2012, but that was his career high, and he was caught stealing 7 times that year.

There’s another candidate, but chances are he won’t get as much playing time as the guys mentioned above, and what he gets may primarily be as a pinch runner or defensive replacement. That, of course, is Peter Bourjos. The only thing he has over the others is speed, as his OBP and average is poor compared to the rest.

I’d personally stick with Carpenter, though it’s close between him and Jay, especially if Jay can repeat what he did last season. Plus Carpenter hits more doubles than Jay, so he may fit better in the second hole. Neither showed much speed last season though, which might actually give support to the idea of Carpenter hitting second, as his doubles would drive Jay home. (Jay only had 16 doubles last year.As opposed to Carp’s 33. Carp also had *55* doubles in 2013) Heyward and Wong (especially if that power surge wasn’t a fluke) fit better elsewhere in the lineup. Bourjos is a part timer.

So, who do you choose?

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