Who Will Lead Off for the Diamondbacks?

Young and Byrnes lead a group of candidates

We begin the new year with a series of articles that address twelve of the most important questions facing the Arizona Diamondbacks heading into 2008. Up first, we examine who might bat in the leadoff spot for the defending NL West Champions.

Last season, Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin did not use any one lineup for more than three games.  He also did not use a player in any one batting order spot more than 85 times.  The Mad Scientist used Chris Young in the leadoff spot 84 times, mostly later in the season, leading us to believe that this is one of the few lineup areas that we might see repeated consistently in 2008.

Young belted 32 homers last year, however.  That's 11 more than the next most powerful Diamondback, Eric Byrnes.  At just 24 years of age, Young figures to only develop even more power this season.  Additionally, his .295 on-base percentage and 141 strikeouts don't exactly scream leadoff hitter.

"Obviously, it's status quo right now," Melvin said in regards to the leadoff spot.  "We'll see. I mean, Chris did a tremendous job, whether or not we feel like we need him in the middle of the order, you know, being that he is a power guy. Still kind of yet-to-be-determined."

Of course, Chris Young slugged .500 out of the leadoff spot, but just .420 the rest of the time.  Melvin acknowledged that Young might not hit for as much power lower in the order, where he's unlikely to receive as many fastballs.

"CY probably had his best numbers in the one-spot, yet a 30-home run guy based on what you have... maybe we need him in the middle somewhere, and maybe we don't. So it worked to an extent. We're not opposed to matching up and seeing what kind of group we have going into spring training."

The most obvious alternative to Young last year was Eric Byrnes.  Melvin used Byrnes in the leadoff role 46 times last year, and he stole 50 bases, including 33 in 34 second half attempts.  Byrnes had a .360 OBP out of that leadoff spot as opposed to Young's mark of just .309.  Any way you look at it, it makes more sense to lead off with Byrnes, but it's going to be difficult for Melvin to completely get away from a formula that appeared to work so well in the second half last year.

Option #3 for the leadoff spot: Stephen Drew.  Drew started 24 games hitting first in the order, but hit just .172 in that role.  Drew isn't strictly a fastball hitter like Young, and doesn't possess quite the base stealing acumen that Young and Byrnes do.  Additionally, Drew remains on of the few left-handed bats in Melvin's order, and it would behoove the lineup to have him break up a long row of right-handed batters.  Still, when asked whether Drew was an option to lead off in 2008, Melvin wouldn't give a firm negative.

"Could be," Melvin hedged.  "Other than CY and Byrnes, I think for some of the guys, it's probably not their favorite spot to hit in the lineup, yet they are going to do what they can do to help the team. We do have some options. Stephen is one of them. I think we started out the year with Stephen there and went back to him a little bit later, and so he is an option for us. But there's really no set guy that we're looking to lead off as of right now."

Prediction: Although Eric Byrnes is clearly the best option to lead off for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Bob Melvin can't resist the temptation to mix and match based on matchups or simply feel.  We still believe that Byrnes will see more time hitting leadoff than Chris Young will this year.  While the leadoff spot is better for Young, hitting him further down in the order is best for the team.  The Diamondbacks should be contenders in 2008, so they cannot afford to prioritize a prospect's development over the team's success. 

Games Hitting Leadoff : Byrnes 94, Young 41, Drew 12,  Bonifacio 9, Upton 6

Send questions or comments for Keith Glab to future_backs@yahoo.com


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