The players in the lineup won’t be the issue. In Los Angeles, the Dodgers will have players like Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Hanley Ramirez to adorn the batting order, one which should be formidable throughout. What’s not as clear is who will lead the charge and be first in the order. That will be a decision for Dodgers’ skipper, Don Mattingly, to determine by the end of the spring.
Los Angeles has a few options. It’s safe to assume: Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier will be in the middle of the lineup. Mattingly seems to prefer Hanley Ramirez lower in the order as well. With the departure of Shane Victorino, the table setters are somewhat of an open tryout.
If the Dodgers are smart, they will have Matt Kemp, easily the best hitter in the lineup, batting third. After that they can have Adrian Gonzalez cleanup and Hanley Ramirez fifth, alternating righty-lefty-righty. Andre Ethier is a clear slot behind Ramirez with another righty, Luis Cruz, batting seventh in front of the catcher, AJ Ellis. That is alternating sides of the plate from third until seventh in the order and also implies Mark Ellis and Carl Crawford will hit in the first two spots of the order.
If Mattingly is anything like his New York counterpart (Joe Girardi, who replaced Joe Torre instead of Mattingly), he will stack righty-lefty wherever he can, which would mean Ellis leading off and Crawford batting second in front of Matt Kemp. With right-handed pitching as the opposition, Skip Schumaker could fit into the equation near the top of the lineup as well.
Logically, both hitters at the top of the lineup should put the ball in play, be able to run the bases and get on base at a decent rate.
In this case, the 35 year old Ellis (who will be 36 in June) is a career .265/.331 hitter coming off of a .258/.333 season with 70K and 5Sb in 415 ABs. More fascinating is the fact, Ellis, hit .321/.377 with six of his seven home runs against lefties last season, despite 147 less ABs. Schumaker, a utility man who can play second if necessary, batted .295/.357 vs righties in 234 AB last season, helping to form the perfect platoon at the top of the lineup.
Crawford is harder to gauge coming into 2013. Though he had just 117 ABs to complete a forgettable stint in Boston, Crawford did start showing signs of life, hitting .282/.306, an improvement from the .255/.289 from the year before. For the record, Crawford is a .292/.332 career hitter who averages 50 SB per 162 games.
In an ideal situation at the top of the order, the Dodgers can have someone around a .345 OBP, which is not awful. They would be wise to go with a platoon of Ellis and Schumaker, since Crawford strikes out 107 times on average per year, does not draw many walks and could score a ton of runs batting directly in front of Matt Kemp.
This decision would make the lineup as follows:
This brings ultimate alternating between sides of the plate with A.J. Ellis batting eighth as a catcher where he should be. Crawford and Kemp offer plenty of speed near the top of the lineup and Gonzalez will bat cleanup with plenty of RBI chances in the situations Kemp does not hit a home run. For Los Angeles, this is the best lineup it can trot out day by day and for Mattingly it’s the smartest decision in Spring Training provided everyone stays healthy. Since none of the three potential leadoff men are rookies, February and March will matter less in overall numbers and more in overall comfort.
For the record, the Dodgers used Ramirez leading off with Ellis in the two hole during Saturday’s Spring Training action against the White Sox. The Dodgers’ starters scored no runs and were overall shut down in three innings by Dylan Axelrod.