Bartlett Leading Off

Jason Bartlett is an odd bird, one without a beak or visible feathers. One presumably etched in as the Rays’ leadoff hitter come the regular season. One who happens to bat righty yet struggles with pitchers who throw from the same side, at least until last season. This wouldn’t be an issue, except the league has far more right-handed starters than southpaws.

By now, everyone knows of Bartlett’s 2009 season. Fueled by an increased batting average on balls in play and doubted, in part, because he actually hit more fly balls. That means more home runs, but it also means more outs. Or it should mean. Batting Bartlett leadoff is a carryover from last season, which is fine if Bartlett could be reasonably expected to repeat his success or if this was a lineup maneuver against lefty starters and below average right-handers. Take a look at how Bartlett has fared versus righties since 2007 in various metrics:

This is nothing new. Bartlett’s career wOBA versus righties is .310, the exact number B.J. Upton posted last season, when he was (deservedly) removed from the leadoff spot and met with widespread criticism. Bartlett has faced about 29% lefties the last three years, so Bartlett’s struggles are not from unfamiliarity or small sample sizes. He just can’t hit righties.

Perhaps this is all just a head nod towards Bartlett’s 2009 production and a good-willed approach to rewarding players. But, instead of removing Bartlett from leading off now, the Rays are facing the possibility of removing him 150 at-bats into the season. It’s just a peculiar situation since the Rays have an everyday player who switch hits and seems to profile as the typical leadoff hitter.

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12 years ago

Does Carl Crawford refuse to hit leadoff or something? I can think of about 29 other teams that would love to use him as their leadoff man.