The Best Leadoff Hitter for the Los Angeles Dodgers is Their Catcher Because Batting Average and Speed Are Overrated

A.J. Ellis Has Long Been the Dodgers' Best Option to Leadoff, but There's a Stigma Against Catchers Batting First

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The Best Leadoff Hitter for the Los Angeles Dodgers is Their Catcher Because Batting Average and Speed Are Overrated
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A.J. Ellis chuckles at the notion that he can't be a successful leadoff hitter.

COMMENTARY | The Los Angeles Dodgers began the season with Carl Crawford atop their batting order. Crawford produced better than could have been expected -- .301/.358/.470/.828 -- considering he was coming off of multiple seasons marred by a serious elbow injury.

Through 51 games in 2013 he was the perfect leadoff hitter, mixing solid plate discipline with 19 extra-base hits and excellent base running (nine stolen bases in twelve attempts, taking the extra base, going first-to-third, etc). However, injury felled Crawford and he hit the DL with hamstring issues.

When Crawford returns, he'll regain his position as leadoff hitter. In the interim, Dodgers' skipper Don Mattingly has largely put veteran guys perceived as fast and gritty atop the order outside of a handful of games with rookie sensation Yasiel Puig in the one-hole. Beyond the times when Puig has led off, it has mostly failed.

Mattingly, like so many in the game and a large segment of fans, is stubbornly behind the notion that you need a speedy leadoff guy above all. While speed is great to have at the top, what matters most is placing a guy with great on-base skills first so your mashers in the middle of the lineup can bat with at least a guy on and put their extra-base power to good use, driving guys in time and time again.

An Underrated Leadoff Option

With that in mind, the perfect leadoff hitter for the Dodgers is catcher A.J. Ellis. Ellis would make a great leadoff hitter for any team at any time because he knows the benefit of working counts and drawing walks. Ellis has a career on-base percentage of .366 and has walked in 12.5 percent of his career plate appearances.

Yes, Ellis isn't fast, but when you can stack power hitter after power hitter behind him and are capable as a team of stringing together numerous extra-base hits, speed becomes less important. What's paramount is making sure your big boppers actually come to the plate with men on-base.

Matt Kemp is due to return before Crawford, and once he does, the Dodgers' lineup sans Carl would look like this if I were filling out the scorecard:

C - A.J. Ellis

SS -Hanley Ramirez

CF - Matt Kemp

RF - Yasiel Puig

1B - Adrian Gonzalez

LF - Andre Ethier

3B - Juan Uribe

2B - Mark Ellis

Pitcher's Spot

That is without a doubt an imposing lineup. Mattingly would almost certainly put Mark Ellis first in this scenario because he's a middle infielder and players of his stature have a reputation for being leadoff hitters whereas catchers do not.

I'd be fine with Puig getting the call as well as A.J. Ellis. My only reservation is that Yasiel has failed to draw an unintentional walk yet and all that power would be better served in the heart of the order with guys on-base in front of him.

Carl Crawford Returns

Once Crawford returns things get tricky as the Blue Crew will have four outfielders. Donnie Baseball has already stated Puig will remain in The Show and get at-bats. With that in mind, my preferred lineup once Crawford is back looks like this:

LF - Carl Crawford

C - A.J. Ellis

CF - Matt Kemp

RF - Yasiel Puig

1B - Adrian Gonzalez

SS -Hanley Ramirez

3B - Juan Uribe

2B - Mark Ellis

Pitcher's Spot

There wouldn't be much of a difference, as you can see. Crawford heads back to the top of the lineup, though if he struggles at all I'd flip him with A.J. in a heartbeat. Regardless of the exact lineup configuration, what the Dodgers need most going forward in 2013 and beyond is health, consistent production, and Mattingly to not pointlessly give away outs so often with pointless bunts.

Greg Zakwin is the founder of Plaschke, Thy Sweater Is Argyle, a Dodgers' and sports card blog. He writes with an analytical tilt about The Blue Crew at ChadMoriyama.com. You can find and follow him on Twitter @ArgyledPlaschke. A graduate of UCLA in 2011 with a Bachelor's in History, he's been a follower of the Dodgers since birth and still mourns the loss of both Mike Piazza and Carlos Santana.

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