Sunday, February 15, 2009

Dropping Reyes in the lineup

I like it. My first impression was that Luis Castillo was hardly an OBP monster in his own right, but then I looked it up and he kind of is. His career OBP is actually a rather whopping .367. For context, here are a few players who posted lower marks than that last season:

.361 Derrek Lee (1B)
.361 Adrian Gonzalez (1B)
.349 Jimmy Rollins (SS)

Castillo himself came in at .355 last year, just under his career mark, and that was despite having an uncharacteristically horrible batting average (.245). In years past his OBP was more a function of beating out infield singles than actual plate discipline. If he can keep last year's selectivity and get the average closer to his career .292, he could be more valuable than I was giving him credit for.

It's not that Castillo represents an "upgrade" over Reyes, exactly, no matter what lineup slot you're talking about. But it seems to make sense to put light-hitting OBP guys at the top of the lineup and power-hitting free swingers in the middle. That rule of thumb has Castillo hitting in front of Reyes every time.

The leadoff spot seems like an intuitively good place to hit your best basestealer, and Reyes did steal 56 bases last year, but he also got thrown out 15 times, more than 25% of his attempts (enough to negate most if not all of the runs created with the successful attempts). Luis Castillo stole 17 bases and got caught twice, less than 10% of the time.

So both in terms of getting on base and base-stealing effectiveness, Castillo actually looks like at least Reyes's equal. The third reason this is a good idea is that Reyes has too much power for the leadoff spot.

It's true that his slugging percentage is slightly misleading, because so many of Reyes's extra bases are collected because he's fast enough to take them, not because he's hitting the ball so hard. He managed to actually clear the fence with only 16 home runs last year, in 688 at-bats. But even after discounting his doubles and triples to a certain extent, you're still looking at a player who hits hard line drives very often. He was also, let's not forget, still just 24 last year, which means he's almost certainly becoming a more serious home run threat.

The best argument, as I see it, for leaving Reyes is to have the team's best hitters come to bat as often as possible, which makes, say, Reyes-Beltran-Wright-Delgado more appealing than anything that starts with Castillo. But since Castillo is going to need to fit somewhere on the lineup card every day, even in the best of circumstances, I do think he would work fairly well as a table-setter for the more devastating bats.

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