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New People, New Problems: Who Leads Off for Cardinals?

Cardinals

With the Cardinals acquisition of Dexter Fowler, who bats where in the lineup?

Last season the St. Louis Cardinal were a team that prided themselves on versatility. With so many players who could play multiply positions, the team’s roster was the embodiment of versatility, and manager Mike Matheny took full advantage of it. After 152 games, Matheny had already played 148 different lineups—mixing up both positions in the field and the batting order.

Although many considered this flexibility to be a good thing, some saw it as a lack of consistency.

With the recent signing of free agent Dexter Fowler, the team may be looking to create some more order in their lineup. Since Fowler has only played centerfield ever since his 2009 season, it is very unlikely that the team would stick him elsewhere in the outfield. Last year, the Cardinals split time at center between Randal Grichuk and Tommy Pham. Now with Fowler on the roster and Holliday now a Yankee, Grichuk will most likely assume a permanent role in left field, with Piscotty in right.

The real question isn’t about what Matheny does on defense, because at this point that seems pretty obvious.

Instead, the question is what happens on offense now that the team now has “two leadoff hitters”.

The debate between having either Matt Carpenter or Dexter Fowler as the team’s leadoff batter seems like one that should be pretty easy.

Fowler. The role of the lead-off man is to get on base, a lot. And that is exactly what Fowler does. Last season, Fowler held an on-base percentage of .393—sixth highest in the National League. By comparison, Carpenter had a thirty point lower OBP of .370. Additionally, Fowler is a much bigger threat on the bases. His 13 steals last year is quite literally an undefinable amount of times higher than Carpenter’s, who had 0.

But to some, the prospect of moving Carpenter out of the leadoff role is a scary one. This is because Carpenter seemingly doesn’t preform as well elsewhere in the lineup. Although it may not make sense why Carpenter does better as a leadoff batter, it’s a theory heavily supported by data. As a lead-off batter, in a total of 2205 plate appearances, Carpenter has held a batting average of .295. In his entire career at any position in the lineup, Carpenter has held a .284 batting average in 3016 plate appearances. The disparity between these two batting averages is quite incredible. Especially when you consider that only 26% of his total at-bats have not been as a leadoff batter, meaning he had to bat a lot worse than his career average of .284 while batting outside of the leadoff role.

When you actually do consider the facts, moving Carpenter out of the leadoff role seems like a really risky move. I don’t know why, and I have no way of explaining it, but Carpenter just seems to be a player who thrives at the top of the order.

But ultimately, Fowler fits the role of leadoff man too well.

The Cardinals almost don’t have any other option than to move Carpenter and see how things go. Fortunately for the team, Carpenter is extremely versatile. Averaging 25 home-runs in the past two seasons, Carpenter could be a good fit in the second, third, or fourth spots in the lineup.

 

Photo Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

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