Last season, the Milwaukee Brewers featured their most dynamic hitter, Carlos Gomez, as their primary lead off hitter throughout the season. Gomez has been a revelation for the Brewers over the past two seasons, with the fourth most wins above replacement of any hitter since 2013, contributing a whopping 13.4 fWAR to the Brewers’ cause. He has been as stellar on offense as he has on defense, hitting .284/.347/.491 with 47 home runs and 74 stolen bases for wRC+ of 131 over the past two seasons, in addition to winning the NL Gold Glove in center field in 2013. Gomez lead off in 106 contests in 2014, however heading into this season it appears at though manager Ron Roenicke is searching for an alternative in the lead off spot, which would allow Gomez to slot lower in the order.
It appears as though Roenicke might be tipping his hand as to who he prefers, however, as Scooter Gennett has lead off in each of his six starts so far this spring, against both lefties and righties. He will also start at lead off this afternoon against the Mariners, at 3:05 CST. The young second baseman is entering what will be his first full season as an everyday starter, after he shared platoon duties at the keystone with Rickie Weeks in 2014.
The idea of Scooter hitting leadoff isn’t a new one, as Gennett did lead off in 23 games last season. Gennett doesn’t fit the prototypical lead off mold, given his poor walk rate and demonstrated inability to hit left handed pitching. Scooter has, however, hit for a very high batting average of .323 versus right handed pitchers in his career, which can mitigate some of the worry about his poor walk rate and a potentially low on base percentage. Though Gennett has been aided by a high .356 career batting average on ball in play against righties (league average is around .300), Scooter makes contact at a relatively high rate (15.5% career strikeout rate) and hits a TON of live drives (25.0% LD rate last season led the Brewers by over 2%, and ranked 17th in baseball among those with at least 450 plate appearances), meaning that we shouldn’t expect a huge BABIP regression from Scooter.
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As I stated above, Scooter did lead off for 23 games last season, and he also lead off five contests after being called up to the Majors in 2013. In 121 plate appearances at lead off over his career, Scooter has been a catalyst atop the lineup, posting a .330/.358/.487 batting line with 14 extra base hits in 28 games. Though his 3.3% walk rate as a lead off guy is nothing short of atrocious, his high batting average has led to a very palatable .358 OBP and .845 OPS, both significantly above league average for 2014 (.310 OBP, .730 OPS were league average in 2014). Gennett’s wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) of 137 as a lead off hitter last season was his best at any spot in the batting order and 22 points higher than his career average, and even slightly bested Gomez’s 135 wRC+ as lead off hitter last season.
While Scooter does have a very highly publicized and criticized platoon split, the Brewers seem to be sold on the fact that Gennett will be able to perform serviceably against left handed pitching. A career .128/.150/.141 slash line in 83 plate appearances against lefties rates Gennett at -29 wRC+ (100 is league average, and yes, that is NEGATIVE 29 runs). However, of the 25 projected starting pitchers for the 5 teams in the NL Central, only five of them are left handed, somewhat mitigating the detriment that Gennett’s platoon issues could have in a very right handed division.
Scooter Gennett doesn’t walk much, doesn’t hit lefties very well, and has only led off in 28 of his 206 career MLB games. However, Scooter has been a revelation at the top of the order, posting a wRC+ 35% better than league average on the strength of a solid contact rate and very strong line drive percentage. Given Carlos Gomez‘s dynamic offensive ability and big power potential, he would be a better fit in the middle of the order, where he can be more of a run-producing threat. After appearing as the lead off hitter in each of his spring training starts, it appears the Scooter Gennett is the favorite to lead off for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2015.