Time For Marlon To Fly To Top Of The Order

As the Phillies prepared to play the Atlanta Braves, Larry Bowa hinted that Bobby Abreu might be batting leadoff for the last time. Abreu still doesn't feel comfortable in the role and Bowa isn't going to push him into taking the job for longer than Abreu can handle. The question is, who takes over? Jimmy Rollins has shown that he's not a great choice to be setting the table for the bigger bats, so Bowa might need to look elsewhere for help at the top of the order.

A month ago, Marlon Byrd was close to getting a ticket back to Lackawanna County Stadium, home of the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Red Barons. Back then, Byrd was hitting .170 and seemed almost lost at the plate. Today, Byrd has upped his average almost 100 points and is swinging the bat the way the Phillies figured he would all along. With Abreu wanting out and Rollins having failed at the leadoff spot, Marlon Byrd is the likely choice to take over the job.

Having a rookie in the leadoff spot isn't always the best of ideas. For the Phillies, it may be the only real choice. Jimmy Rollins hasn't done any of the things that leadoff hitters are supposed to do. His average, although coming up since dropping lower in the order, wasn't an eye opener and he didn't walk enough to push his on-base percentage to any great heights. Rollins refused to learn to bunt for base hits – or to sacrifice for that matter – and when he did get on base, he hasn't been taking advantage of his speed. Another reason for not returning Rollins to the top is because he has finally started to truly contribute offensively since he's dropped down in the order. Rollins offensive wake up call isn't likely coincidence. It's more likely the product of not being comfortable – whether he'll admit it or even realizes it – in the leadoff spot.

As for Bobby Abreu. He could become one of the great leadoff hitters of all time if he only wanted to take the job. Abreu's heart isn't into being a leadoff man and he has refused to realize the role that he could bring to the Phillies offense as being the table setter. Luckily for Phillies fans and for Abreu, he also has the ability to hit lower in the lineup and drive in runs. The part of his game that won't get used to its greatest level is in stealing bases. With legitimate power hitting behind Abreu, his days of stealing bases will be few and far between, especially since having Abreu on first opens up some room on the right side of the infield for left-hand hitting Jim Thome. Abreu could potentially win a batting title no matter where in the order he hits, but to duplicate his 30 homerun, 30 stolen base performance of a couple years ago, odds are slim that he'll be able to do it hitting ahead of Thome.

Then, there's Marlon Byrd. The young center fielder obviously worked out during the offseason, shed some pounds and was ready for spring training. Once the season started, Byrd quickly fell in the tank. His average continued to spiral downward, along with the rest of the Phillies offense. Larry Bowa had put Byrd in the eighth spot in the lineup to "protect" him and take pressure off his rookie. Early on, it wasn't working. The Phillies, knowing that Byrd is a notoriously slow starter when he advances a level, stayed with Byrd. Before long, Ricky Ledee was seeing more playing time in center field as Byrd watched from the bench. Just when it seemed that Byrd may have run out of time and that the Phillies had run out of patience, it all seemed to come together. Soon, there were small signs that Byrd was picking up the pace. His average reached the .200 mark and continued to climb. All of a sudden, Marlon Byrd was hot and was pushing his average higher and higher and was staying in the lineup more and more. The talk of a return to AAA ended and on Thursday, Byrd was actually the one that picked up the first hit of the game off Mike Hampton of the Braves in the eighth inning. That hit led to a Phillies rally that tied the game and eventually helped the Phillies to a 3-2 win over the Braves.

Byrd is still young and is still a rookie. His days of needing to be protected appear to be over. He seems completely ready to take over at the top of the Phillies lineup, which is where they figured on him being by next season anyway. Moving Byrd allows Abreu to regain his level of comfort, while keeping Rollins out of the job that he has certainly not excelled at in his short career. In addition to helping out Abreu and Rollins, moving Byrd to the leadoff spot seems to put the lineup together in a potentially solid way. Here is one way it could shake out.

  1. Marlon Byrd
  2. Placido Polanco
  3. Bobby Abreu
  4. Mike Lieberthal
  5. Jim Thome
  6. Pat Burrell
  7. Jimmy Rollins
  8. David Bell

While Abreu isn't comfortable in the leadoff spot, it would be worth asking him how he feels about the second spot in the order. Moving Abreu to number two would allow him to steal a few more bases, but could also have him driving in some runs if Byrd does in fact get on base the way he has the potential to do. Putting Abreu second in the order would also make keeping the righty/lefty splits in place. It's unlikely that Abreu would take to hitting second, but it might be worth asking.

  1. Marlon Byrd
  2. Bobby Abreu
  3. Mike Lieberthal
  4. Jim Thome
  5. Pat Burrell
  6. Jimmy Rollins
  7. David Bell
  8. Placido Polanco

Byrd has raised his on-base percentage to .338 on the season. It's not stellar, but when you consider the horrendous start that he got off to, it's not all that bad. Byrd also has the speed to hit leadoff. In four minor league seasons, Byrd averaged 18 homeruns and 24 stolen bases. The downside is that he also struck out an average of 92 times per season.

The Phillies had figured on Byrd being able to handle a leadoff spot at some point in his career and didn't figure it would take too long for him to reach that level. A major factor in Byrd's favor is that he is willing to bat leadoff. Abreu and Rollins haven't seemed eager to embrace the job and if nothing else, Byrd will give a solid effort to the role. Now is the time to move Byrd, especially considering the alternatives.


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