How Important is Leadoff?

The Reds kept rolling with an 8-4 win over San Diego Thursday. They have now won 13 of their last 14 and have the best record in the major leagues despite their leadoff hitters batting a combined .199. They increased their lead over the idle Pirates to 3.5 games before the top two teams in the NL Central square off in a three game series at Great American Ball Park starting Friday.

The Cincinnati Reds hung up six in the second inning and cruised to a 9-4 win over the visiting Padres. They opened up the scoring with a two run homer by Todd Frazier. Ryan Hanigan added on with a two run double. Jay Bruce singled in a run and Drew Stubbs drew a bases loaded walk before the inning was over. The Friars cut into the lead with a couple of homers before Scott Rolen and Zach Cozart singled in runs in the fourth. Frazier drove in another with a groundout in the eighth to finish the scoring. Rolen had three hits in the game for the Reds while Bruce, Cozart, Hanigan and Miguel Cairo added two each.

On the mound Johnny Cueto allowed four runs in 7+ innings while striking out nine and collecting his fourteenth win. Logan Ondrusek came in to finish the eighth and Jose Arredondo threw a scoreless ninth. The Reds exended their lead over idle Pittsburgh to 3 ½ games before the two teams square off in a three game series at Great American Ball Park Friday.

Much attention has been brought to the Reds having the worst production from the leadoff spot of any team in the majors. Yet they keep on rolling with thirteen wins in their last fourteen games to give them a MLB-best 64-41 record. Xavier Paul was put in the top spot last night after going 7-13 since his call-up in July. He did not help the team's leadoff stats by going 0-5 with four strikeouts.

Overall Reds leadoff hitters are now batting .199 with .244 on-base percentage. Only their pitcher's spot is lower. Yet in spite of that they are sitting where everyone else wants to be-on top. Cozart has led off most of the season he's at .213/.256 when batting first compared with his .242/.288 overall. The rookie has given stability to what had been a revolving door at the Reds shortstop position and brings a solid glove to the field. He still has yet to develop plate discipline expected of a leadoff hitter and has walked in only 5.6% of his plate appearances. Brandon Phillips had a successful audition at the top last season and started there to begin this year. However, lack of production from the middle of the lineup prompted manager Dusty Baker to move him to cleanup to provide a right-handed bat behind Votto.

There is some belief among sabermetricians that the importance of a batting order is often overstated. Obviously the first batter of an inning reaching base safely significantly improves his team's chances of scoring. However the leadoff hitter is only guaranteed to bat first in an inning once per game. Moving a high on-base hitter to the top of the lineup can reduce the effectiveness of the bottom and no one gets to bat again until the entire lineup cycles around. They would be quick to use the 2012 Reds to support this theory. They may also refer to the Pirates who have the second lowest leadoff on-base pct and are currently in second place to the Reds. The Dodgers are the only other NL team below .300 and they are in second place in the West behind the Giants who are very close for fourth lowest. Meanwhile the Cubs (second highest in NL) and Rockies (third) are both out of contention.

Of course leadoff is only a part of a team's offensive threat. A good hitter in that spot isn't going to score much without the proper hitters behind him. It's hard to argue with the logic that a lineup is more potent with high on-base people in front of run producers. Given better options Baker would likely take advantage of them. Right now the only hitter besides Phillips and Votto with an on-base pct. above .333 is Ryan Hanigan and he prefers batting his catchers eighth.

Perhaps when the lineup is healthy a resurgent Ryan Ludwick will allow Phillips to leave cleanup and go back to the top of the order. The all-star second baseman has hit well in every spot since arriving in Cincinnati in 2006. As for now there's no complaining when a team is winning. Their pitching staff has the second lowest ERA in the majors and their defense has committed only one error more than the lowest team total in the NL. A strong offense with top-notch pitching and defense is a tough combination to beat. The Reds have two of those three facets covered and the third one is on the rise.

News from the Farm:

Louisville lost at home by a score of 8-1 to Charlotte. The only Bat run came on a homer by Denis Phipps. He and Didi Gregorius had two hits each. Todd Redmond allowed two unearned runs on three hits in five innings which was enough to charge him with the loss.

Pensacola scored two in the first and cruised to a 6-1 win at Tennessee. Josh Fellhauer, Bryson Smith and David Vidal had two hits each including a home run by Vidal. Wirfin Obispo had an excellent outing by allowing one run on two hits in six innings while striking out ten and walking only one. His win Thursday left him 3-0 with a 2.47 ERA for the Wahoos.

Billy Hamilton Theft Watch:

Hamilton led off the game with a walk turned it into a virtual triple by swiping second and third during the next at-bat. He walked in the ninth and did not have an open base in front of him. He now has 119 steals in 103 games.

Bakersfield broke a seven all tie with two runs in the top of the ninth and held on to win 9-8 at San Jose. Theo Bowe, Steve Selsky, and Devin Lohman all had three hits for the Blaze including a homer by Selsky. He now has twelve long balls in thirty games since his promotion to the Cal League. Lohman is now 8-12 over the last three games. Tim Crabbe got roughed up for five runs in five innings with no decision. Andrew Brackman allowed one run when he threw the final two innings for the win.

Dayton lost a 2-0 advantage in the sixth inning at Lansing and then the Lugnuts added three more for a 5-2 win. The Dragon attack was limited to six hits. Nick Massett had another rehab outing and pitched a scoreless first inning. Ryan Kemp allowed one run in 2+ innings and took the loss.

Billings took the lead with a four run sixth inning and added on for a 9-4 win at Helena. Zachary Vincej, Seth Mejias-Brean , and Carlos Sanchez had two hits apiece for the Mustangs. Sal Romano got the start and allowed three runs before he was lifted in the fifth. Dan Langfied relieved him with 2+ scoreless innings with five K's to get the win.

The AZL Reds were idle and will host the AZL Brewers Friday.

The DSL Reds fell behind when the visiting DSL Padres broke a tie with a four run ninth. The Reds comeback attempt fell short in a 7-5 loss. Miguel Mendez had two hits and crossed the plate twice for the Reds. Eury Cantalizo allowed three runs (two earned ) in 1+ innings for the loss.

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