One huge hole in the Toronto Blue Jays' lineup over the last decade has been at the top of the order.
Not since Shannon Stewart in 2003 have the Jays had a leadoff man who could get on base and steal bases.
That's really all you look for in a leadoff man. If you can start to generate offense consistently and turn walks and singles into doubles with foot speed, your best hitters will always create more runs.
One could argue, the Jays have been hindered significantly by their lack of OBP and speed at the top of the order.
Let's take a look at a few stats:
In 2010 and 2011, Jose Bautista hit 54 and 43 home runs and had 124 and 103 RBI. Over that same period, Bautista had a .613 slugging percentage and 663 total bases. That works out to approximately .34 RBI per base that Bautista earned.
In 2010, the Jays leadoff man was Fred Lewis, and in 2011, Yunel Escobar started things off for Toronto.
Those two players scored 70 and 77 runs, respectively, in each of those seasons. Lewis had a questionable .321 OBP, but stole 17 bases in 110 games. Escobar, on the other hand, had a strong .369 OBP, but stole only three bases.
Each player had features of a strong leadoff hitter, but inevitably only ended up scoring a less than impressive number of runs.
The question is, if the Jays had a more complete leadoff hitter in each season, would Bautista or any of the other Jays have generated more offense and won more games?
Let's compare those numbers to the Red Sox in 2005.
Johnny Damon, the Red Sox leadoff hitter, posted numbers that seem to amalgamate Lewis and Escobar's: He had a .366 OBP and stole 18 bases. But Damon scored 117 runs that year, a much higher number than Lewis and Escobar.
David Ortiz was the Red Sox's No. 3 hitter that season. He hit 47 home runs with 148 RBI and earned a 363 total bases. He had .41 RBI per total base earned that season.
To put it simply, despite having very similar offensive numbers to 2005 Ortiz, 2010 Bautista had less chances to produce a higher level of runs.
Other numbers support this, too. 2005 Ortiz had 212 plate appearances with runners in scoring position. 2010 Bautista had 167.
2005 Ortiz had 353 plate appearances with no men on. 2010 Bautista had 410.
The Red Sox and Johnny Damon were giving their best hitter the opportunity to create runs. The Jays and Fred Lewis were not.
This brings us to Jose Reyes.
Reyes, over his career, has been very consistent in getting on base and stealing bases. As pointed out above, those two stats are crucial to being an effective leadoff hitter. He stole 40 bases last season and posted a .347 OBP.
It's safe to assume, that if Reyes can continue to post similar numbers, Bautista will have more opportunities to generate offense. Having Reyes lead off essentially equates to having more men on base in better scoring positions, and that means good things for the Jays' two, three and four hitters.
While Melky Cabrera and Edwin Encarnacion will certainly welcome the improved ability of Reyes, it's Bautista who's been waiting for a player like him. His dynamite years in 2010 and 2011 seem to have been muffled by the Jays' inability to place a consistent player at the top of the batting order.
It's clear that Bautista will benefit the most from having a legitimate, experienced leadoff hitter in front of him.
The math makes sense.
It's just a matter of playing the games. Get excited Jays fans.
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