MLB.com reports that baseball's answer to the Algonquin Round Table, Bob Boone, is toying with moving Adam Dunn to the lead off spot. I am actually surprised that Boone could be that creative. Gene Mauch and Brian Downing would be proud.
But can having your young, power-hitting corner outfielder-that hit .249 last year by the way-lead off be a good thing? Well, Dunn did have a .400 OBP and 128 walks last year. He also seems to have good speed for a big (6'6" 240 lbs.) man. He stole 19 bases in 2002 and has shown good range for a corner outfielder. His stolen base success rate though not bad, was nothing special, however (67%). Besides, as reams of statistical evidence has shown, who leads off is not as important a decision as one would think.
The point though is that the Reds have no other viable candidate to lead off. Here's the estimable Booney:
"I don't know if I'm really serious about it," Boone said Tuesday. "It (batting Dunn leadoff) is certainly not my first choice. Dunn's a middle-of-the-lineup hitter. But (leadoff) is the one place where we're pretty thin. Hopefully Lark [Barry Larkin]will be there. But if Lark's (injured), or if (projected backup shortstop Felipe) Lopez were playing, we don't really have a get-on-base guy."
Dunn is not fazed:
"I don't think it's that big of a deal, really," said Dunn, who said he spent time at leadoff in each of his final three seasons at New Caney (Texas) High School.
Tom Glavine was a leadoff hitter in high school. What does that mean?
Actually, the Reds on-base percentage last year was second to last in the majors at .293 (KC's was .276-ouch!). They also batted .241, 28th in the majors (in front of Texas, .237, and KC, .211, really). The Reds leadoff men had only 51 walks and scored only 92 runs in 2002. So they can only get better even with a mule leading off.
For the record, Barry Larkin had a .305 on-base percentage in 2002, down from .373 in 2001. He used to be a fine leadoff option but at 39 will his 2003 season reflect his historical performance or his 2002 performance? I think the odds are good that he will continue his slump. At least I wouldn't bank on a comeback if I were the Reds.
Also, Felipe Lopez in 459 at-bats spread over two seasons has a .293 on-base percentage.
The best option would have been to use 2002 second baseman Todd Walker and his consistent .350 OBP to lead off. Unfortunately, the Reds traded Walker to the Red Sox for prospects in order to move Bob Boone's son Aaron from third base to second and to put 26-year-old rookie Brandon Larson in the lineup at the hot corner. Larson had a .362 OBP in a short stint last year, so maybe he'll be used to lead off after Boone becomes disenchanted with Dunn. Perhaps trading Boone fils would have made more sense given that there is no way that he will re-create his 32 steals and 26 home runs. He has also only played two games at second in his major-league career. But you don't trade the manger's son. It's just not done, darling.
Without Walker, the Reds infield looks pretty homogeneously poor. They have a number-eight hitter at first and short, an untried rookie at third, and a player at second who even with a career year had only a .753 OPS. Throw in a catcher whose hitting is nothing special, and you have some problems.
At least having Dunn lead off will create some freak show-type interest in their offense. Maybe Reggie Taylor or Ruben Mateo will be the answer to the leadoff question when one of them inevitably replaces the fragile Ken Griffey in the lineup sometime before Memorial Day. That'll be an exiting team to watch.