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Leadoff Hitter Question Illustrates Need for Clear Analysis

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    On Thursday, we shared some thoughts from A's general manager Billy Beane about the true level of the Texas Rangers in the 2012 season. 

    Beane said that the Rangers were the best team in baseball for almost the entire year and that it would be foolish to ignore that fact because of the way the season ended. It's not the first time someone has raised that point and it's a good one to keep in mind every time you read or hear someone arguing about all the things wrong with the Rangers. 

    There was another post on these pages Thursday. Adam Boedeker contemplated the options for next season's leadoff hitter, focusing on the possibility of replacing Ian Kinsler in that role after Kinsler slumped to a .326 on-base percentage last season. That's also been up for discussion at ESPNDallas.com recently and figures to be a common talking point throughout the offseason. 

    The two things are more related than you might expect. 

    Arguing that Kinsler had a season up to his standard would be silly, but it seems that the words "up to his standard" should be playing a more prominent role in the minds of those around the Rangers. Kinsler's career OBP is .350 even after this season, which was the second baseman's worst offensively across the board by a wide margin.

    If he's a bad fit for the leadoff spot now, then he was a bad fit before the season started and it was hard to find any such arguments being raised at that point in time. And he scored 102 runs this season, so it's hard to make much of a stink about him being a drag on the offense especially since he was bad enough this year that he would have hurt the lineup at any spot if you think he hurt it hitting leadoff this year. 

    That last point is pretty significant because it gets to the heart of the problem with all discussions about what spot in the batting order each player fills. It's one of the great lingering anachronisms of baseball that such things really matter. Sure, the leadoff hitter will wind up getting up more over the course of the season and you want one of your best hitters to be in that position but the idea that the leadoff hitter has to be some specific kind of player is a silly one. 

    Unless you think that Kinsler's 2012 season is going to be his level of play going forward, there isn't even an inkling of a reason to make a change. He was one of the team's best hitters for several years coming into this season and is more likely to rebound next year than he is to flatline or get worse, something worth keeping in mind when you hear people throw out Leonys Martin and Jurickson Profar as potential leadoff hitters. 

    Elvis Andrus would be a fine leadoff hitter, but he's unlikely to make much of a difference to the big picture when you compare him to Kinsler. What's most alarming about this discussion is that no one would be having it if the Rangers were playing right now. 

    Every single point would be just as valid on both sides of the divide, but something having to do with the 24 other players on the team would be swaying the thought process about Kinsler's spot in the lineup. That seems like a pretty backward way to run a team so we'll again recommend keeping the whole picture in mind before drawing big conclusions about where the Rangers should move this offseason.