Particularly during the second half of last season, Inciarte in the leadoff spot was one of the few almost certain things about the Diamondbacks line-up in 2015. His 101 appearances overall at the top of the order was surpassed only by Paul Goldschmidt's 147 times batting third, and Ahmed's 88 times hitting eighth was the only other spot filled more than half the time by any single player. Ender did well there: he hit .304/.340/.421, which helped the Diamondbacks to the fourth-best OPS in the National League out of the lead-off spot.
Of the 61 other games, the vast majority went to A.J. Pollock, who started 48, with the others split between Nick Ahmed (10) and Socrates Brito (3). Pollock perhaps fits the prototype of the lead-off hitter most obviously, with very solid on-base skills (a .367 OBP in 2015) and is also a clear base-stealing threat, having swiped 39 bases in 2015. He certainly delivered with his performance at the top of the order, batting .302/.354/.468. However, you have to ask if that level of production would be better utilized a little lower in the order, driving in runners already on base - your leadoff guy is more likely to bat with the bases empty, especially in the National League.
If you look at the other potential candidates, concentrating on the Diamondbacks who put up an on-base percentage better than NL average (.316), we can quickly rule out both Goldschmidt and David Peralta, who would similarly appear to be inked in to hitting third and fourth respectively. Among likely everyday players, the name which most obviously remains is third-baseman Jake Lamb, who reached base last year at a solid .331 clip. This was helped by a solid 9.2% walk-rate, better than league average (7.6%) and continuing the good plate discipline he showed in the minors where his BB rate was an excellent 12.0%.
This would also have the advantage of keeping the only two (after the departure of Inciarte) left-handed hitters in the line-up, Lamb and Peralta, separated. We look to have a heavily right-handed batting line-up this year. In 2015, over 30% of our PAs were from the left-hand side, but I suspect that figure will be lower, with Socrates Brito and Chris Herrmann the only other left-handed bats on the 40-man roster, and no switch hitters, when we had Cliff Pennington and Jarrod Saltalamacchia last year. While that will have some advantages - hello, the Dodgers' all-southpaw rotation - the team will see more righties,
In summary, here's what I'd like to see as a semi-regular batting order, versus right-handed pitching.
- Jake Lamb, 3B
- A.J. Pollock, CF
- Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
- David Peralta, LF
- Welington Castillo, C
- Yasmany Tomas, RF
- Aaron Hill/Chris Owings, 2B
- Nick Ahmed, SS
Against left-handers, it might be necessary to mix things up a bit, depending on how you feel about Lamb - based on last season, "pathological aversion" seems to sum up Chip Hale's opinion to Jake facing LHP. Maybe a straight swap of Ahmed and Lamb, because Ahmed did very well against left-handed pitching last year, with an on-base percentage of .358. Small sample-size (120 PA) to be sure, but over at Inside the Zona, Ryan Morrison made the case that it wasn't entirely the result of luck. Again, a swap would also ensure our two left-handers remain well separated in the line-up.
I wouldn't expect too much in the way of stability, however. Hale last year used a total of 130 different line-ups over the course of the season. That may sound lime an awful lot, but it's actually a bit more consistent than the past few years under Gibson - over the three year prior to that, Kirk made out between 138 and 140 different cards. I'd expect that to continue, and to be honest, it's worth remembering line-up construction is actually relatively trivial. For what it's worth, doing a purely statistical analysis, based on their 2015 stats for Arizona, this would be the "best" line-up, in terms of expected runs scored.
- Goldschmidt, 1B
- Peralta, LF
- Tomas,. RF
- Castillo, C
- Pollock, CF
- Ahmed, SS
- Owings, 2B
- Lamb, 3B
Somehow, I am not holding my breath for that to become one of Hale's 130 offerings in 2016...