Back on June 1st, a strange thing happened. Lloyd released his lineup for that evening's contest against the Yankees, but it appeared as though he'd made a terrible mistake. For some reason, he'd penciled Logan Morrison into the leadoff spot! At that point in his career, LoMo had accumulated more than 2,000 plate appearances at the major league level and he'd never once batted leadoff. Surely this was an error, right? But no. It was not.
Tonight marks the first time in Logan Morrison's career he's batting leadoff. #Mariners— Aaron Goldsmith (@aaronmgoldsmith) June 1, 2015
This promotion, if you want to call it that, came after a torrid month of May that saw Logan hit 0.273/0.379/0.495 with a wRC+ of 144 in 116 PA. These are some excellent numbers, and it doesn't not make sense to have a guy who's been hot and good at getting on base batting leadoff. Throughout the month of June, Logan regularly occupied the leadoff spot against right-handed pitchers, and I've heard several people compliment him on his performance at the top of the lineup... but how effective has LoMo really been in the leadoff spot?
To find out, let's first look at his production while batting leadoff compared to his numbers when he's hit further down in the lineup.
|LoMo batting leadoff in 2015
|LoMo batting elsewhere in 2015
|Average MLB leadoff hitter in 2015
We can see that Logan's walk rate and on-base percentage are a bit higher when he's batting leadoff, which seem like good things when you're hitting at the top of the order. Unfortunately, all of his other offensive stats have actually been worse. The most significant drop occurred in terms of his slugging percentage, which is a full 40 points lower. (Logan has managed just a single home run so far this season out of the leadoff spot.)
My first thought was that maybe Logan was taking more pitches in an attempt to draw walks or increase the pitcher's pitch count, thereby leading him to be a little more passive in his at bats, which might cause him to lay off of some hittable pitches and lower his slugging percentage. However, in looking at his pitches per plate appearance, there appears to be little difference: 3.67 P/PA while batting leadoff and 3.74 P/PA while batting lower in the lineup.
In any case, 74 PA is a small sample size, which could easily be the cause of the observed differences in his numbers in the table above. Regardless, Logan has yet to demonstrate that he has the ability to excel while batting first. Compared to the average leadoff hitter in baseball this season, Logan's numbers are definitely lacking. A wRC+ gap of 12 points is pretty significant (it's the current difference between the 2015 versions of Jose Altuve and a Billy Butler). However, it may be a bit unfair to compare Logan to the rest of the leadoff hitters in the league; Lloyd probably stuck him there more out of necessity/lack of other viable options than out of a real desire to do so. With this in mind, and to have a more Mariners-centric frame of reference, below is a table showing the 12 different M's players who have spent an appreciable amount of time (70+ PA) batting leadoff over the last five seasons.
|Mariners leadoff hitters since 2011
So it turns out that the Mariners have had downright dreadful leadoff hitters over the past five seasons. (Surprise!) A sub-.300 OBP from your leadoff guy??? That is beyond unacceptable. (Mariners leadoff hitters have combined for the lowest OBP among MLB teams over the last five seasons; the next worse team during this period is the Twins who've had an OBP of 0.316). From this perspective, Logan actually looks pretty damn good. His on-base percentage is near league-average and he's drawn a lot of walks and limited his strikeouts. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, his bat has lost a large portion of its pop; his slugging percentage in the one-hole is actually lower than that of leadoff-hitter Endy Chavez. (As this season progresses, I sometimes think that maybe we judged Endy too harshly last year, which is a crazy thought and why are you making me think these things Mariners?) Logan hasn't been great this year, but compared to what Mariners fans are used to he's been a not-bad reprieve from utter incompetence.
So the question remains: Is Logan well-suited as a leadoff hitter? And the answer is... maybe. (But probably not really?) That being said, he seems to be a not bad option for the Mariners right now against right-handed starting pitchers. If I were Lloyd, I'd probably be a bit more tempted to stick Seth Smith in there (he's had some success batting leadoff this season) or maybe Brad Miller, but it's not likely to make a huge difference. Of course, unless the Mariners start to hit the ball with RISP, it doesn't really matter much who's leading off because they're just going to get stranded anyway.
Please get hot Mariners - you're absolutely running out of time.