Shane Victorino Batting Leadoff: Welcome Back Jimmy Rollins of 2009

The Phillies are struggling offensively, with only six runs in their past four games.  For the first 10 games of the season, that run total was what we saw by the end of the third inning.  Now, we're lucky to get multiple runs in one game.  But, this too shall pass.

What might not pass, however, is Shane Victorino's struggles in the leadoff spot.  Many of us have been advocating for years for Victorino to bat leadoff and for Jimmy Rollins, with much worse on-base skills, to move down in the lineup.  After all, Victorino has a career .344 on-base percentage compared to Rollins' .330.  And, last year we saw a particularly big difference between the two, with Victorino having a .358 OBP and Rollins at .296.  It seemed perfectly logical to put Victorino at the top of the lineup to set the table for Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, and Raul Ibanez.  Moving Rollins lower in the order would make use of his greater power -- Rollins has a career .165 isolated power compared to Victorino's .145.

However, now with Rollins out of the lineup, we're seeing Victorino struggle.  Yes, in his first two games as the team's leadoff hitter, Victorino went 5 for 10 with 2 home runs, 4 runs, and 6 RBI.  However, since then, he's gone 3 for 21 with a .143/.217/.143 triple-slash line.  In his 23 plate appearances, he's drawn 2 walks.  This five game slump for him has coincided with the team's run drought.

Now, it's very clear that other Phillies' hitters are struggling, so I'm not pinning all the blame on Victorino.  And, five games is almost the smallest of small sample sizes.  So we can't draw conclusions about Victorino at lead-off based on those five games alone.

But, maybe we're seeing something we've seen before. Here's a chart of Victorino's overall career stats followed by his career stats when not batting leadoff and his career stats while batting leadoff:

PA AVG OBP SLG OPS
Career 2461 0.282 0.344 0.427 0.771
Not leadoff 2224 0.287 0.350 0.435 0.784
Leadoff 237 0.231 0.292 0.352 0.644

Victorino is a significantly worse hitter batting leadoff. His .644 career OPS batting leadoff pales in comparison to his .784 career OPS while batting in other spots in the lineup.

And what's worse is that Victorino's career leadoff line should make us long for Rollins -- the 2009 version. Last year, Jimmy hit .245/.292/.413 for a .704 OPS batting leadoff. While that's the same OBP as Victorino has had over his career batting leadoff, Rollins hit for a higher average and had greater power.

Of course, to be fair, we're still in small sample size territory. Victorino has only had 237 career plate appearances batting leadoff. That's certainly much more than the 23 plate appearances in his current mini-slump, but it's still too small a sample to draw final conclusions.

But maybe it's time we start thinking that it just might be that Victorino at leadoff isn't that great an idea. Maybe there's something about hitting in that spot in the lineup that doesn't work for Victorino. If that's the case, those of us who have called for Rollins to be moved and replaced by Victorino at the top of the lineup need to rethink our position.

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