TEMPE, Ariz. -- Some in the new-math community preach on-base percentage uber alles at the top of the order. Remember, Conor Jackson was considered the Diamondbacks' best option in that spot a few years ago because of his high on-base percentage.
D-backs manager Kirk Gibson studies the numbers as much as anyone, but he remains in large part an old-school manager on the leadoff issue.
His ideal No. 1?
"Somebody who can get up there and make things happen," Gibson said. "Somebody who is good on the bases (and) has the ability to steal a base. You always want them to be to handle the bat, maybe go deep in a count. That's what I look for.
"If he gets on in the first inning, you want to be able to pressure your opponent, or have the illusion that you are going to pressure them right away."
Gibson believes in the running game, and it showed in 2011. The D-backs' 133 stolen bases were second to San Diego in the National League, and numbers like that usually start at the top.
Roadrunner Tony Womack is the lone true speed guy the D-backs have had at the top of the order in their 15-year history, and he holds the franchise record for stolen bases in a season (72) when the D-backs made the playoffs in 1999.
Eric Byrnes (50 steals in 2007) and Chris Young filled the role at times in recent seasons, and in 2007 they formed a potent threat on the bases as the 1-2 hitters in the order. The D-backs later found that they needed both in run-producing roles, however.
Willie Bloomquist was a good fit at the leadoff spot in the final 10 weeks of 2011 after Stephen Drew suffered his season-ending injury, and Bloomquist again appears to meet Gibson's specifications as the regular season beckons.
Ryan Roberts, Gerardo Parra and Young also batted there last year, but Bloomquist was the main man down the stretch, starting 42 of the final 63 regular-season games and all five in the NLDS against Milwaukee in the leadoff spot. "I don't consider myself your prototype track star, see a lot of pitches lead off hitter," Bloomquist said, "but I like hitting leadoff because it gives you the opportunity to set the table for the guys." Bloomquist has spent time with staff members and consummateleadoff hitters Brett Butler and Eric Young, as well as Gibson, discussing the role in camp. "I'm still trying to learn what is better for the me and what is better for the team. I've always had the mentality that if he's going to lay a first-pitch fastball in there, don't let him do that. But if it has some late movement and you ground out, what has your team learned? It's a fine line," Bloomquist said. Bloomquist's game plays into Gibson's wants. Bloomquist hit .270 with a .320 on-base percentage as the leadoff hitter, where he had 19 of his 20 stolen bases while providing the kind of pressure on an opponent that Gibson likes. He also hit .271 in high-leverage situations, the situations in which a game is close.
"He's done good for us," Gibson said. "With our lineup, they (leadoff hitters) come up in some pretty key situations. You look at it, in our league, if the No. 8 guy gets on and you bunt him over now you have a guy who is hitting with runners in scoring position. So obviously that is another factor."
The numbers also suggest that Bloomquist is the most logical option. Young is a career .247 hitter at the top of the order, where he hit .235 last year. Gibson said Young is a candidate to hit there at times this season, although he did most of his damage after being moved into the heart of the order. Parra hit .242 in his limited time at leadoff last season, while Roberts hit. 209.
Gibson hopes his leadoff man will get more opportunities to be a run-producer this season. The D-backs have spent a lot of time with his pitchers this spring working on both bunting and on faking the bunt and hitting away. Ian Kennedy did one of each in his most recent start.
"We have worked a lot on it. We hope we're than we were last year and we have more runners" moving into scoring position, Gibson said.
"We like to try to keep rolling it over. We don't want to have people be able to pitch to the No. 9 position and kind of get free outs or relieve themselves of any pressure."
Gibson used 118 lineups because of matchups, injuries, etc. last season, including five leadoff hitters, and he did not appear ready to change."
"We're a versatile team, and that's what we want to be," Gibson said.
"We want to be hard to predict. We want guys who can do many things in many situations.
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