The Indians got very weak production from the leadoff spot in the batting order in 2014. The combined line of all players in that spot was .247/.308/.345. The most important skill a leadoff hitter can possess is the ability to get on base, and the Tribe's .308 on-base percentage from the leadoff spot ranked 14th among the 15 American League teams. Overall the offense was decent, but it's very difficult to have a good offense without something better coming from the top of it.
The American League Central looks more wide open than it has in years, but I believe that if the Indians are going to take advantage of that and win their first division title since 2007, they're going to need improved production from the leadoff spot. How might such improved production be obtained? Well, if getting on base is the most important skill a leadoff hitter can have, why not put Carlos Santana at the top of the order?
Over the last two years Santana has reached base safely 483 times, 10th most in MLB. His .371 OBP over that times is worlds better than what the Indians got from that spot last year. Is he the answer to the team's leadoff blues?
Santana certainly doesn't fit the traditional mold of a leadoff hitter, primarily because he's not particularly fast, he's not a base stealer, matching his career high with a whopping 5 of them in 2014. Last season there were three players who had 400+ plate appearances in the leadoff spot and stole 5 or fewer bases, and there has been at least one such player in 12 of the last 13 seasons. So, it does happen, but not especially often. Still, I'd be fine with giving up some stolen bases to gain some extra men on base when guys like Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes come to bat.
The other thing that makes Santana different from the traditional leadoff hitter is his power. Carlos hit 27 home runs in 2014; in the last ten seasons a player has hit 27+ home runs from the leadoff spot only 11 times. Only one of those seasons featured fewer than 18 stolen bases, and even that one (Rickie Weeks in 2010) had 11 steals, more than double Santana's total. The median stolen base total from those eleven seasons was 31.
In Indians history the only player to hit even 20 home runs in a single season from the leadoff spot is Grady Sizemore. He did it three times, but also stole at least 20 bases in each of those years.
In all of MLB history a player has hit 27+ home runs in the leadoff spot while also stealing 5 or fewer bases only once: Rick Monday for the Cubs in 1976.
Santana does have the most important trait for a leadoff hitter, but he also has arguably the best power on the team, which makes him a good fit for the cleanup spot (which is where he spent most of 2014), where he's more likely to have men on base (whereas no spot in the lineup is less likely to have runners on than the leadoff spot).
I understand that a walk is not as good as a hit when it comes to driving in runs, but batting leadoff doesn't seem like a great use of Santana's power. The Indians need better leadoff production, but I think they should hope Michael Bourn and/or Jason Kipnis bounces back, and put one of them at the top of the order.
Brandon Moss, who (might) give the Tribe another serious power threat, does change things a bit. He's in some ways pretty comparable to Yan Gomes as a hitter. Maybe another stick with power means the Indians should move Santana up, but I still wouldn't go as far as leadoff. Kipnis, Santana, Brantley, Gomes, Moss, Chisenhall, Swisher, Bourn, Ramirez? If Santana is in the #2 spot, Francona better not use him to bunt every time someone gets to first base!
I feel the Indians have better options than they've had the last couple years, so however the lineup plays out, it ought to score some runs.