Eight games into the 2021 season and I have to say I don’t hate Jordan Luplow batting leadoff against left-handed pitching. It may have actually been a no-brainer.
As The Athletic’s Zack Meisel pointed out in his article last week evaluating what he refers to as the ‘Gamplow’ gambit at the leadoff spot, Luplow recorded the fourth-highest OPS among hitters with a minimum of 175 plate appearances against left-handed pitching from 2019-20. When you’ve been bested only by Nelson Cruz, J.D. Martinez, and Alex Bregman, you’re doing something right.
Your leadoff hitter is more than likely going to record the most plate appearances of anyone in the lineup, so logic would seem to dictate that you put someone in that spot who is going to have the best chance to make the most of those at-bats. Against left-handed pitching, Luplow is probably your guy. He’s been the guy for four games now and has rewarded Cleveland for their faith, batting only .214 but blistering the ball to the tune of a .714 slugging percentage.
But who’s your guy against right-handers? That is the question.
For a couple games so far, Terry Francona seems to have taken the lazy route, simply swapping Luplow for Ben Gamel in center field and the leadoff spot against right-handed pitchers. Even as a platoon, it is not a perfect fit. Gamel has fared better against southpaws, with a career .281/.352/.407 slash line against left-handers. Against right-handers, he has slashed .253/.325/.380. Those are better career numbers against right-handed pitching than Luplow (.196/.276/.322) but are they good enough to warrant the at-bats of a leadoff hitter?
The early returns for Gamel have certainly not been great, albeit in a small sample size, with no hits and three walks through 11 plate appearances to start the season.
Amed Rosario and Andrés Giménez have each been penciled in at the leadoff spot in one of the first eight games of this season, but their slash lines against right-handers nearly mirror Gamel’s. In 1,163 plate appearances against right-handed pitcher, Rosario has slashed .255/.289/.376. Giménez has been limited to 121 plate appearances against right-handers, posting a career .257/.322/.385 slash line. You could make the argument that Giménez deserves a share of leadoff at-bats based purely on upside, considering both Gamel and Rosario have had at least four seasons of big league plate appearances and are what they are at this point.
Looking over the starting lineups Cleveland has had so far, Cesar Hernandez, José Ramírez, Eddie Rosario, and Franmil Reyes seemed entrenched at numbers two through five. If those four are staying put, there aren’t a lot of appealing options left to choose from. You’re not going to put Roberto Pérez or Austin Hedges in the leadoff spot. Yu Chang probably isn’t even in the conversation unless he can recapture some of his production at the plate from spring training. Jake Bauers? No. Josh Naylor is another player whose splits don’t make him an effective platoon option.
I imagine that Francona will continue to play musical chairs with the leadoff spot against right-handed pitching, hoping that Gamel, Rosario, or Giménez takes it and runs with it. But it’s possible the roster, as it is constructed right now, simply may not have a good option.
Who should bat leadoff against right-handed pitching?
This poll is closed