Get ready for a season full of unconventional leadoff looks, Tampa Bay Rays fans.
Sunday afternoon’s opener featured designated hitter Corey Dickerson atop the lineup, which was expected. The Rays batted Dickerson first often throughout the spring. He’s led off 31 times in his career and three times last season, but is not a conventional leadoff option.
Tuesday night, the Rays doubled down on their commitment to lineup shuffling by throwing right fielder Steven Souza Jr. up top. Souza spent the majority of last year (106 of 115 games started) batting 5-7. One of his three career starts at leadoff came last year.
Dickerson went 1-for-5 with a run scored and two strikeouts Sunday and Souza went 2-for-4 Tuesday. A two-day total of going 3-for-9 is promising. Considering the career batting averages of Dickerson (.278) and Souza (.233), that wouldn’t be likely to hold for too long.
It’s not batting averages, however, that throws up red flags about these decisions. It’s on-base percentages. Dickerson owns a career .325 OBP and Souza is at .308. Those are low for table setters. The Rays ranked 22nd in baseball last year in OBP for leadoff hitters at .331.
Shuffling the lineup around and going against the grain of old-school baseball thought has been the thing to do for years now. The Cleveland Indians began batting a power hitting catcher/designated hitter/first baseman in Carlos Santana atop the lineup in 2015 despite a low batting average. The difference between that and the Rays’ current options is that Santana is a walk machine with a career .366 OBP.