Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Kennedy is the straw that stirs the drink

Saturday, August 28, Jim Riggleman decided it was time for a change. With a stagnant offense, Riggleman decided to shake up the lineup by placing Adam Kennedy in the leadoff spot, moving Roger Bernadina up to the three spot, shifting Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn down a spot and dropping Nyjer Morgan from leadoff to the eighth spot in the lineup.

Truth is, Riggleman already made the change a few days earlier and didn’t realize the genius he had stumbled upon. On Thursday, August 26, Riggleman inserted Kennedy into the leadoff spot and the Nationals exploded with 11 runs. On Friday, the Nationals faced off against talented rookie left hander Jaime Garcia; as Riggs is one to always try and exploit platoon splits, Kennedy sat in favor of hard working utility infielder, Alberto Gonzalez. The Nationals responded with only two runs.

Then, like a light bulb going off over Riggleman’s head, he had the epiphany that Kennedy would be the ideal leadoff man to restart the offense; unbeknownst to him, the move would quickly pay off in spades. The Nationals exploded for an astounding 14 runs, a new home game high since the team moved back to Washington.

The next day? The Nationals put up four runs against ace Adam Wainwright and picked up another win.

Come Monday, more of the same as the offense pounded out nine runs in a rout of the home standing Florida Marlins.

So, obviously Adam Kennedy is the reason for the offensive explosion, correct? Not exactly. While the lineup is 4-0 in games Kennedy leads off, he’s actually not having much success, posting a .200/.261/.300/.561 line. Why, then, does it feel like Kennedy has sparked the rejuvenated offense?

Simple; he unselfishly works the count and provides the other hitters in the lineup a sneak peak at what the pitcher is featuring. For the season, Kennedy is averaging 4.01 pitches per PA. Nyjer Morgan, the former leadoff hitter was only averaging 3.73 pitches per PA. If you give each player 700 PA’s over the year (typical of a leadoff hitter who plays 162 game… so not THAT typical), that works out to 2807 pitches to Kennedy and 2611 to Morgan, or 196 pitches over a year. According to Baseball Reference, the average starter is going 97 pitches a game in 2010, so, if you factor that number in, Kennedy over a season, sees two full games worth of pitches more than Morgan; that’s a lot, and it really helps the team.

Adam Kennedy isn’t the end all be all of leadoff hitters, shoot, he’s not even playing all that well right now; but, the offense with him at the top of the lineup works, and in a business driven by results, can Jim Riggleman really afford to gamble with a formula that’s brought the team 38 runs in four games?

Time will tell if this offensive explosion is just a fluke, or the start of something much bigger; as for now? I, for one, am enjoying the ride.

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