One of problems causing the Phillies to have a down year offensively has been inconsistency in the leadoff position. A good leadoff hitter is supposed to do whatever possible to reach base and set the table for the heart of the order; take a few pitches, work a walk, get a base hit or whatever. Until recently, the Phillies were getting very little of that.
For most of the season, the Phillies split the leadoff duties between Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino. Rollins started the season strongly but injured his calf in April, and struggled to stay on the field as a result.
Victorino filled the role out of necessity early in the season, but didn’t do a good job. He had a poor approach for the position (and for his skill set), and was constantly trying to hit for power rather than for average. Swinging for the fences, Victorino ended up not getting on base enough and not producing enough power to warrant his approach.
Just before Rollins’ current injury, Charlie Manuel shook up his lineup by moving Rollins to the 5th or 6th position in the order, and moving Victorino into the leadoff spot. Victorino responded and has been on fire ever since the switch.
The impact from the switch can’t be denied. Victorino made it easier for the Phillies to get ahead of teams early by finding ways to get on base. He has 18 hits in 43 at bats since the change. He has at least one hit in all nine games, with six of those being multi-hit games. Most importantly, Victorino has scored 12 runs in that time.
Of course, once Victorino is on base, his speed gives opposing pitchers something else to think about as they face the heart of the order, now with runners aboard.
So why wasn’t Victorino this productive when he was batting leadoff earlier in the season? It could be a matter of Victorino not fully grasping the responsibilities of the position. Victorino now looks like he knows that his job isn’t to hit the ball out of the park, but to set up the guys who can.
If Victorino’s production at the top of the order continues, it’s going to be hard for Manuel to put Rollins back at the top when he returns from his hamstring injury. Rollins has only been effective in small bursts, and at this point the Phillies may be better off with him in the middle/bottom of the order. With Rollins’ penchant for swinging for the fences, it’s a better fit all around.