The Dodger offense has collectively been a well-oiled machine in the early going this year, averaging 5.88 runs per game in their first 16 games. Part of the reason has been the increased patience by just about everyone, as Brendan showed us a few days ago. Another, less-publicized reason for the early offensive success in 2009 has been tremendous work by the club when leading off an inning.
The Dodgers have batted in 139 innings this year. In 57 of those innings, the Dodger leadoff batter has reached base either via hit (including home runs), walk, hit-by-pitch, or reached on error (that happened only once). Dodgers leading off an inning are hitting a robust .339/.403/.532. In all of baseball, only St. Louis has a higher OBP than the Dodgers in these situations. 31 times the leadoff Dodger has scored, again second to St. Louis.
Rafael Furcal has struggled a bit so far this season, hitting .254/.319/.349, but he has been particularly adept at leading off a game. In the first 14 games Furcal has started, the Dodger offense has been started by with six hits in 11 at bats, plus three walks. Overall, Furcal is hitting .545/.643/.909 as the Dodgers' first batter of the game, and he has scored in six of those instances.
How important is it to get the leadoff man on base? Consider this:
|Situation||Innings||Inn w/runs||Total Runs||Runs/Inning|
|Leadoff man gets on base||57||35 (61.4%)
|Leadoff man makes out||82||12 (14.6%)
In other words, if the leadoff man gets on base, the Dodgers will score almost four times as many runs than if he makes out.
An old baseball cliche for pitchers is to make sure they retire the leadoff man each inning. As the Dodgers have proven in early 2009, each inning's first batter is perhaps more important as we thought.