So, are you Team Adam or Team Trea? Not that it matters really, because Washington Nationals skipper Davey Martinez has already said Adam Eaton will be batting leadoff on Opening Day ahead of Trea Turner. Both players are coming off injury-plagued seasons, but should be able to wreak havoc on the basepaths if playing at full strength.
“Eaton’s an on-base percentage guy, more so than Turner is,” GM Mike Rizzo said on MLB Network Radio in December. “Turner’s got some big-time sneaky pop, likes to hit fastballs, he’ll see more fastballs with Eaton on first base, and Eaton goes first-to-third as good or better than anybody in the National League, and I don’t think it will curtail Turner from stealing any bases.”
Since making his MLB debut in 2012, Eaton has hit out of the leadoff spot in 87.5 percent of his plate appearances. While his walk rate hovers around league average, Eaton makes up for it by consistently stretching singles into doubles and doubles into triples. Since 2014, only Alcides Escobar has more extra-base hits but fewer home runs than Eaton — evidence of the left fielder’s reliance on his legs rather than power for extra bases.
Those who favor Turner in the leadoff spot argue he won’t be able to run freely with Eaton clogging up the basepaths and teams will just walk Bryce Harper behind him once first base is vacated. However, while Eaton doesn’t have the prolific base-stealing numbers Turner boasts, his 6.5 speed score — a statistic that factors in several aspects of baserunning — rates halfway between “Great” and “Excellent” on FanGraphs’ scale.
As for Harper, he shouldn’t worry too much about being walked with Anthony Rendon and Daniel Murphy hitting behind him.
With Eaton at the top of the order, Martinez now has a batting order that will switch back and forth between lefties and righties all the way down to Ryan Zimmerman at the No. 6 spot in the order. That will prevent opposing managers from playing to a platoon advantage with relievers late in games.
“I just think it’s a good balance in the lineup, left/right, and we can go left/right after that, and I like the fact that this year’s starting lineup looks like we’re going to have three left-handed bats and a switch hitter in the starting lineup, so it’s a good balance for us,” Rizzo said.
In recent years, several teams have tried hitting their best player in the No. 2 spot to give him more at-bats and the chance to score more often. The Los Angeles Angels do it with Mike Trout and the Pittsburgh Pirates were heralded for doing it with Andrew McCutchen before his career took a nosedive. While Harper (or perhaps Rendon, depending on who you ask) has the highest ceiling on the team, Turner is arguably an MVP candidate himself.
While he won’t see as many at-bats out of the two-hole as he would hitting leadoff, Turner is in prime position to lead the league in stolen bases and runs scored. If he’s able to regain the sneaky pop he found in his rookie year (something new hitting coach Kevin Long is already working on achieving) and stay healthy, Turner just might be one of the most dangerous hitters in the National League.
Last season, the Nationals burst out of the gate with the most runs a team scored in the month of April since 2003. Eaton’s season-ending injury put a stop to their run atop the NL’s offensive leaderboards, but his return could push them right back up. It might also give Turner the chance to reach his full potential, something that can only bode well for the Nats’ hopes of finally making a deep playoff run.