How good does Joey Gathright need to be?

Going into this season, I thought Joey Gathright sucked.  He had lots of speed, couldn't hit worth a damn and his defense was subpar.  All of the sudden this season, he has learned how to draw some walks, not strike out too much, bunt effectively and be at least a moderately good base stealer.

So, if what is happening this season is for real, he looks like he's at least a good 4th OFer.  But, is he good enough to be an everyday player?  Right now, he's great at getting on base and has very little power.  Do his tremendous on base skills make up for his lack of power?  The answer is a crystal clear...maybe.

Right now, Joey's OPS+ is 107.  That takes his OPS, normalizes it for park and league and compares it to the rest of this year's major league players.  An OPS+ of 107 means that he is 7% better than average.  By way of comparison, Emil Brown's OPS+ in 2005 and 2006 were 113 and 104.  I think we can all agree that these numbers amount to above average production, and right about at average for a corner OFer.

So, Gathright has hit above average this season and about average for a corner OFer.  He gets on base more, but has less power.  So, would he be a good leadoff hitter?  Let's compare him to the other Major League leadoff hitters this season.  Below is a list of the player from each team with the most leadoff at bats, with their overall stats (my apologies for the poor formatting):

Player        Team    OBP    SLG    OPS
Reggie Willits    LAA    397    345    742
Ichiro Suzuki    SEA    396    431    827
Brian Roberts    BAL    395    465    860
Hanley Ramirez    FLA    394    575    969
Kelly Johnson    ATL    388    485    873
Grady Sizemore    CLE    382    466    848
Jose Reyes    NYM    377    451    828
Alex Rios    TOR    369    532    901
Akinori Iwamura    TB    365    395    760
Kenny Lofton    TEX    364    410    774
Willy Taveras    COL    360    375    735
Luis Castillo    MIN    359    353    712
Shannon Stewart    OAK    358    400    758
David Dejesus    KC    358    391    749
Johnny Damon    NYY    353    358    711
C. Granderson    DET    350    540    890
David Eckstein    STL    345    363    708
Jimmy Rollins    PHI    343    520    863
Rafael Furcal    LAD    340    368    708
Alfonso Soriano    CHC    336    511    847
Corey Hart    MIL    336    499    835
Dave Roberts    SF    335    371    706
Felipe Lopez    WAS    313    367    680
Chris Duffy    PIT    313    357    670
Ryan Freel    CIN    308    347    655
Julio Lugo    BOS    300    348    648
Marcus Giles    SD    295    310    605
Chris Young    ARI    291    468    759
Jerry Owens    CWS    288    287    575
Craig Biggio    HOU    285    393    678
AVERAGE         346    416    762

Joey Gathright    398    393    791

One brief methodoligical note: one could argue that I shouldn't have looked at overall stats when comparing the leadoff hitters.  One might argue that I should use their stats as leadoff hitters because they will focus on getting on base more in that role.  I crunched those numbers and the average was 348/422, almost exactly the same.

So, it would appear that the 2007 version of Joey Gathright would make an excellent leadoff hitter.  He has considerably better on base performance than the average ML leadoff hitter, while somewhat less power.  But for a leadoff hitter, I don't much care if his SLG is .300.  I want him getting on base, period.

But, expecting Gathright to maintain a .398 OBP may not be realistic.  So, how well does Gathright need to hit?  This is a complicated question.  If he's leading off or even hitting second, I'm comfortable with 380/400.

But if he's the starting left fielder, shouldn't he have more power?  Perhaps.  The real issue is the overall power profile of the team.  Of the OF is Gathright-Dejesus-Teahen, then you've got three good OBP guys with not a lot of power.  That's a problem.  If you don't have a reliable power guy at first base as well, that's also a problem.  But, if we're getting good power production from Butler, Gordon, Teahen, maybe Buck and one other player (by trade or FA), then I think Gathright's high-OBP low-SLG profile works well in the lineup.

So the answer to my title question is unclear.  I have no problem with starting a guy with an OBP in the high 300's and little power, even at a corner OF spot, as long as the total power in the lineup is sufficient to carry him.

While this diary isn't about potential trades, one possibility would be to trade Dejesus for some power.  I like and value Dejesus as much as anyone does.  But we appear to have a surplus of fast OFers with good on base skills and low-to-moderate power.  If we could trade DeJesus for a legitimate power hitting corner OFer, then we could move Teahen or Gathright to CF and the on-base/power profile of the lineup would much more balanced.  Just an idea.

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