Up first for Dodgers: Data-driven decisions

MESA, Ariz. -- Leading off for the Los Angeles Dodgers: _________________.

In what is shaping up to be a fill-in-the-blank proposition, new Dodgers manager and former prototypical leadoff man Dave Roberts said that the top of his order this season could be an ever-changing affair.

The Dodgers are not expected to employ any classic leadoff types when they finalize their 25-man roster at the start of April. Howie Kendrick and Carl Crawford were considered the most likely candidates for the leadoff job.

But at this point, everybody from Kendrick to Crawford to Joc Pederson to Corey Seager to Enrique Hernandez could have the job at some point. So much for lineup continuity.

“There is an argument to be made for (continuity), but regardless of where an individual hits in the lineup, it shouldn’t change how they are as a hitter,” Roberts said. “Adrian (Gonzalez), if he hits third or fourth, he is going to be Adrian. Whether Howie hits first or second, or he hits fifth, he should be the same hitter. I think Chase (Utley) will be the same way. If you look at the guys on our roster, that’s the way that should be.”

Roberts will instead use advanced analytics to determine who hits where, and not just with the leadoff spot.

“You know what, I think that as a former leadoff hitter, we have all been conditioned for routines and consistency, but I think that as this game has evolved, we’ve all had to see things in a different way,” Roberts said. “I’ve had many conversations with the players that there will be some change. I think that where you hit in the order in years past, in decades past, there is a lot to be said for that. But this day and age, with the data that we have, sometimes change is good.”

Roberts admits that his lineup decisions won’t always be data-inspired. He reserves the right to use the eye test as well. But from the sound of it, he will make more numbers-oriented decisions than ones from the gut.

“I’m definitely not about reinventing the wheel,” he said. “There is a lot to be said for consistency without a doubt. But I also think as important as that is, being willing to adapt is just as important.”

So get ready for revolving lineups, where a particular batter could be batting leadoff one day, fifth the next and eighth the day after that. Roberts wouldn’t be opposed to that.

“I think there are certain guys that, whether you have information or not, you can see that a guy doesn’t feel comfortable, so it doesn’t make sense to get him potentially three at-bats vs. a starter, where you can move him down to get maybe one at-bat or two at-bats,” Roberts said. “Or if a guy sees him well, it makes sense to give him another look against a guy. It’s definitely not all data, but information, some of it’s real and some of it you have to kind of filter through.”

If Kendrick is healthy, he still figures to be the guy that gets the most chances out of the leadoff spot. But more will become clear about how Roberts is leaning when the Cactus League schedule draws nearer to a close.

“I think right now I’m trying to make sure guys get their at-bats, play defense and get them in and out of the game,” Roberts said. “But I would say as we get later in the month it will start looking more like it will potentially be when we break (camp).”