Sometimes we just make things too complicated. The Toronto Blue Jays don't have a prototypical leadoff hitter on the team, so manager John Gibbons said Friday the job will go to Kevin Pillar or Michael Saunders, neither of whom is particularly well suited to the role.
Pillar spent most of 2015 hitting seventh or eighth and produced a .278/.314/.399 batting line. You'd obviously prefer a higher on-base guy in front of the big bashers. He does have some speed, stealing 25 bases in 29 attempts, although his percentage of extra bases taken, such as first to third on a single, was 39 percent, just about at the league average of 38 percent. Saunders played just nine games last season after tearing up his knee but hit .250/.330/.416 with the Mariners in 2013-14 (although was injured for much of 2014 as well). We'll have to see how the knee looks but he was just 4 for 9 as a base stealer in 2014, although he ran OK before the knee injury, with a career rate of 44 percent of taking the extra base.
They're not terrible solutions if Saunders is healthy and Gibbons could always platoon, with Pillar hitting leadoff against left-handers and Saunders against right-handers.
With Troy Tulowitzki apparently not an option (Gibbons said he'll hit fifth), the other solution would be just to hit Josh Donaldson in the leadoff spot. Managers are loathe to hit a power guy in the leadoff spot because they want him in more of an RBI slot, but the only time Donaldson would be guaranteed to hit leadoff is in the first inning. If he bats second he's presumably hitting behind Ryan Goins (the No. 9 hitter) and, say, Pillar (the leadoff hitter). If he's hitting leadoff, he's still hitting behind Pillar (batting eighth) and Goins (No. 9) for all except that first plate appearance.
The odd thing is that Gibbons actually said this when talking about Tulowitzki, who hit leadoff for a spell when he came over from the Rockies before Gibbons eventually moved Ben Revere up there. "After getting to know him a little bit, I like the way he looks down there hitting after [Encarnacion]," Gibbons told reporters of Tulo. "He has always been an RBI guy. He was fine with it last year, he did a good job with it, but that leadoff hitter is only one time a game anyway."
Look, the usual caveats apply here: Batting orders don't really matter all that much and the comfort level of players hitting in certain positions may be a consideration. The numbers guys, however, say your best hitters should bat first, second and fourth. In the Blue Jays' case, we're talking about Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Would Bautista balk at hitting second rather than third?
The minor advantage of hitting Donaldson leadoff is it gives your best hitters more plate appearances. Look at last year's PA totals for the Blue Jays by lineup position:
1st -- 763
2nd -- 742
3rd -- 720
4th -- 708
5th -- 692
6th -- 676
7th -- 663
8th -- 644
9th -- 624
If Pillar's only your eighth-best hitter, why give him all those extra PAs? That's the underlying fallacy of "must hit fast guy leadoff."