Ever since the Seattle Mariners traded Ichiro to the New York Yankees last July, they have struggled to find a suitable replacement as a leadoff hitter. In his 12 seasons with the Mariners, Ichiro had 8141 plate appearances at the top of the order with an incredible average of .324.
Manager Eric Wedge attempted to use Dustin Ackley in the leadoff spot, but he struggled immensely, hitting for a very poor average of .233 in 440 plate appearances during the 2012 season.
Many believe that Michael Saunders will take the leadoff spot in 2013, but Wedge decided to put Jason Bay atop the order in Wednesday’s spring training game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Bay is attempting to reclaim his career with the Mariners after he was released by the New York Mets after the 2012 season. During his three seasons in the Big Apple, Bay hit for an average of .234 with only 26 home runs.
He struggled with injury in all three of his seasons with Mets, and if healthy, he could contribute to the Mariners the way he did early in his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Boston Red Sox, but could he hit leadoff if he returns to form?
He does not have the speed to be a prototypical leadoff hitter, with only 92 career stolen bases. However, in my opinion, a leadoff hitter’s job is to get on base and Bay has done that very well throughout his career before he played in New York.
In his career, Bay has produced an on-base percentage higher than .370 in five of his ten MLB seasons. However, he has hit in every position in the batting order except leadoff in his career, so there is not any kind of sample to look at.
I applaud Wedge for trying something bold like this, but I don’t think anyone expects Bay to even crack the starting lineup, let alone hit leadoff. If Bay does return to form in 2013 and plays the way he did before he went to New York, it would be an interesting possibility, but for now he needs to worry about making the roster and Saunders will hit leadoff.