One of the few remaining mysteries surrounding the Phillies as the spring training schedule slogs to its conclusion is how Gabe Kapler plans to construct his Opening Day lineup. While we still don’t know exactly how it will run from top to bottom, we do know now that Andrew McCutchen will be the first Phillies hitter to step into the box against Braves starter Julio Teheran next Thursday:
Andrew McCutchen will be the #Phillies leadoff hitter on Opening Day. They like his combination of on-base skills and power. Cesar Hernandez likely to hit sixth or seventh.
— Todd Zolecki (@ToddZolecki) March 20, 2019
This is the right call, for a few reasons:
- McCutchen still has quality on-base skills. His .368 OBP a season ago serves as proof.
- He still possesses the requisite pitch selection quality needed at the top. His 19.4% O-Swing% (the percentage of pitches offered at outside of the strike zone) was second-best in all of baseball and trailed only Joey Votto’s 16.4% last season. That discipline yielded 95 walks and a 13.9% walk-rate, the second-best of his career.
- It’s not just about OBP. Hitting McCutchen ahead of offensive threats such as Jean Segura, Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, and Rhys Hoskins will force pitchers to attack him. It would be very surprising if he didn’t see a lot of fastballs for this reason, and if he does, he should be extremely dangerous. McCutchen struggled with sliders (.453 OPS) and changeups (.649 OPS) last season, but mashed against four-seam fastballs (.946 OPS) and sinkers (.997 OPS). If he replicates his plate discipline and pitch production splits against hard stuff, he’s going to thrive at the top.
Hitting McCutchen first also means Cesar Hernandez is likely headed for the six or seven-hole. While the second baseman’s lack of power doesn’t traditionally play in these spots, his on-base skills outweigh his power deficiencies in this lineup. Such skills should compliment the order well in the event Kapler hits Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera, each of whom possess some thump, behind him. That particular lineup construction essentially takes the top of last year’s order and flips it to the bottom, thus making for a deep offensive attack which will force opposing pitchers to navigate multiple waves.
We’ve been doing a lot of gambling content around here in recent months, so in the spirit of that, here’s some friendly betting advice. Take the over on the team’s 4.18 runs per game and its league-worst .234 batting average of a season ago. This team is going to rake.