Up until this past weekend in Mexico, the Padres’ leadoff spot had been a black hole of nothingness. The Padres are still dead last in batting average for the leadoff spot with a .181 clip, the only team below .200 in that category.
It’s hard to get a rally started when you basically start the inning with one out already.
Enter Travis Jankowski. He was called up when Wil Myers was sent to the disabled list on April 29th. All he has done since then is hit .348 with two triples and a 156 wRC+ in eight games. In four of those games he has been in the leadoff spot and has done what the other five leadoff hitters have not done, and that is get on base. He has led off the last three games and has gotten on base twice each time.
Your leadoff hitter typically is the guy who is great at getting on base. Traditionally, he has been one of the fastest, most athletic hitters in the lineup. They are usually good at taking walks and not swinging at bad pitches, setting up for the middle of the lineup to drive in runs. The Padres have not been doing that to this point. Manuel Margot has been the most frequent leadoff hitter, and has been miserable at it. As the leadoff hitter, Margot is hitting .153 with 12 strikeouts in 14 games. Jose Pirela has been even worse at .146 with 15 strikeouts in 10 games.
And people wonder why Eric Hosmer only had four RBI in the first month of the season.
Just look at Monday’s game against the Nationals as a perfect example of what a leadoff hitter should do. Jankowski led off with a single against Stephen Strasburg. He then stole second and advanced to third on Hosmer’s ground out, putting him at third with fewer than two outs. Franchy Cordero grounded out to the right side of the infield, allowing Jankowski to score. Perfectly executed.
Jankowski does have a BABIP of .444, which would be absurd to continue, with his career line at .329, so one would expect him to come back to earth a bit. Even if he does, he would still be head and shoulders above anything the Padres have had at the leadoff spot so far this season. As long as Myers is on the shelf, Jankowski should be batting first. He is walking, hitting, and being disciplined at the plate. He is being smarter about swinging at pitches outside of the zone and making better contact. Here is the evidence:
O-Swing% indicates swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone, Z-Swing% is swinging at pitches inside the zone. As you can see, he also is making significantly more contact despite swinging at fewer pitches.
Also, Margot has started to climb out of his slump as he is hitting .333 in the three games he has been batting eighth, which is where he may be best suited for now.
It’s tough to win many ballgames when you have the worst leadoff hitter(s) in the entire league. Jankowski is looking to change that, at least in the short run. There is a guy down in El Paso who could change that for many years to come. His name is Luis Urias. This is not clamoring to call the kid up today and stick him in the lineup for the next decade, but let’s look at the facts.
Urias is hitting .313 with a 144 wRC+ in 26 games for El Paso. Urias possesses the tools to be a perfect leadoff hitter in the big leagues. In 373 career games over five seasons in the minor leagues, Urias has a .399 on-base percentage. His approach at the plate is very advanced for a 20-year-old. Plus, he doesn’t have to have power numbers to be a successful leadoff hitter, as that seems to be the only chink people can find in his armor.
In any case, the Padres’ lack of offensive firepower stems from a hapless leadoff spot. Jankowski is slowly changing that, but it remains to be seen if he can maintain this success of a .400 on-base percentage since he has never finished a big league stint batting better than .245 and has a career major league wRC+ of 77, well below average. Is this the new Travis Jankowski? Or an illusion? Either way, it would behoove the Padres to write him in the leadoff spot since he can actually, you know, get on base.
Native of Escondido, CA. Lived in San Diego area for 20 years. Padres fan since childhood (mid-90s). I have been writing since 2014. I currently live near Seattle, WA and am married to a Seattle sports girl. I wore #19 on my high school baseball team for Tony Gwynn. I am a stats and sports history nerd. I attended BYU on the Idaho campus. I also love Star Wars.