The Ender Inciarte leadoff experiment needs to end

dfu19033026 braves at phillies

A main topic of the offseason was the debate over who should hit leadoff – Ronald Acuña or somebody else. Brian Snitker made it pretty anti-climactic once spring training began by hitting Acuña cleanup nearly every game, shifting the focus to who will replace him in the top spot.

Nobody was going to leadoff quite like Acuña, but there is not a better player to hit behind Freddie Freeman. The two have a symbiotic relationship. Batting in front of Acuña will allow Freeman to see way better pitches than he ever has in his career. The All-Star first baseman can also be himself – a contact hitter that isn’t worried about hitting the ball over the fence. That is Acuña’s job, who is the best power hitter on the team and will be right behind a player that is a lock for a .400 OBP.

In Acuña’s place, Ender Inciarte has led off in 8 of the 11 games thus far. In the role, he’s hitting .182 with a .270 OBP. That’s the opposite of what the Braves need in front of Donaldson, Freeman, and Acuña.

Inciarte has blossomed into a valuable asset since coming over from Arizona with Dansby Swanson in return for Shelby Miller. He’s won three straight gold gloves and even has an All-Star appearance back in 2017 when he played in 157 games and hit .304. However, he’s not much of an on-base guy, and his slugging leaves much to be desired. His bat is just acceptable enough to keep him out on the field for his first-class defense.

At this point, it’s borderline impossible to argue that he is not the worst hitter in the lineup on the majority of nights. Dansby Swanson has notably leaped forward in his development. Ozzie Albies looks like he is improving in his second year. Ender, well he’s just Ender at this point. Throughout his career, Inciarte has consistently finished in the bottom five percent in Barrel %, exit velocity, slugging, and hard hit %. This is not something that is going to experience a sudden change, and it is time for Snitker to abandon the experiment.

Who should take his place?

Ozzie Albies is the perceptible heir. He’s off to another torrid start slashing .364/.429/.500 with a .929 OPS. However, his dreadful second half to last season, along with his noticeable drop off in production against right-handed pitching and his ability to drive runners in may make him best-suited were he currently resides – in the sixth spot of the order. A more productive option could be Dansby Swanson.

Swanson is enjoying a breakout beginning to the season, and multiple signals are pointing to this being commonplace rather than a flash in the pan. He is tied for the team-lead in home runs (4) and already has a team-high 15 RBIs in eleven games. Last year, it took him 42 games to get to four home runs. Swanson is showcasing a newfound power to all fields with three of his home runs going to center or the opposite field. He’s also leading the team in exit velocity. It’s difficult to want to change anything up for Swanson, who is finally hitting his stride in his third full season as a big leaguer, but he may be the ideal player to start things off in front of the Braves’ deadly trio. Who would have thought that a couple of months ago?

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