Time for Beckham to take the lead

The calls for Juan Pierre's job are growing so loud, his last name may as well be "Weiner."

(And now I find out that there isn't a .gif of Kevin Eubanks laughing. Internet, you have let me down.)

Of course, there's one big problem with replacing Pierre with Dayan Viciedo. It's not our problem, and in a perfect world, it wouldn't be anybody's problem. Alas, there's one person who has this problem, and he happens to fill out the lineup card:

If Pierre were gone, who would play the Leadoff Position?

After all, the nontraditional leadoff hitter paralyzed the South Side back in 2008, and clearly everybody's still coping with the aftereffects. Nick Swisher led off for the Sox for a little more than a month. He carried a .400+ OBP for the first three weeks of the season before suddenly realizing he couldn't hit leadoff. Or maybe he's just a naturally streaky hitter who stopped hitting. You tell me.

Orlando Cabrera, who said he didn't like hitting first, made the jump from the No. 2 spot and didn't hurt the team. A.J. Pierzynski, who doesn't even set the table at home, hit second the rest of the year. Was it ideal? No. Did it prevent the Sox from reaching the playoffs? No.

What everybody should have learned is that there are only two real requirements for hitting first:

  1. Be a credible major-league hitter.
  2. Be able to go from first to third on a single once in a while.

But Guillen's definitions are still more restrictive. It seems like he only considers three White Sox capable of hitting in the top two spots, and one of them squandered his opportunity even worse than Pierre. Perhaps if he made a stronger case, Guillen might be up for a game of Musical Chairs.

And that's why I'm looking at Gordon Beckham.

 

This isn't really about batting Beckham leadoff, because Beckham doesn't want to bat leadoff. This was well-established in the days leading up to and after the Juan Pierre trade in December of 2009. His reaction:

"They probably didn't want me to run or bunt a bunch," said Beckham of the difference in leading off, a responsibility he never discussed with the White Sox during the offseason. "I don't think they wanted me to be a guy I'm not.

"Even though I think they were OK with me leading off, I thought for sure they were going to get somebody. I was willing to do it if it was the last option we had, but I just didn't fit really well there.

"Now, it doesn't matter where I hit," Beckham said. "If they want me to drive in more runs, they probably will hit me lower in the order. If they want me to get on base more, they probably will hit me second."

If I cared about trying to convince Beckham that he could be a good leadoff hitter, I'd print out this article and meet him at a Starbucks to over it together with a highlighter. Reviewing the way history has unfurled since could assuage many of his concerns, like:

  1. They aren't getting much running from Pierre at the leadoff spot now.
  2. They aren't getting much out of bunting from Pierre at the leadoff spot now.
  3. Beckham probably bunted way more hitting second than he ever would batting first.
  4. Beckham is hitting lower in the order, all right -- low enough to drive in all of 49 runs in 2010.
  5. Pierre had 47 RBI batting leadoff in 2010.

At this point in our imaginary kaffeeklatsch, I would tell Beckham, "Congratulations, you and your awesome run-producing skills drove in two whole runs more than Captain Mister Bunts-All-The-Time." And then I would ask Beckham if he knew how many RBI he was on pace for in 2011. I imagine that he wouldn't know.

And here's where I would drop the bomb and tell him: 49.

This bit of news catches him off guard. His eyes drift down to the packet of Equal in his hands. He begins rotating it, folding and unfolding it, saying nothing. After a few beats, I pull my chair away from the table, and say, "If this is the guy you are, maybe it's time to be the guy you're not." Then I stand up, drum my knuckles on the table twice, and leave Beckham alone with the coffee I paid for.

And sceeeeeeeene.

Star-divide

But once again, this isn't about demanding that Gordon Beckham bats leadoff. Here's what it is about.

Beckham bottomed out on April 30, as an 0-for-4 day sent his triple-slash line plummeting to .194/.238/.296. While his overall numbers may not reflect it, Beckham has been fine since. He's hitting .283 since the beginning of May, with an OBP of .364. But because he once again crapped the bed at the start of the season, he's still hitting eighth.

At this moment, that batting average is used to drive in guys who haven't got on base (Adam Dunn and Alex Rios). That on-base percentage sets the table for noted run producers Brent Morel and Juan Pierre.

We can talk about how Pierre could be marginalized or moved, demoted or defenestrated, but Beckham's situation plays a big part in any subsequent plans. Right now, it's like the Sox took their rhythm guitarist and made him their roadie. Instead of providing a bridge between the front of the stage and the back, he's relegating to working when nobody's paying attention. As far as anybody cares to know, he's just more or less along for the ride.

Batting Beckham eighth is a doubly poor use of talent -- it's a waste of his production, and he's still using a handicapped tag when he stopped limping weeks ago.

On paper, he probably should hit leadoff. But this isn't about him batting leadoff, because that scares too many people. He just needs to do more. He could hit second, with Alexei Ramirez moving up to the top. Or he could bat fifth instead of A.J. Pierzynski, or sixth instead of Alex Rios. It really doesn't matter, as long as Beckham isn't being hidden among the glove-first guys and rookies attempting to hold their own.

Guillen might be gun-shy about placing more on Beckham's plate, because Beckham has fumbled his two previous opportunities at a greater role. But there's no use in protecting him anymore. Half the lineup is in a fragile state, and Beckham might be sturdier than the rest.

Either way, it's time to discover once and for all what Beckham truly can do. Maybe he sinks, maybe he swims, but even in the worst-case scenario, the Sox get more out of watching him gurgle and blub instead of what Pierre's doing now. He's one of the few guys on this team that could be considered a fixture of "the future," and while it's quite possible that he shouldn't be that high a priority, the Sox need to find out one way or another.

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