Spring Training hasn't even started yet and already Don Mattingly is making, or at least thinking about making, lineup decisions that are going to raise some eyebrows. According to Mattingly, he is leaning towards using wunderkind Yasiel Puig as the leadoff man for the Dodgers in 2014.
That is certainly a controversial choice, but it isn't necessarily a bad one. Puig is coming off of a rookie season in which he posted a very impressive .391 OBP and 8.3% walk rate. He would be displacing Carl Carl Crawford who is seen as more of a prototypical leadoff man because of his speed, which was badly flagging last season, but who also owns a career .332 OBP and 5.3% walk rate. In an era where OBP is king, that is a definite upgrade.
It isn't necessarily a good choice either. The problem is that Mattingly appears to be making this decision for the wrong reason. According to the report, Mattingly is considering the arrangment so he can alternate right-handed and left-handed hitters. What that means is that Crawford is being "demoted" to the two-hole, an extremely important run-producing slot, rather than sliding down to the bottom half of the order where his lower OBP and lesser power would play better. Meanwhile, it sticks Puig and his tremendous power in a leadoff role where he might not get a lot of chances to slug in runs seeing how he'll be guaranteed one plate appearance per game with nobody on and the pitcher's spot batting in front of him in the rest of those plate appearances. OBP is great, but Puig's power potential being used in a suboptimal manner is not.
The more simple solution to the lefty-righty problem that Mattingly appears to be overly concerned with would be flipping Hanley Ramirez, the projected #3 hitter, with Adrian Gonzalez, the projected clean-up man. Putting the plodding Gonzalez in front of Ramirez would slow Hanley down on the basepaths, but no more so than Matt Kemp would be with Gonzalez in front of him in Mattingly's proposed lineup.
Better yet, Mattingly could just not worry about it. Having two elite right-handed batters batting back-to-back doesn't seem like it is something worth worrying about. The platoon splits for Puig and Ramirez show that each is only marginally less effective against right-handed pitching, so even if an opposing team has a righty-killer reliever to use against them, that reliever isn't exploiting any major weakness of either batter.
Manager have a lot of poorly thought out ideas in the weeks leading up to the start of the regular season, most of which never actually get implemented. For the sake of the Dodgers, this is one of those ideas that should probably never see the light of day. But, hey, at least Mattingly is trying to think outside the box. So he's got that going for him, which is nice.