Friday, July 10, 2009

Debate: The Leadoff Man

I have been fairly bored the past few weeks, and have been thinking about several things baseball related. Also, one of my favorite hobbies is listening to sports radio while in the car. Since I reside in the Chicago-land area all I hear all day is radio personalities bitch about how Alfonso Soriano should not be a leadoff hitter. I completely agree with this, but why has Soriano always been considered a leadoff man?

The answer: he used to be fast, and he used to steal bases (at least 30 SBs in 5 seasons from 2001-2006). However, since he has been on the Cubs, he has stolen 19, 19, and has 7 this season. The fact that he was placed as the leadoff batter simply because he was fast is the underlying issue here. In recent history, that is the only thing that has mattered out of a leadoff man. People think that Rickey Henderson was the prototypical leadoff man because he could steal bases so easily. This is not exactly the case. He was the prototypical leadoff man because he got on base at a staggering rate (career average OBP of .400).

This gets into the question of what you need out of a leadoff hitter. 1) You need ability to set the table for the middle of your order guys with high SLUG. 2) You need the ability to see pitches to either increase the pitchers pitch count (starter) or wear down a reliever who is put into get the heart of the order out. A leadoff man is not there to drive in runs, because the people he would be driving in are typically the lower order guys (or a fucking pitcher, stupid NL). Also, why does the leadoff man need to be fast? Ideally, the leadoff man would either get walked or hit a single to start the game. The second batter moves the runner along either by sacrifice, a single, or a walk. This leaves at least 2 outs for the 3, 4, and 5 batters (the guys who are supposed to have the high SLUG) to hit a double or a home run.

How does speed help the leadoff man in the ideal situation? It doesn't. Someone with below average speed can be moved to second with a well placed sacrifice. And someone with average speed can score on a single, double, or home run hit by a middle of the order guy. Where the speed in the lineup needs to be placed is in the 6 and 7 holes, especially in the NL. But the 6 hole is a typical power hitting spot? The lower you are in the order, the more you need to manufacture runs. With the probability of the 8 and 9 batters getting out higher, it is important to move the runners by more unconventional means (steals and hit-and-runs).

So what is the ideal place for Soriano (a guy who possesses speed, strikes out, and power)? The 6 Hole. This way, after the 3, 4, and 5 drive in the guys who actually get on base, the line up can be turned over to a second leadoff man in the 6 spot, and this guy can steal a base or advance to an extra base on a weak single hit by a worse hitter at the end of the order.

Speed at the top of the lineup is horribly overvalued in the NL. Why is that? Because the speed in the line up should be placed at the end of the line up, before the pitcher. This will allow the runners to push the envelope further obtaining extra bases wherever possible. Speed at the top of the order is unnecessary because the middle of the order will be able to drive the ball hard enough to score anyone.

So lets take a look at some leadoff men that are out of place in the top spot:

Soriano (.326 career OBP, 145 K's/season on average)
Cubs Ideal Leadoff man: Theriot (.359 OBP, ~50 K/year)

Jose Reyes (.337 OBP, ~80K/year, many SBs, good power)
Ideal Leadoff: Ryan Church/Daniel Murphy (Both can put up high OBP, medium K's, no speed)

Grady Sizemore (actually, you could bat him anywhere and he would be good. High OBP, High K's, High Sbs, Good Power) He's really good.

Phillies Ideal: Victorino (.350 OBP, ~60 K, good speed, switch hitter)
or Werth (.370 OBP, ~80K, decent speed)
Just Not Rollins (.330 OBP, 80+ K's, great speed)

I think a lot of great 6 batters are currently having their production wasted by being placed in the 1 Hole simply because they are fast.

I'm sure there are more examples, however, I'm lazy and am going to quit on this post.


  1. Let's be honest about Soriano being a leadoff hitter... it has never necessarily been about his speed. The reason he bats leadoff is so that he can feast on fastballs. He can't hit worth shit unless he knows that a fastball is coming (sometimes he does get lucky with a hanging breaking pitch... but everyone hits those out).

    I was just discussing with commenter Kevin that Soriano's BA is likely to dip to the Mendoza line now that he's batting sixth because he has no idea how to actually be a good hitter.

    Another debate to start... is Alfonso Soriano the most overrated player in baseball?

  2. This website needs more of these. Good articles that are actually about the game of baseball.

    A few years ago the nationals actually did put a slower, high OBP guy leading off with Brad Wilkerson. Sure 147 K is a lot, but a .351 OBP is alright and seeing 4.21 pitches per plate appearance must have been effective enough since the Nats were actually .500 that year. Unfortunately for them 2005 was when Wilkerson started to rapidly decline.

    Soriano is easily the most over rated player in basbeball. I think the real question is who is the most over rated chicago athlete, Soriano or Brian Urlacher?

  3. Who doesn't like videos of Deon Sanders rapping about his money, with cameos by Daryll Strawberry?

    Also, Simmons' twitter last night made reference to the Red Sox batting JD Drew-1 and Jacoby Elsbury-6.

    Clearly Francona is a fan of the blog.

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  5. i also forgot to mention that if you type in "unconventional lead off man" in google, this post is the 5th site to pop up... you guys are steppin up in the world