Transformation of the Leadoff Hitter

by Drew Tanguay | Posted on Thursday, May 11th, 2017
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Kyle Schwarber

When you think of the traditional leadoff hitter, you think of the fastest player on the team who will hopefully get on base, then swipe 2nd to get into scoring position to begin the game. That was the case in the past, however, recently the role of the typical leadoff hitter is changing. This position in the lineup is now becoming a spot favoring slugging percentage and OPS. Clubs are switching up the norms of the leadoff spot by inserting power hitters atop their lineup in hopes that they will get extra-base hits to set up their RBI guys in the heart of the order.

The first name that comes to mind is Kyle Schwarber of the Chicago Cubs. Manager Joe Maddon has inserted Schwarber atop the Cubbies lineup, moving away from the typical small-ball type player that we’ve seen in the leadoff position of the lineup throughout history. Joe Maddon made this move to put Schwarber, who hits for big power, gets on base, but does not steal bases, and ever since he made this move, it is a sweeping trend across the MLB to fill that leadoff role with a power hitter, and avoid the small-ball style of baseball.

With Schwarber hitting leadoff, opposing pitchers have no room for relaxation when the 2016 National League MVP, Kris Bryant is following him in the order and Anthony Rizzo in the 3-hole. Joe Maddon filled the role of the departed Dexter Fowler, with Schwarber, whose approach is very different than that of Fowler in the leadoff spot.

Terry Francona of the Cleveland Indians started to change the game of the leadoff man a season ago by inserting the power-hitting, walk machine Carlos Santana atop the order against RHP since he hits for more power from the left side of the plate as a switch-hitter.

When you think of the Houston Astros roster, Jose Altuve is the player who most would think is the best fit for the leadoff role in that lineup, with his combination of average, on-base percentage, and the speed he possesses. However, the Astros leadoff man is George Springer, who has a career batting average of .258. This season, Springer is slugging at the highest mark of his young career at .478. Springer has elite speed as well, but he’s not stealing bases because when he gets on, he has guys like Altuve and Carlos Correa to drive him home.

Mookie Betts, the 2016 runner-up in the American League MVP voting, did most of his damage from the leadoff spot in the Red Sox order. John Farrell made changes in the order of the lineup to move Mookie down to the cleanup slot for more RBI opportunities later on in the 2016 season. Mookie also hit 3rd in the lineup at the beginning of the 2017 season, but without seeing much power out of him, Farrell recently put Mookie atop the order again, and it is clear how comfortable he is hitting in that spot of the order, as he’s gone 7-for-10 with 2 HR, 4 RBI and 4 runs scored over the past 2 games.

The transformation of the leadoff hitter is growing increasingly popular throughout all of Major League Baseball. Moving away from small-ball and having leadoff hitters who hit for power is the new trend in many lineups, and it seems to be working for these clubs.

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Drew Tanguay
About the Author

Drew is a Sport Management major at Husson University. Aspiring baseball executive. Very passionate about the game of baseball. Follow Drew on Twitter @DTang10.

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